Thursday, June 23, 2011

Three Peas Please

Three bean salad gets all the summertime attention. (No? Well you’ve heard of it anyway.) Before the full-fledged barbecue season begins, however, there are peas that need their moment in the salad spotlight. Sugar snap peas take center stage, at least in my productions, and they deserve it. They’re fresh, sweet and tasteful, and, unlike some other stars we might know, always leave their outfits intact.

The first bag of sugar snap peas we got from the CSA were so super crisp and sweet that they only needed their ends and strings removed to be perfectly and comfortably edible. Sometimes, the pods of sugar snaps, which are more fleshy and tender than those of other peas, can be just a bit fibrous and stringy. If that is the case with your peas, you can blanch them (boil briefly, then shock them in ice water to stop the cooking) before using them in this salad (or any salad.)

Really, I could have eaten all of these sugar snap peas out of hand, like trail mix or potato chips, they were so tender and sweet, but I had had the idea for a three-pea salad for a long time, so I kept some aside to combine with English peas, yellow split peas, toasted walnuts and a walnut dressing. I totally cheated and used some frozen organic peas, which were nice and sweet as well. Fresh peas are pretty hard to find, even when they’re in season, and can lose their peak flavor very quickly once they are plucked from their vines. Packaged frozen peas are picked and immediately frozen while their flavor is just right and are usually a very good substitute for fresh peas, unless you have your own little field of peas from which to pick.

I wrote the recipe below to include cooked yellow split peas because I only used ½ cup of them, and it seemed silly to include instructions for firing up the stove and cooking so few peas. Instead, I recommend cooking up a whole pot of them, putting the ½ cup in this salad and freezing the rest to use in soups, curries, dals, other salads, or a second run at this salad. If yellow split peas are not convenient or desirable, you could probably use another variety of split peas or lentils. They add some starchy body to the salad in addition to their voice as third pea.

The walnut dressing is thick and creamy. It’s kind of a small volume to make in a full-size blender (I did it anyway), so maybe one of those miniature food processors would work better. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I was just thinking of how the crunchy sugar snap peas, sweet English peas and starchy yellow split peas were going to taste in a bath of walnuts and lemon flavor. They needed another accompaniment, and Parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano) did the trick, adding a sharp and salty flavor and a bit more chewy texture to balance out the sweet peas and crunchy walnuts. I sort of twisted my knife through a block of Parmesan to get little irregular shards of cheese.

It turned out to be a very good show. Good enough to run again. This is good, because even though the Summer Solstice has come and gone, the weather in this part of the country has not been conducive to full-fledged summer eating. Sugar snap peas may have to be the stars for some time to come.

Three Pea Salad with Walnuts and Parmesan
The dressing for this salad is based on one in Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by John Peterson

If your sugar snap peas are a little tough or fibrous, you can blanch them briefly before using them in this salad.

¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups sugar snap peas, strings and ends removed, blanched if desired (measure after trimming)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thaw and drain well if frozen)
½ cup cooked yellow split peas
¼ cup Parmesan cheese coarsely crumbled (about ¼-inch pieces)
1 tablespoon walnut oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

1. Place the walnuts in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast for a few minutes, stirring or tossing often, until they are just beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

2. Coarsely chop the trimmed snap peas (I cut them in half or thirds). In a medium-size bowl, combine the snap peas, peas, yellow split peas, ½ cup walnuts, and Parmesan cheese.

3. In a blender jar or mini food processor, combine the remaining ¼ cup walnuts, walnut oil, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth, adding additional water if the mixture is too thick to blend. Pour over the snap pea mixture. Be sure to scrape as much of the dressing out of the blender jar as possible. Mix well to coat.

Makes 4-6 servings. Store leftovers for a day or two in the refrigerator.

Another recipe like this one: Wheat Berry Salad with Sugar Snap Peas and Lemon Vinaigrette

One year ago: Rustic Homemade Crackers with Thyme, Green Bean and Shiitake Salad with Creamy Wasabi Dressing

Two years ago: No-knead Bread

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