Some time ago I was having a drink with a friend at Aziza, a swanky Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco, when the description of a tantalizing-looking lima bean appetizer caught my eye. I can’t explain why I didn’t order it on the spot, but suffice it to say I neglected to seize the moment. And as it often goes with un-seized moments, during the following remorse-filled weeks I was haunted by a restless longing for the delights that could have been. (No, I’m not exaggerating. Totally haunted. Because the appetizer sounded really delicious.)
The lima-trauma eventually receded to the back of my mind, but then Facebook reunited me with two middle school friends whom I hadn’t seen since childhood and suddenly The Appetizer came rushing back into my consciousness. Why? Because I discovered that one of the friends, Danielle, whose family is Moroccan, had become a caterer! I described to her what I could remember of the dish that got away—lima beans, tomatoes, Feta cheese, oven-baked—and she provided me with the basic outline for this recipe.
Danielle’s recommendation includes a popular North African spice blend called Ras el hanout. There’s no absolute recipe for Ras el hanout—different blends are made according to individual preference and tradition, and are often improvised. (Some blends use over a hundred different ingredients!) It’s easy to find Ras el hanout if you have access to a good international market, and it can also be purchased online. But if you can’t find it in person, don’t want to wait for an online delivery, and don’t want to spend hours toasting and grinding a hundred spices, here are two alternate options.
If you can’t find Ras el hanout
1) Make a quick blend, to taste, of some of the most commonly used ingredients: cumin, coriander, cardamom, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground red pepper, nutmeg, ground black pepper, and turmeric. Toss any or all of these spices, to taste, into the tomatoes as they cook.
2) Or just leave it out altogether. Your dish won’t have that distinctive Moroccan flavor, but buttery lima beans, sweet summer tomatoes, fragrant garlic, and tangy Feta are good enough to hold their own without additional adornment. With this option it’s especially important to use a strong, flavorful Feta.
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 pound tomatoes, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Ras el hanout (or alternate options, above)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 15-ounce can lima beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 ounces (about ¾ cup) crumbled Feta cheese
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
- Olive oil or spray oil
- Preheat oven to 475°F.
- In a medium-sized skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and stir occasionally for a minute or two.
- Add tomatoes, Ras el hanout (or other spices, if using), and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to become soft and saucy (2 to 3 minutes).
- Set aside.
- Place lima beans in an 8"- or 9"-diameter baking dish.
- Layer the cooked tomatoes on top of the beans, followed by the Feta.
- Finally, sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and give them a quick spray or drizzle of oil.
- Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until breadcrumbs start to brown.
- Serve as an appetizer, side dish, or even a protein-rich (thank you, limas) vegetarian entree.