Butter Beans and Tuna, with lemon and dried sage

Butter Beans and Tuna, with lemon and dried sage

This Butter Beans and Tuna is a roundabout recipe. Couple of days I ago I cooked the red kidney bean curry again. One of the onions, though, didn’t have its floral stalk. That’s something I’ve never seen before, and didn’t really think much of it. Until I started to taste the curry. That one onion was not only the strongest but the most bitter I’ve ever tasted. Completely ruined the overall flavour. To the extent I just couldn’t face leftovers the following day. Which is how this recipe started. Yesterday, I had the tuna with caramelised onions and stuff with a courgette/zucchini pan-fried separately. Served with some rice that was really nice. Then I noticed butter beans in my local supermarket. They’re one of my favourite legumes, and very healthy. I just never eat enough of them. So, hence this recipe.

As this turned out to be a two-part kind of deal it’s going to be slightly difficult to give exact measurements for all ingredients until I cook this again. Still, with any delicate sauce it really is imperative to go for less of particular ingredients, then add a pinch or two more. And the only way to do that is to allow the flavours to infuse for a couple of minutes before stirring through and tasting. This is especially true with dried  sage as it can be overpowering. So, too, with the lemon zest and juice. Besides, it’s the only way to control the overall flavour of a sauce that should be delicate. Most chefs cook this way. As the saying goes, if it’s good enough for them. And the one thing I can’t stress enough here is: caramelise the onions – otherwise this won’t taste the same!

Butter Beans and Tuna, with lemon and dried sage


  • rapeseed oil
  • 200g (7.05 oz) x onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 – 2 x dried bay leaves, ripped
  • 3 – 4 x medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed/minced
  • 1 x 170g or 120g drained weight (5.99 or 4.23 oz drained) tuna chunks (in brine), well drained
  • 1/4 x teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 x 420g or 235g drained weight (14.81 or 8.28 oz drained) can butter beans, drained and well rinsed
  • 150 – 200ml (0.317 – 0.422 pt US Liq) x water
  • 1/2 – 1½ x (organic) vegetable stock cubes, as I’m using very low salt I’ve had to use 1½ – use 1/2 to begin with and add more according to taste
  • 1 x teaspoon lemon zest, or more to personal taste
  • up to 1 x lemon, freshly squeezed
  • several pinches x dried sage – less is more!
  • 1 – 2 x heaped teaspoon ground almonds, start with 1 and add more to taste
  • about 6 grinds each x sea salt and black peppercorns

Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.


  • Put a large heavy-based saucepan (I’m using stainless steel) on electric heat No 3 (out of 6). When pan is hot and the onions are ready pour in a good glug of oil, enough to cover the base. Add the onions and bay leaves and stir through often whilst preparing the other ingredients. When onions start to turn a pale gold in colour reduce the heat if necessary. After about 15 minutes spread the onions to the sides and add the garlic for about 5 minutes. Then, once the tuna is well drained push the garlic to the sides and add the tuna chunks. Allow to settle for at least 5 minutes before stirring through. At any time add a little more oil, or a splash of water, to prevent scorching. Spread the tuna to the sides and sprinkle over the cayenne and stir through.
  • Meanwhile, in a separate heavy-based pan/skillet put that on heat No 3. When hot add a little oil and scatter in the drained butter beans and stir through occasionally. When beginning to turn a little golden add the lemon zest for several minutes.
  • Add the butter beans to the onion and tuna mixture. Either prep the stock in a separate saucepan or pour in some of the water and some of the stock cubes. Allow that to dissolve completely. Add a small pinch of sage and pour in about half of the lemon juice, at this stage. Allow all ingredients to infuse before tasting.
  • This is where a pinch more of sage and a little more of lemon juice comes in on its own. Remember, less is more. Until you get the right levels of overall taste to suit.
  • If, like me, you’re using very low salt stock cubes then do add about 4 grinds each of sea salt and black peppercorns. Then, continue to add very small amounts of the stock, lemon juice, zest and sage until the right flavour is achieved. Sprinkle over 1 heaped teaspoon of ground almonds. Again, allow those to infuse before tasting. Add more if necessary.

All photographs within (Todas las fotografías dentro de) Feed the Piglet:
All rights reserved (© Todos los derechos reservados) – Copyright © Johnny H Hepburn


    • I am, too. Have just made this again for sups with plain ‘ol spaghetti. Going to do the rest with garlic and herb cream cheese for a dip.
      If you ever get the chance of buying pineapple sage, grab it! It’s delicious with baby green leaves like rocket/arugula and spinach. Served with a light dressing of evo oil and white balsamic it’s heavenly.


  1. Not only do I have all the ingredients (I even have left-over ground almonds that I was scratching my head how to use up – so yay!) but I’m also having a Pavlovian drooling reaction to the pix, so there’s a very good chance that there is a lima beans and sage in the stars for me and my belly!


    • You know, I had to Google Pavlovian! I’m dark-ash fair, and yet I’m very blond today. Yeah, made this last night and forgot to add the ground almonds. Didn’t really notice much difference, though. Going to try it as a dip at room temperature tomorrow. Think I might even do a new post. If you do make it I hope it works out, especially as it takes a while to get those flavours subtly infused.


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