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What’s in Season: Butterbean Basil Hummus

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Butterbeans vs. Lima Beans

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Everybody Likes Butterbeans….

Butterbeans are one of my favorite things to eat on this Earth. Yes – that includes fine Belgian chocolates, French delicacies, other Southern classics like fried chicken with rice and gravy or Georgia peaches picked fresh from the tree. When I am feeling down in the dumps, sick, or homesick, I cook a pot of butterbeans.

My family always planted a large garden. In the evenings during the summer, we’d sit on the screened-in porch shelling the butterbeans or field peas that Dede had picked early that morning.  Meme would put them on the stove with a hunk of fatback and chopped Vidalia onion. They’d simmer slowly until creamy and tender, bathed in an opaque salty, smoky broth. Once they were tender, my grandmother would ladle a spoonful of rice into a pale blue shallow bowl, then top it with a heaping mound of butterbeans and steaming broth. At some point the rim of the bowl was chipped, but that precious butterbean bowl now rests aside my finest china and crystal in the china cabinet.

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Butterbeans Cause Dancing

I’m not the only Southerner that loves butterbeans. The fantastic 80’s dance band, The B-52s from Athens, Ga actually created a song about butterbeans!  Kate and Cyndi sing, “Pick em, hull em, put on to steam, that’s how we like butterbeans!” Later in the song Fred implores,  “Show me the person who doesn’t like butterbeans?” Yes, this is for real. Southerners take butterbeans very seriously. Check it out.

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Why do Beans Cause Gas?

And, well, they cause more than dancing. You may recall the catchy phrase: “Beans, beans are good for the heart … the more you eat, the more you … ” Yep, it’s true. The natural sweetness of butterbeans comes from a group of sugars called oligosaccharides. These complex sugars are not digested until they reach the large intestine where they are introduced to hundreds of bacteria that live in your lower gut. Things get windy because we are missing an enzyme that is required to break down these sugars.

When the beans get to the colon, the bacteria in the colon begins to ferment these sugars producing gas in the process — hydrogen and methane among them. The gas accumulates and eventually escapes your body — which may or may not be blamed on the dog. The best way to prevent gassiness is to cook the beans until completely cooked and tender, chew the beans thoroughly — remember digestion starts in the mouth, and enjoy them with whole grains and other vegetables.

Butterbean Basil Hummus on

Butterbeans vs. Lima Beans

Butterbeans are native to South America and thrive in the hot, humid Southern climate. There is a raging debate on my Facebook page over whether butterbeans are the same as lima beans. Folks are equally adamant on both sides as to which is which. What do you call the small, green legumes? Butterbeans? Lima beans?

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension states that lima beans and butterbeans are interchangeable terms, and there is little difference in the varieties. I hate to besmirch the name of my alma mater, and the gardeners may think they have it all sorted out, but you can’t tell me—or many Southern cooks—that flat, tender, petite, green butterbeans are the same as the larger, yellow, starchy lima pods. The main difference is that some butterbean varieties are grown to harvest when young and immature, and some are grown to harvest when older and more mature for drying.

Thanks for reading. If you give the recipe a try please let me know what you think. And, check out these other summer recipes for corn and tomatoes. ‘Tis the season!

Bon Appétit,Y’all! 

Virginia Willis


Butterbean Basil Hummus on

Butterbean Basil Hummus

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine: American, Southern
Servings: 32 servings
Author: Virginia Willis


  • 4 cups shelled fresh butterbeans (about 3 pounds unshelled) or frozen butter beans
  • 4 cups water , plus more if needed
  • 1 onion , preferably Vidalia, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 shallot , finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic , very finely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeño , cored, seeded, and chopped
  • Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 6 large fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tomato , seeded and chopped


  • Combine the butterbeans, water, onion, and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer, occasionally skimming the scum that floats to the top, until the beans are tender, 35 to 45 minutes for fresh or according to package instructions if frozen.
  • Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain the beans in a colander and shake well to remove excess moisture. Set the beans aside to cool.
  • Transfer the drained beans to a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the garlic, half the jalapeno, lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Purée until smooth, adding a little of the reserved cooking water, if necessary.
  • Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with any remaining olive oil. Top with the tomatoes and remaining jalapenos. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper to finish.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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