Until I moved to a farm in rural Texas and met my late husband, I had never heard of purple hull peas and had only a dim knowledge of any kind of Southern pea. I learned that folks here mostly cook these beloved peas with quantities of one or another fatty pork.
Although this is similar to the way we Yankees bake beans, I wanted to try something healthier, more Mediterranean. I researched a bit and came up with a pea salad they call Texas Caviar and developed my own version of this healthy, nutritious dish.
I’ve only made this salad with fresh or fresh-frozen peas, but I suppose it will work with canned or cooked dried peas. Freshly shelled, the peas should be a pale cream color with a purple-ish “eye." Avoid packages of peas in a market that have turned brown — they’re already fermenting and good for nothing more than the compost pile.
Purple hull, black eye, zipper cream or lady peas are all actually beans, even though in the South they are called peas. They are legumes, an important vegetable protein and, combined with a whole grain, make up a complete protein.
The sweet little round green peas we love in the North? In Texas, they call them “English peas”. I’ve never heard an explanation for that.
Makes about 8 cups, plenty for 6 big portions and some left over
• 4 cups fresh purple hull peas
• 2 large tomatoes, diced
• 1 medium sweet onion, diced quite small
• 2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
• 1 or more mild, medium or hot peppers, diced small - to your taste
• 1 bunch cilantro, leaves snipped with scissors
• several cloves roasted garlic, smashed and chopped
• optional: 1 tsp minced fresh garlic
• 1 tsp Dijon-type mustard
• 2 tsp honey
• grindings of fresh black pepper
• a few red pepper flakes
• pinch of sea salt
• 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (or balsamic, if you prefer)
• 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Peas just picked in my garden, freshly shelled, steamed to my liking in just 15 minutes. Or, you can put the peas into salted water to cover well, bring to a boil and cook about 10 to 15 minutes until tender. The fresher from the garden, the faster they cook. Taste one every few minutes until they’re to your liking. You want them very tender, but not mushy. Note: The peas do firm up when chilled in a salad.
2. Drain the peas and run cold water over to stop them cooking. Drain thoroughly.
3. Prep, dice and slice, all the raw veggies for the salad. Whisk together the dressing.
4. Put the tomatoes, peppers, onion and cilantro into a large bowl and stir. Add the drained peas. Pour over the dressing and toss. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours to thoroughly marinate. Give the salad a stir now and then.
5. If space is at a premium, I’ll put the salad into a gallon zipper bag to refrigerate and marinate; that lets me turn the bag over to re-dress it. Then put the salad into a pretty bowl to serve.
For a dip, you can toss the whole salad mix into the processor and pulse to get a chunky, rough texture. Don’t puree it smooth — leave it rough.
Spoon the dip into a bowl and offer blue corn chips for scooping.
Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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