One of my favorite potluck recipes is a corn and black bean salad. Vegan friendly, it’s also quite versatile. You can spice it up with chopped Anaheim or Jalapeno chilis. Personally, I love adding tomatoes and/or red bell peppers to the basic mix. They are a win/win ingredient: adding beautiful color and great vitamins and nutrients to this healthy salad. Give it a Mexican or Central American flavor with chopped onion, lime juice, cilantro, and a dusting of chile powder. I’m a big fan of cilantro, but a couple of my friends abhor it. When they come over, I omit the cilantro from the main salad and serve a bowl of chopped cilantro on the side, so both cilantro-lovers and cilantro-haters are happy.
Last Tuesday, I picked up fresh corn at the downtown Culver City Farmers Market, fully intending to make this vegan-friendly main dish salad. But when I got home, I decided to break out of my black-bean and corn rut. One of my vegetarian friends is exceptionally fond of succotash, a dish I have always associated with the starchy, bland frozen vegetable mix of my childhood. I decided to see what it would taste like with farm-fresh ingredients.
The word “succotash” is derived from the Narrangasett (Algonquin) word “msíckquatash.” The combination of boiled corn kernels and lima beans was one of the mainstays of Native American diet. Over time, it has become strongly associated with Southern cooking. On the Pacific Rim, however, the popularity of edamame (boiled soybeans) has given rise to a fusion-inspired variation.
Fresh baby lima beans have a smoothness and tenderness which is light years away from the more commonly available canned limas. If you’re lucky enough to find some fresh shell beans, you won’t regret the time you spend in shelling them once you taste the finished dish. Frozen baby limas and edamame can be substituted with little loss in flavor. Suncoast Farms at the Tuesday market sells dried lima beans, along with other legumes and pulses, all year long. If you soak the dried beans overnight, you’ll be good to go the next day. Between these three options, you have are plenty of alternatives to the often far-too salty and mushy can of limas beans.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to make succotash. I’ve included one basic southern-style recipe and another one with a decidedly southwestern kick. Both of the following recipes are vegan. But die-hard carnivores need not despair. The first recipe was adopted from one including bacon. With bacon all the rage these days, you won’t go wrong if you add some bacon when serving Southern Succotash to omnivores.
(4 main dish servings; 6 side dish servings)
1 pound fresh lima beans in pod or 1 cup frozen baby lima beans
2 1/2 tablespoon olive oil (1 1/2 tablespoons if using bacon)
1 small Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pints), halved
4 ears corn
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
3/4 c mixed baby greens or baby arugula
4-5 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, and crumbled.
1 tablespoon bacon grease
If you’re using fresh limas, shell them and set aside. Otherwise, measure one cup of frozen baby limas. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the hot water. Run cold water over them, and drain again. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in large skillet. If you’re adding crumbled bacon to your succotash, substitute 1 tablespoon bacon grease for 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; you’ll use 1 _ tablespoons olive oil in addition to the bacon grease. Add onion, cook over moderate heat, stirring, until just softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, corn, and vinegar and cook, stirring, until tomatoes just begin to lose their shape. Remove skillet from heat. Gently stir in cooked beans/ If using bacon, add half of it to the mixed vegetables and use the other half as a garnish. Cool to room temperature. Taste. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. If you’re making the non-vegetarian version, garnish with the remaining crumbled bacon.
This recipe includes fresh greens, a non-traditional ingredient. The traditional mix of corn and lima is very nutritious, but can be a bit heavy for modern tastes. Serving it over a bed of mixed baby or arugula greens, as suggested here, adds a little bit of lightness and another layer of flavor to the finished dish.
(5 one-cup servings)
1 T canola or vegetable oil
2 c corn kernels
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, or other small hot pepper, seeded, membranes removed, diced
1 c green or yellow summer squash
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 T ground cumin
1/2 t black pepper
1 t salt
2 c. fresh or frozen lima beans,
1/2 c. water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
optional: 2 T cilantro, chopped
Add 1 T oil to large saute pan. Place over high heat. Add corn kernels, chopped peppers, and onion. Saute until the vegetables start to brown and caramelize, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add remaining oil, chopped squash and spices. Turn heat down to medium, and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Garnish with cilantro, if desired. You can spice this dish up or cool it down by your choice of chile pepper. Make sure to exercise caution when removing seeds and membranes, and dicing hot chile peppers. Some people use plastic gloves; everyone should wash their hands thoroughly after the peppers are minced.
The downtown Culver City Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds. The Saturday market takes place from 7:30 a.m. to 1 pm in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City parking lot between Slauson and Hannum.
Katie Malich has never used the phrase “suffering succotash,” despite many hours of watching Sylvester the Cat on Looney Tunes cartoons. No succotash should be made to suffer, even the uninspired and starchy frozen medley once served by well-meaning parents and cafeteria cooks.