My mom’s succotash was a simple side dish of corn, lima beans, and butter. My favorite part of eating succotash was separating out the beans from the corn so I could bite into the lima beans one at a time, squishing out the soft buttery interior.
When I asked my mom how she made her succotash, she said she didn’t quite remember because she hasn’t made it in years…but thought she may have added creamed corn for sweetness and body. Creamed corn was also on my childhood food love list so this makes sense.
I lived in the South for an embarrassingly long time before realizing what Northerner’s call lima beans are what Southerner’s call butter beans. This epiphany at a farmers market only a couple years ago rekindled warm memories of lima beans and motivated me to create a nuanced and adult Southern version of succotash to invoke the long forgotten childhood pleasure of savoring each bite of food.
There seems to be conflicting accounts about the history of succotash, but corn and lima beans are the unifying ingredients. According to acclaimed author Jean Anderson, in a 1964 cookbook she wrote with artist Yeffee Kimball called The Art of American Indian Cooking, one of the first Indian recipe adopted by the colonists was a bean and corn dish sweetened with bear fat call m’sick-quotash. Other sources indicate succotash, as it was called in English, was first mentioned in print in the 1700s.
Anderson’s updated recipe (without bear fat!) as well as those found in my New England cookbooks are fairly similar to my mom’s side dish. The succotash recipes in Southern and Southwestern cookbooks are more varied though and often include meat, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables, such as okra or summer squash.
My succotash recipe leans decidedly South and is more of a summery stew served in a bowl than a side dish. I would suggest mopping up the last bits of luscious broth with your favorite crusty bread or you might just find yourself wiping the bowl with your fingers.
I crave Summer Fresh Butter Bean, Corn, Tomato and Vidalia Onion Succotash all year long and have even tried to make it in midwinter. Take my word and don’t be tempted to do this! Winter succotash will pale to the summer version made with sun drenched butter beans, fresh corn off the cob, perfectly ripe local tomatoes, and sweet Vidalia onions.
Summer Fresh Butter Bean, Corn, Tomato and Vidalia Onion Succotash
1/3 cup pancetta or thick cut bacon cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cups diced Vidalia onion or another variety of sweet onion (about 1 medium onion)
1 cup diced bell pepper, (about 1 medium pepper)
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp minced garlic, (about 2 cloves garlic)
2 cups butter beans *see important note about fresh butter beans below
2 cup chicken stock
¾ cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc works well)
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves or 6 single sprigs fresh thyme tied together with cooking twine
1 ½ cup tomato, peeled and chopped into ½” dice (or 1 ½ cup cherry tomatoes cut in half)
2 cups corn, from 3-4 ears corn depending on size
3 Tbs parsley, chopped
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs unsalted butter
- Cook pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp.
- Add onion, bell pepper, salt, ground pepper, and pepper flakes. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes
- Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute
- Add butter beans, stock, wine, and thyme. Simmer until liquid is reduced slightly and butter beans are soft and tender – about 30 minutes.
- Add corn and tomatoes. Cover and cook another 12 minutes until tomato is soft but still holds shape.
- Remove Butter Bean, Corn, Tomato and Vidalia Succotash from heat. If using thyme sprigs, remove and discard before adding parsley and apple cider vinegar. Swirl in butter and serve.
*Undercooked butter/lima beans can make you sick. When eaten raw, lima beans release a toxic cyanide compound, so they need to cook for at least 10 minutes before eating. When I buy fresh, shelled butter beans at the farmers market I ensure they’re completely cooked by adding them to 2 quarts salted boiling water, reducing the heat to medium, and cooking for 20 minutes then draining before adding to recipes. If you use frozen lima beans, this step is not necessary since they have already been precooked.
Vegetarian or Vegan Variation:
- To make this dish vegetarian omit pancetta and heat 1 Tbs grape seed or canola oil over medium heat before adding onion and red pepper. Omit chicken stock and add water (not vegetable broth which will alter taste)
- For vegan succotash, follow vegetarian variation and omit butter at end. Use vegan wine or omit wine.