Mean Peas

It’s been a very long time since I shelled peas.

I had plenty of time to try to think of when it might have been that I last did so while I was shelling the peas, since I don’t do it often and I am terribly slow at it. I honestly couldn’t remember what year it might have been.

In the springtime in Michigan, we bought our peas already shelled at the Kalamazoo farmers’ market. I will admit, I appreciated these peas I shelled myself more, knowing what it took me to get this little bowl together, than I did the ones in Michigan when I could just dump a shelled pound into a pan without a thought.

Repetitive food tasks appeal to me – they become meditative. When I worked for Whole Foods as a cheesemonger, I genuinely enjoyed the first few quiet hours of the day, when there were few people around and I could wire-cut 120 lbs. of cheddar, wrap it, and stack it in neat rows. My mind could be somewhere else while I did that, as the task became second nature to me over the five years I did that work.

I was trying to be mindful of the peas as I shelled them, though. To shell peas, you press down on the far end of the pod first to open it, then peel it open and tease the peas out. When pressed, tightly-packed pods tend to make a cracking noise, I discovered on this occasion, and ones where there is a little space at the end make a tiny popping noise, one that sounds like the natural antecedent of the opening of a champagne bottle.

I cooked these peas in salted water with butter until they were creamy and soft – I was surprised to find that it took 10 minutes – then tossed them with sautéed onions, garlic and spices. I remembered, as I was getting my seasoning together, that peas have a natural affinity for cardamom, and was pleased I had – it really brought the dish together.

6 c. peas in shells (to yield about 2 c. shelled peas)
1 T. butter
salt to taste

oil for the pan
1 large green onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. cardamom
salt and pepper to taste

Bring enough water to boil to cover peas. Salt generously and add butter. Place peas in boiling water and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

While the peas are cooking, heat oil in a medium-sized sauté pan until hot but not smoking. When it is hot, add the onion and sauté until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and spices, and cook until the spices emit a cooked rather than raw scent and the onion mixture becomes a bit dry.

When the peas are done, drain, allowing a small amount of the cooking liquid to remain with them. Toss the peas and onion mixture together. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves two pea lovers or four as a small side dish.

3 thoughts on “Mean Peas

  1. seems shucking peas is the perfect studying/revision activity (ie my current life); or does it require great eye to hand contact?! i kind of like repetitive food activity too, though my knife skills probably match that of a small child, so chopping garlic and onions produces some rather uneven- let’s say ‘rustic’ specimens…. the only repetitve activity i think i despised in the kitchen was squewering wet, almost-frozen chicken pieces onto kebabs for a party. thanks mum. and *i’m* the non meat eater….. ! 😉

  2. Thanks, Sophie! Pea-shelling does require a fair bit of hand-eye coordination, but it might be a good time to mentally review formulas you’ve committed to memory or check how well you’re remembering any mnemonics you’ve assembled to help you remember lists of things that you’ll be asked about on the next test.
    Good chopping is just a matter of practice. Do this technique on the next 20 onions you chop, and you’ll have it:
    I have a similar story about raw chicken that I should tell sometime – though I never even managed to touch the stuff!

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