Creamy Lima Beans Inspired By The Arm Of The Sphinx

This Post Contains Spoilers From The Arm Of The Sphinx 

This creamy lima bean recipe is inspired by The Arm of the Sphinx, the second novel in The Books of Babel fantasy series by Josiah Bancroft.

Following months of surviving on the Stone Cloud thanks to self-caught grilled squab, the crew members find themselves sequestered in a suite provided by the Sphinx. Although quasi-imprisoned, the accommodations are comfortable and include a fully stocked kitchen. 

The crew's routine includes cooking meals, but just Adam has a talent for it. Iren, Edith, and Violeta all look forward to his midday meal - and his lima beans were of particular note.

"He could make lima beans that were so silky and sweet even Iren ate them without complaint."

When I think of lima beans, I think of pale small green beans - probably from my local grocer's freezer section. So I felt this an excellent opportunity to change my perspective on the dreaded pale green lima bean. 

I ordered some beautiful large, white, dried lima beans from Rancho Gordo. When they showed up at my door, I was beyond amazed. The beans were unlike all other lima beans I’ve encountered. 

I set to work, trying to imagine how Adam would cook lima beans. I tried my hardest to make a simple recipe with ingredients I imagined the characters might have access to. 

My recipe uses beans slow-cooked in a combination of good collagen-rich stock and water. For seasoning, I keep it simple: lots of smashed garlic, some salt, and a large bay leaf.  I then take a cue from Cuban-style beans, which usually include sofrito - a blend that contains spices, onion, fat, and sometimes an acid. Sofrito is stirred into the already-cooked beans. My sofrito-inspired blend is made out of shallots, unsalted butter, lemon zest, and white wine vinegar. These beans are precisely how the book describes them - "silky and sweet." 

This is a simple recipe, but the quality of ingredients matters. Buy good dried beans and use collagen-rich stock, and these beans will be unlike any you've tasted before. If you don't feel like making your own chicken stock, I recommend buying low-sodium chicken bone broth. It's stocked in the freezer section of most grocery stores. 

This recipe is easily doubled and would make a great side dish even if you've never read the Books of Babel series.



  • 8 ounces dried large lima beans, rinsed and sorted
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock or store-bought chicken bone broth
  • 4 cups of water
  • 7 garlic cloves smashed
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon shallot, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest


Step 1

Combine the following ingredients in a large pot with a lid: dried beans, stock, water, smashed garlic, and kosher salt - stir everything together and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, occasionally stirring. Keep an eye on the liquid level - if it seems low, stir in another cup of water. Cook the beans for about 90 minutes. When cooked, the beans will be tender but the skins should still be intact.

Step 2

Melt the unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallot and cook until soft and fragrant. Remove the saucepan from heat, and stir in the lemon zest and white wine vinegar. Stir the sofrito into the cooked beans. Allow the beans to cool slightly before serving. Beans are best when slightly warm. This recipe makes awesome leftovers because the sauce thickens. If you find the sauce too thick when reheating, stir in a couple tablespoons of water.

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