THICK, STARCHY and filling may not be the most fashionable description for a vegetable, but it means that lima and butter beans can warm cold hearts with creamy soups, add soft touches to marinated salads, color and variety to meat dishes. And they taste wonderful either fresh from the garden or frozen, served piping-hot, flavored with ham hocks or bacon, butter, salt and pepper.

Minus their thick outer skins, these last of the diehard summer vegetables could be a substitute for refried beans -- it's the somewhat mushy consistency that makes people either love them or hate them. And, considering they originated in South America, that's not so odd -- traces have been found along the northwest Peruvian coastline dating as far back as 3000 B.C.

They are commonly called fordhooks -- limas, baby limas and butter beans. When buying them fresh, look for firm, unshriveled pods. Limas should be light green; butter beans, which are harder to find fresh due to a lack of demand, have a yellowish-green pod. Each half-cup serving will set you back 95 calories. They are high in Vitamins A and C, potassium, phosphorus and iron. And they cost about $1.10 per pound.

In addition to color, what separates these protein-laden beans from one another is the butter bean's smaller seed and its slightly longer growing season. Both make their appearance on the market in early July. The fresh limas disappear during October; butter beans grow throughout October and disappear shortly thereafter.

To hull fresh limas and butter beans, cut a thin strip along the inner edge, pull the pod open and scrape out the beans with your thumbs. Rinse with warm water and they are ready to cook.

You can use fresh or frozen limas or butter beans interchangeably in the recipes below. Bacon, which is a natural flavor enhancer for limas, is required in many of these recipes -- use nitrite-free when possible. The succotash is for bean-lovers. But lima-loathers should give them a second chance with the peppered bean and mushroom salad or the limas with sausage.

FRESH LIMA OR BUTTER BEANS (6 servings) 3 pounds fresh lima or butter beans 1/4 pound thick-sliced bacon 1/2 cup butter Salt and pepper, to taste Dash hot pepper sauce (optional)

Open bean pods and pop beans out of shells with your thumbs. Rinse in warm water. Place in medium saucepan with remaining ingredients. Add water to half the level of the beans. Cover and bring to simmer. Continue to cook until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve.

NOTE: Frozen beans are cooked the same way. Simply cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender.

PEPPERED BEANS AND MUSHROOM SALAD (4 to 6 servings) 2 cups cooked lima or butter beans 1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced 1/2 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons wine vinegar 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1 small clove garlic 4 strips bacon 4 ounces gruyere cheese, diced Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine beans, mushrooms, oil, vinegar, pepper and garlic in a medium bowl. Fry bacon in skillet until crisp, then drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon. Toss bacon, cheese and mushroom-bean mixture together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Adapted from Bert Greene's "Kitchen Bouquets"

LEE GIORDANO'S LIMA BEANS AND SAUSAGE (4 servings) 8 hot Italian sausages (with fennel) 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large yellow onion, cut into thinly sliced rounds 3 tablespoons tomato paste 3/4 cup tomato sauce 2 cups cooked lima or butter beans Salt and pepper, to taste

In large pan, brown sausages in olive oil. Lower heat and continue cooking 15 minutes more. Add onion and cook until just tender. Add tomato paste and tomato sauce. Continue cooking until sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes. Gently mix in lima beans and salt and pepper to taste. Pour in casserole and bake at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until casserole ingredients begin to stick together.

SUCCOTASH (6 servings) 2 cups cooked corn 2 cups cooked lima or butter beans 1/4 cup butter Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix together corn, limas, butter and salt and pepper. Warm over low heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: This recipe is especially good if made with fresh corn. Simply drop cobs into boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from water, cool. With a sharp knife cut kernels from cob.

PAUL RICHARD'S LIMAS WITH CHILI PEPPERS (4 servings) 2 cups uncooked lima beans 1/4 pound bacon, chopped 1 large yellow onion, chopped 1/2 to 1 chili pepper, chopped, seeds removed 1 medium carrot, shredded 2 tablespoons butter Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan. Cover with water and cook over medium heat, with lid on, until beans are tender, about 20 minutes. This is makes a nice soupy broth.

BEANS WITH MOLASSES (6 servings) 2 cups cooked lima or butter beans 1/4 pound bacon, cut into small pieces 1 large white onion, minced 1 tablespoon molasses 16-ounce can Italian-style tomatoes, undrained 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon chili powder Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a greased casserole. Bake at 325 degrees, covered, for 1 hour.

NEW BRUNSWICK STEW (8 servings) 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut up, skin removed 3 to 4 cups chicken broth 28-ounce can Italian-style tomatoes, drained 3 large potatoes, skinned and cut into eighths 2 medium yellow onions, diced 1 cup diced ham 2 cups lima or butter beans 2 cups corn Salt and pepper, to taste

In large pot cover chicken with broth and simmer until tender and chicken begins to fall from bones, about 1 hour. Remove meat from bones and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Return chicken to stock and add tomatoes, potatoes, onions and ham. Bring to simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove potatoes from stew and mash with a fork. Return to stew with beans and corn. Return to simmer and cook additional 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.