True Confessions time:I despise peas. They are the eyeballs of the vegetable world, quite literally – tiny, pasty eyeballs that show up to ruin otherwise lovely dishes, like carbonara and shrimp with lobster sauce and, worst of all, the ubiquitous fish and chips “with mushy minted peas.” How on earth does anyone think that sounds the least bit appetizing???
But I digress. Spring as they may hearken, it will be a long time before you see a post about English peas on this blog, which is why I felt something of a personal victory in purchasing pea tendrils at the market on Sunday.
I’m not sure if they’re the tendrils of shelling peas or pod peas (HUGE difference to pea haters, by the way – snap and sugar peas are just fine, thank you), or if they just mix them all in the bin and it doesn’t matter, but to purposefully (and rather expensively) purchase things that might have some connection to the peas I deplore is dedication to experimentation, my friends.
Yup, you heard it here first: they’re delightful! I assumed they would taste sort of like peas, so I mixed in the leftover nettle greens I had on hand as well just in case I hated them, but I needn’t have, and maybe even shouldn’t have, as the two greens have very different flavors and yes, my plate seriously resembled lawn clippings. But the pea tendrils had a delicate nuttiness, a vegetative crunch without the grassy flavor so common in most greens, an underlying mild sweetness, and tasted just simply fresh. It was spring on a plate. Add to that the graceful curve of the vines’ tiny fingers flash-sauteed in hot oil and fresh garlic, the bright deep green, the shy head of a white flower poking out from a tiny swaddle of leaves and the entire thing took on something of a gentile air. I wanted to slow sip a pale sparkling wine while discussing poetry in a cool mid-afternoon sun. (Instead of shoveling food into my face before I pass out from exhaustion and drinking my wine like it’s shots of tequila while watching DVR’ed shows with closed captioning because the kids are asleep and my house is too small? Yes.)
Pea tendrils are the young shoots of pea plants, which makes me so happy because snow peas are one of the few things that I have grown successfully more than once, except I forget to water them and they never produce pods. But now I can just harvest the vines! The older they get, the tougher, and some people say to ditch the thicker stems, but I used everything in the bag I bought and the thicker stems were simply slightly crispier – mine were probably young enough that nothing had gotten woody or chewy yet.
Look for young, spry-looking pea shoots without wilt or yellowing. Many people chop them before cooking, and if you purchased long strings of them, you probably should, but my farmer sold them in roughly 3-inch long pieces, and they were perfectly manageable on a fork and retained their beautiful curls on the plate – half the fun in the first place. The best method for cooking them seems to be exactly what I found: very hot oil, throw them in for a quick saute and a minute later add garlic until you can smell it (the whole process goes fast – maybe even just three minutes start to finish), put on a plate with salt, and enjoy. People that like spices add red pepper flakes, too. I tossed mine with some pasta for a vegetarian dinner. You might also serve them with a fried or poached egg. You see what I’m going for here? Keep it simple, folks. Simple and spring-like. And if you have time for a little poetry, let me know how that goes. I’m jealous already.
Trim? Conventional wisdom says that if you can see flowers, remove the stems nearby as they’ll be too thick to be appetizing, some even include the tendrils. I think the tendrils are pretty and had no problem with thicker stems, but if you’re eating raw I would follow the advice.
Edible when raw? Yes, but trim off the thicker stems.
Worth the price of organic? Hard to say. Peas are traditionally considered a “clean” food, but I think that’s because you toss the pod. I would definitely go organic for the tendrils – they just seem to invite pesticide residue based on how they grow.
Best with: Simple, spring-like flavors – fresh garlic, lemon, radishes, eggs, plain grains – brown rice is as nutty as I’d go; heavy starches like bulgur or barley or beans would overpower the delicacy of the shoots, in my opinion.
In Season: Spring
How to Store: They don’t keep well. Use the day you buy them, the next day at the most. Store in the fridge if you’re keeping them at all, but honestly, they wilt very fast.