Find A Little Peas In Your Life

At the sudden appearance of different kinds of peas on the order page this week, my curiosity peaked. Last week we were graced with the presence of Butter Beans, Dixie Field Peas, and English Peas; this week we have Pink Eye Purple Hull, White Acre Peas, and Butter Beans. Peas are a southern staple and are incredibly versatile, not to mention how many different varieties we have to work with: Dixie, Crowder, Black Eyed, Zipper, White Acre, Pink Eye, etc. All of these peas can be dried to preserve but they are best when fresh–we have come into the season of fresh peas! So what are all these different kinds of peas and how can we use them?

There are several basic categories of peas (which are technically beans):

Black-eyed. These are white or beige with a black circular “eye” in the inner curve. Colored eyes also may be pink, brown or tan.

Crowder. Starchy and hardy in texture, crowder peas are so named because they are crowded in the pod. The close spacing blunts the ends of the peas and gives them a squarish shape. They cook up darker, too.

Cream. Smaller, light-colored peas that cook up light. These peas have a more delicate, buttery flavor and creamier texture.

Field pea. Robust and small, they produce a dark liquid when cooked.

You can use a lot of these peas in very similar ways, it just depends on what texture you’re going for. The lighter, more creamy peas (such as butter beans) will be softer and more delicate. Field and crowder peas are generally heartier and darker. Honestly, when in doubt, just throw the peas in with some tomatoes, other vegetables, and spices, and you can’t go wrong!

I grew up with a very southern grandmother who made elaborate “Sunday Dinners” that often included butter beans. As a child I was addicted to butter beans, and have carried this love into adulthood; but I didn’t know until recently that there were other ways to cook them besides boiling them with butter and salt. As delicious as this traditional southern staple is, you can get as creative with peas/beans as you want to! I took home some Dixie Field Peas to experiment with and found an amazing recipe for Smoky Black Eyed Peas with Fried Green Tomatoes. My love of fried green tomatoes convinced me that it was ok to substitute the black eyed peas with Dixie peas, and I was correct! As strange as it may sound, this turned out to be one of the best dishes I have made in a while. The smoky flavor of the peas complemented the fried green tomato—and who doesn’t like peas cooked in beer? The consistency of the peas reminded me of baked beans without the smushy texture or the sweetness. Top with fresh cilantro and feta cheese and your taste buds will be in heaven!

Ingredients
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups fresh black-eyed peas
2 Smoked Ham Hocks or purchased smoked ham hocks
1 (12-oz.) bottle amber beer
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 (7-oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain white cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 large firm green tomatoes, each cut into 4 slices
Canola oil
3 large ripe red tomatoes, each cut into 4 slices
1/2 cup crumbled feta or Cotija cheese
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Hot sauce  

Preparation

  1. Sauté onions in 3 Tbsp. hot oil in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in peas, next 4 ingredients, 3 1/2 cups water, and 2 Tbsp. adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers. (Reserve peppers for another use.) Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes or until peas are tender. Discard bay leaf. Remove hocks. Remove ham from bones; discard bones. Chop ham; stir into peas. Add salt to taste; cover and keep warm over low heat.
  2. Stir together 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a shallow dish. Whisk together cornmeal, ground chipotle chile, and remaining 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a second shallow dish. Whisk together eggs and buttermilk in a third shallow dish.
  3. Dredge green tomatoes, 1 slice at a time, in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Dip in egg mixture, and dredge in cornmeal mixture.
  4. Pour oil to depth of 1 inch in a cast-iron skillet. Heat over medium-high heat to 375°. Fry green tomato slices, in batches, in hot oil 3 minutes on each side or until crisp. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels. (Let oil temperature return to 375° between batches.)
  5. Divide peas among 6 plates. Top each with 1 red tomato slice and 1 fried green tomato slice. Repeat tomato layers once. Sprinkle cheese and cilantro over tomatoes. Serve with hot sauce.

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I made a few alterations to the recipe: I didn’t use meat at all for flavoring the peas and when I made the fried green tomatoes I used some magical tips a friend gave me. Firstly, if you don’t have buttermilk you can make it easily with regular milk and apple cider vinegar. Simply put about a capful of apple cider vinegar into a cup of milk, stir, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, and voila—buttermilk! Secondly, I usually just use cornmeal with spices (garlic salt, pepper, cayenne pepper) for the breading because it fries really nicely and, if you have any kind of gluten-aversion, it is gluten-free. Finally, if you are looking for the perfect breading on a fried tomato, the secret is double dunking—dip the tomato in your milk, then in your cornmeal mixture, back in the milk, and then finally in the cornmeal mixture one more time and then drop (carefully) into your hot pan. Cooking fried green tomatoes is by far one of the most enjoyable southern dishes to prepare, and it tastes so fresh you almost forget that it’s fried! But back to the peas…

It was a bit harder to find an interesting recipe for butter beans–everyone loves the traditional way so much! But I discovered a recipe for Italian butter beans that looks simple and delicious. The only alteration to this recipe calls for canned butter beans so fresh ones will have to cook for a bit longer. I haven’t gotten to try this one out yet, but it is going to be my next meal!

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
2 x 400g tins butter beans, rinsed and drained
small bunch basil, chopped

Method
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Fry the garlic for 1 min, then add the tomatoes, sugar and some seasoning. Tip in the beans and a splash of water. Cover and simmer for 5 mins, then stir in the basil and serve.

So get adventurous, it is the perfect time of year! The traditional Southern dishes of Hoppin’ John and Succotash are always a great place to start. If you need some inspiration Southern Living has a great article called ’21 Ways With Summer-Fresh Field Peas.’ As the summer continues we will get to experience many different varieties of peas and I challenge you to welcome them into your kitchen with an army of cookbooks, a good sense of humor, and your favorite kind of wine.

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