I love fresh seasonal vegetables swimming in fat. I would be content on a diet of fresh veggies and butter, with candy for entertainment. Is it humanly possible to dislike a simple perfect garden tomato, sliced, sugared, salted and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar? Cabbage shredded and fried in butter and caraway seeds? Kale simmered with stock, olive oil and garlic? Radishes sliced thin on buttered bread? Onions fried in duck fat and vinegar? And maybe, to finish, a chunk of maple fudge?
And I call shenanigans on kids not liking peas. When there's a scene in a movie with Sulky Kid pushing peas around a plate, I think there's something wrong with the writer or the kid because who could not like fresh peas? I'm going to go so far as to call them nature's candy, like that annoying smug hippie lady — remember, the one who gave you boxes of raisins on Halloween? I'm taking on that ghastly role for a minute to extoll the scrumptiousness of peas. I'm eating peas in the shell right now! It's delightful! Crisp and thirst quenching and snacky, not stringy like celery or irritating like carrots (endless, tedious chewing with raw carrots), but neat and clean and fun to eat. I love any food with an edible package, a tiny but august genre that also includes kumquats and Botan rice candy.
I suppose you don't need instructions on how to eat peas, but there's a chance you might get tired of cold, raw food, so here are two wonderful ways to cook fresh peas. If you don't like peas after trying these, then I'll eat my hat. And then some more of that maple fudge. You can make these recipes in winter, too, with frozen peas, but you already know what I'm going to say. Seasonal.
Peas and Paneer, or Best Peas Ever in the Universe
Can't even deal with the greatness of this dish. It seems hard with the paneer, but trust me, it's only hard to mess up. Serves 4.
Ingredients and method:
For the paneer:
1 quart whole milk
Juice of one lemon
Clean dishtowel or fine cheesecloth
Carefully bring the milk to a low simmer in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir in the lemon juice. Watch with interest as the milk curdles. Stir until the curdling has finished, maybe 90 seconds, then drain it in a colander until cool enough to handle. Squeezing out fluid as you go, scoop the curds into a waiting square of clean dishtowel or fine-meshed cheesecloth. Pull up the corners of the material to form a little sack, tie the ends around your faucet and hang the curds to drain over the sink for an hour or so.
For the peas:
2 cups of fresh peas, shelled
4 tablespoons clarified butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and pour in the peas. Clarified butter is easy to make and won't burn or brown — always keep a jar in the fridge. If you must, you can substitute 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil, which will raise the smoking point of the fat. Add the salt, cumin and cayenne pepper.
Cook your peas over low heat for 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Then add the coriander seeds, turn the heat up to medium and cook for one more minute before removing it from heat.
Now, back to your paneer. With your hands, form it into large pea shapes. In another frying pan with high sides, heat up a generous ½ inch of peanut oil. The paneer balls are crumbly, so gently fry them for one minute, until mostly browned. Don't fuss over them in the pan, or they'll fall apart. Remove the paneer from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper towel and add it to the pan of peas. Reheat the mixture for a minute or two, not stirring, just jostling the pan, and serve immediately.
Easier Peas That Are Still Very Good. With Mint.
Ingredients and method:
1 cup fresh shelled peas
1 cup sugar snap peas in the pod, ends trimmed
2 minced scallions
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and lots of pepper
½ cup fresh grated parmesan (optional)
Heat a pot of salted water to a boil, then put the shelled peas in a strainer and lower it into the water. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove the peas and run them under cold water, then dump them in a bowl. Do the same for one minute longer with the peas in the pod.
In a sauté pan, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add sugar, vinegar and mint and cook for 2 more minutes. Turn off the heat and add the peas. Give a good shake and mix, then salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle on the parmesan before serving, if desired.
A kind person from Bridgeville wrote asking if Jada Calypso Brotman had a cookbook. She recommends Pa's Cookbook by her father, Darius Brotman, whose recipes she's shared in the Journal.