Opinion: From pesto to ‘parathas’, may peas be with you
- In praise of the fresh flavours and versatility of winter peas
- Peas unless picked at the perfect time can be starchy and dull in flavour
Tiny-sized peas with a lot of pod room wasted. Or may be the farmer plucked it too soon? Either way it’s a 6/10."
“Just one large pea in the pod, rather poor in flavour. No good. 5/10"
“This pea pod is perfect. Uniformly sized peas, filling up the pod just right and sweet flavour too. 10/10."
That is my 10-year-old son and me gamifying the mundane chore of shelling peas. We discuss the anatomy of each pea, checking its colour, flavour, freshness, etc., and allotting a score. A creepy crawly tenant in a pea pod elicits a shrill scream and a straight zero score. Understandably, our rather evolved judging process doesn’t leave too much of the shelled peas for cooking.
Peas unless picked at the perfect time can be starchy and dull in flavour. December, January and early February are the only months worth buying fresh peas. While seasonal delicacies like matar ka nimona and kachoris are a must-try at least once during the season, I also add them to everyday dishes like curries, khichdi, pulao, etc. Cooking peas in the pressure cooker does no good for their colour and texture. I boil the peas separately and add them to the dishes towards the end of the cooking process, so that the bright green colour is retained. Adding a pinch of salt and sugar to the water in which the peas are boiled keeps the colour bright green. Immersing the boiled peas in a bowl of iced water also helps retain their vibrancy.
My friend Preeti Modi runs a hectic business while also managing to keep her love for cooking alive. From all the family recipes she has shared with me, these parathas (see recipe) made using fresh green peas are one of my favourites. The best part about this recipe is that the green peas filling can be frozen and used for a couple of months, allowing us to stretch and enjoy the pea season for longer. This frozen pea filling can also be used as the stuffing mixture for the Bengali winter delicacy—koraishutir kochuri, refined flour puris flavoured with a filling of spiced green pea paste.
I have a couple of other super quick ways that highlight this seasonal vegetable (or legume, if you insist). The first one is a pea and mint pesto.
Blanche fresh peas for a minute or two in boiling water, then plunge into cold water and drain thoroughly. Blend the peas with garlic, lots of mint leaves, salt, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Toss cooked pasta in this pesto till it gets coated evenly. This hearty dinner takes just about 15 minutes to put on the table.
The second one is foulmoukalla, a Syrian cold mezze dish typically made using broad beans. That does not stop me from trying it with whatever beans (or peas) I can lay my hands on.
Blanch a cup or two of fresh peas and refresh in cold water. Drain and keep aside. In about 2 tablespoons olive oil, sauté as much chopped garlic as you can muster. Chop a couple of handfuls of coriander leaves and add to the oil. Toss in the cooked peas and salt. Serve warm or cold. Serve with toasted pita bread and some labneh dip.
PREETI’S GREEN PEAS PARATHAS
11/2cups shelled fresh peas
1-inch piece ginger, sliced
3-4 green chillies
1 1/3 tsp salt
1 tbsp ghee or oil
1 tsp ajwain (carom) seeds
1 tbsp amchoor powder
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
Ghee or oil to cook the parathas
In a mixer, grind the fresh peas, ginger, chillies and salt to a coarse paste.
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat ghee. Fry the ajwain seeds for a few seconds. To this, add the prepared paste along with amchoor powder. Keep stirring on a medium flame until the mixture nearly dries out. This should take around 10 minutes.
Remove the mixture into a bowl. Add the flour and form a dough, using 2-3 spoonfuls of water if required. Keep this covered for 15 minutes. Divide into six portions and roll out into parathas of roughly 1 cm thickness.
Heat a skillet and cook the parathas, for 3-4 minutes each side, over a medium flame until golden spots appear. Brush with a little ghee or oil during the process. Serve hot with yogurt for a hearty breakfast or as is for a tea-time snack.
Note: The dough can also be prepared separately and the pea mixture used as a stuffing. The method detailed in the recipe is quicker and beginner friendly.
The prepared peas mixture can be kept in the freezer for six-eight weeks.
MATAR PANEER ON TOAST
(This is a perfect addition to a Sunday brunch menu)
2 thick slices of sourdough bread
2 large cloves garlic
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh green peas
1/3 tsp coarse salt
1/3 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/3 cup crumbled fresh paneer
1/3 tsp smoked paprika powder (optional)
1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs
1 tsp toasted pumpkin seeds
Finely chopped fresh herbs
Toast the sourdough bread slices. Rub one side of both slices with a peeled garlic clove. Drizzle a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil on both.
Blanche the green peas. Place them in a bowl and coarsely mash with a potato-masher along with salt, black pepper and the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Leave some of the peas intact for texture. This can also be pulsed in a food processor if you want the consistency of guacamole. Mix in paneer, taking care not to mash it up too much. Divide the mixture between the two slices of toast.
Sprinkle smoked paprika, crushed dried herbs, pumpkin seeds and fresh herbs over the top. Serve immediately.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.
She tweets at @saffrontrail