Butter Bean Crostini or Lima Bean Tapenade? Don’t get me started!

Is there a difference between lima beans and butter beans? Well yes and no.

Phaseolus lunatusis are the beans in question. They are a seed but are considered a vegetable.They are known by many names including: lima bean, butter bean, sieva bean, calico bean, and Madagascar bean.

The term butter bean originated in the southern United States, so local lore and regional preferences have confused the situation over the years.

But in truth, lima beans and butter beans are essentially the same bean. There may be slight differences in named varieties, but the species remains the same.

For culinary purposes (which is all we really care about anyway), lima beans and butter beans are distinctly different, the former being small and green, the latter large and yellow.

The difference is partly how they are cooked, and partly how they are harvested. Lima beans are picked young and green. They are allowed to dry before cooking. Butter beans are often the same vegetable only larger and more flat because they are allowed to get to full size. They are cooked while still fresh and then butter is added to the beans, thus the name and the color.

Verdicchio di Matelica BelisarioNow if you live in North Carolina. You may dispute everything you just read. I understand that. My explanation is a technical explanation and not a cultural one. Because in the southern United States when someone says butter beans, they are usually referring to a smaller variety of Phaseolus lunatusis known as a sieva. Because they are smaller some people class them as a sub-species. But sievas are native to the Carolinas, so they are what most Tar-heelers think of when you say butter bean.

After a lesson like that I think you deserve a treat. Because I have taken these classic beans of the American south and given them some Italian allure. I am substituting them for the white beans I often use as a topping for crostini. They make an easy appetizer this way. They can be left whole or mashed, it’s up to you. They can be made ahead and brought out when ready to serve. I have also used canned butter beans in this version. Because it’s just too hot to cook.

I have asked my brother Grant to do a pairing for this appetizer too. He had a hard job. The tastes and textures in this recipe vary greatly. He chose a verdicchio, which makes a  great all-purpose food wine. If I were having an summer party this is a wine I could choose to work with anything that passed through my plate. It works as easily with this crostini’s mint and jalapeno as it does its slice of Italian cured meat, in this case salami, but any good quality salumi will work nicely too.

So, is there a difference between salami and salumi? Well yes and no, but don’t get me started…

Butter Bean Crostini with Mint and Salami serves 8 CLICK Here for a printable recipe


  • butter bean crostini1 (15oz) can butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1⁄2 small red onion, minced
  • 1⁄4 c very good extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baguette slices
  • 1 large red or green jalapeno chili, minced
  • 1 T lemon zest
  • 1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • baguette slices, as needed
  • salami or other italian cured meat, as needed
  • whole or halved mint leaves, to taste as garnish

In a serving bowl toss together butter beans, onion, oil, mint, jalapeno, lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with sat and pepper. Let stand 20 minutes or up to overnight to allow the flavors to mingle. You may leave the beans whole or mash them to whatever consitency you prefer at this point.

To serve: brush the baguette slices with a little olive oil and grill or toast them on one side until lightly golden. Place a salami slice on the baguette toasts and top with the butter bean mixture, an drizzle of olive oil and a few mint leaves to taste.


Greg Henry

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