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Butter beans are protein-packed legumes that make the ideal side dish! This recipe comes out brothy and ultra savory.

Butter beans

They might be small, but humble butter beans pack a punch! This legume has a delightfully buttery texture and is loaded with protein, making it ideal for side dishes. This recipe is our favorite way to eat them: a Mediterranean-style spin on this American Southern classic. Bake them up in a broth of fire roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic, with a pinch of smoked paprika for a hint of smoke. One bite and you’ll be singing their praises!

What are butter beans?

Butter beans are a large beige-colored bean that originated in Peru. They’re also called lima beans, in honor of their origin in Lima, Peru. That’s right: butter and lima are one and the same! The name depends on where you live: the term butter beans is used in the American South and the UK.

Baby lima beans are small and green, a young form of the bean that you might recognize from frozen vegetable medleys. Its mature form is the butter bean, which has a yellowish beige exterior. Butter beans taste creamy and tender, with a mild flavor. You can buy them in several forms at the grocery, including:

  • Dried, which take about 2 hours to cook
  • Frozen, which take 30 minutes to cook
  • Canned, which come pre-cooked
Butter Beans

Ingredients in this butter beans recipe

Butter beans are common in the cooking of the American South and the UK. Typically recipes you’ll find from the South cook the beans from dry and add bacon. But because butter beans are truly global, this recipe takes a Mediterranean spin! You’ll cook them in a savory tomato, onion and garlic broth until tender. They make a brothy bean side dish that’s irresistibly tasty. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Frozen butter beans: this recipe is optimized for frozen, so look for them in the frozen aisle in the grocery (see below for a canned variation)
  • Salted butter or olive oil
  • Garlic
  • White onion
  • Fire roasted tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bay leaf
  • Fresh basil
  • Smoked paprika
Butter Beans Recipe

How to cook frozen butter beans

Frozen butter beans are a unique product because there aren’t many other types of legumes you can buy this way. Most frozen vegetables are blanched and require just a few minutes of cooking before you set them on the table. But the frozen beans aren’t pre-cooked: they need 30 minutes of simmering until they’re done. Nope, they’re not like the lima beans you can microwave in 3 minutes! But they’re much quicker than cooking dried beans, which takes hours. Here are the basic steps to cooking frozen butter beans (or jump to the recipe below):

Preheat: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. We like using the oven to simmer the beans because it’s totally hands off.

Sauté: Sauté onion and garlic in an oven proof pot or Dutch oven, then add the beans, fire roasted tomatoes, water and other seasonings.

Bake 30 minutes: Throw the pot into the oven and bake until the beans are tender!

Variation: canned butter beans

This butter beans recipe is best with frozen butter beans, but you can also make it with canned! We found some large butter beans canned at our local grocery, which were much larger than the frozen variety. Here’s how you can use the canned variety in this recipe (or jump to the recipe below):

  • Use 2 15-ounce cans butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • Reduce the salt and water to ¾ teaspoon salt and 1 cup water
  • Bake for 15 minutes

Ways to serve them

Confession: this butter beans recipe surprised me. When Alex developed it, I was a little wary of how it would turn out. But our entire family fell head over heels for these! These brothy beans are the best side dish to infuse filling plant-based protein and fiber into a meal. Make sure to serve them with a slotted spoon to avoid excess moisture. Here are a few foods to pair with butter beans:

Butter Beans

More bean recipes

Beans are full of nutrients, plant-based protein and fiber and make deliciously easy meals. Here are a few more tasty bean recipes to try:

This butter beans recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free.

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Butter beans

Easy Butter Beans

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x


Butter beans are protein-packed legumes that make the ideal side dish! This recipe comes out brothy and ultra savory.


  • 2 tablespoons salted butter or olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup minced white onion
  • 12-ounce package frozen butter beans (or 2 15 ounce cans butter beans, drained and rinsed*)
  • 1 14-ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 large fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mince the garlic and the onion.
  3. In an oven-proof saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and white onion and sauté until fragrant and garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the frozen butter beans, tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of the salt (use ¾ teaspoon if using canned beans), pepper, bay leaf, basil leaves and water (use 1 cup for canned beans). Bring to a boil, then cover the pan and place it in the oven. 
  4. Bake the beans for 25 to 30 minutes until the beans are tender (or 15 minutes for canned beans). Remove the beans from the pan with a slotted spoon into a serving dish, then add a bit of the broth for serving. Stir in the smoked paprika and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt (omit the added salt if using canned beans). Serve immediately with a slotted spoon. Leftovers keep well refrigerated for up to 4 days.


*You can use canned beans in this recipe: use ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, 1 cup water, and cook 15 minutes. 

  • Category: Side dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Mediterranean
  • Diet: Vegan

Keywords: Butter beans, butter bean recipe

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you’ll want to make again and again.

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  1. This is a great recipe and is in our regular meal planning rotation! I don’t think it needs any additions or adjustments. Its perfect as it!

    One question for my education please: Now that it is summer, I’m not keen to turn the oven on. How would it change the outcome to cook it on the stove instead of in the oven?


    1. It should work fine! The stove just helps ensure even cooking without too much stirring which will break up the beans. Try to keep it on a low simmer and cook until tender.