Have you ever tried a pea tendril? Until just this weekend, I had never tried one, and I would venture a guess that I am not alone. Even if you have never even heard of a pea tendril, feel no shame. When I was quickly browsing the farmer's market, dodging renegade rain droplets, I spotted these and I had to ask the grower, "Hey what are these???"
So what exactly are pea tendrils?
Pea tendrils, also known as pea shoots, are the young leaves, stems, vines, and flowers of a pea plant. All the parts of the plant are edible. The type of pea plant is typically either a snow pea or a shelling pea, and the original variety will have an impact on the taste of the tendrils. The pea tendrils are harvested before pea pods have developed, and depending on the maturity of the plant, there may only be small shoots with leaves or there may be long stems with leaves, flowers, and vines (like the ones I have here). The different parts of the plant have different textures (also depending on maturity) and the stem in particular can be crunchy and tougher.
In taste pea tendrils are slightly sweet, with a mild bitter aftertaste, and they have a nutty undertone. The leaves have a texture similar to spinach, although not as delicate.
I think pea tendrils have an almost magical quality about them; they only appear for a few weeks during the year and it seems the allure of their twirling vines and soft white blooms are capable of ensnaring even the most discerning locavore. Their season is just at the close of winter, so the appearance of pea tendrils at the farmers market is a sure sign of spring.
So how should you eat pea tendrils?
Well, you might be irked, but rather than give you hard and fast recipes, I am going to tell you about two dishes that I have tried, and share some ideas for a few more. I have recently been pouring over Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food and I have been using her philosophies of appreciating and using ingredients simply and organically. Since I especially wanted to value local food, I made both dishes with additional ingredients I had picked up at the farmers market.
The first dish I made was pea tendrils sauteed with garlic, topped with a cage-free brown egg. I usually get these beautiful large brown eggs from the farmers market in Del Mar for only $3.75 a dozen which I think is a fantastic price for fresh, local, free-range eggs. To cook the pea tendrils, I separated out the tougher stems and roughly chopped the remaining portions, and then sauteed them in a little olive oil with minced garlic and salt. After they were cooked, I fried the egg in the same pan and then topped the greens with the egg, as well as salt and pepper to taste.
The second dish I made was a pea tendril salad, with sweet Cara Cara orange segments and kalamata olives. As I mentioned in my last post, citrus is still plentiful here in San Diego, and I am taking full advantage. For the salad, I first roughly chopped the pea tendrils (removing tougher stems), and then segmented the Cara Cara. (For a video link and more information on how to segment citrus, check the bottom of one of my oldest posts - Avocado and Red Grapefruit Salad.) I collected the orange juice during segmenting, and combined it with olive oil, minced garlic, champagne vinegar and salt/pepper to make a vinaigrette. The fresh, sweet, and salty all came together by topping the pea tendrils with the orange segments, plus kalamata olives and crumbled goat cheese, and dressing it with the vinaigrette. This salad would also be fantastic topped with quality Italian tuna.
A few other ideas for enjoying fresh, young pea tendrils are:
-As greens for a sandwich
-Stir fried with carrots, baby corn, tofu and teriyaki sauce
-Sauteed and served with a delicate white fish
-Used any other way you might use spinach or mache
If you are lucky enough to spot pea tendrils at your local farmers market or Whole Foods, I would recommend snatching them up before it is too late. At $1 a bunch, you can't beat the price and I would always advocate eating seasonally as well as being open to new culinary experiences!
So, how will you eat your pea tendrils? Please share any other ideas you have!
This just in: saw a new post from White on Rice Couple that uses whole fresh shelling peas to for plump pea dumplings. Not exactly a recipe where you could sub pea tendrils, but still a great way to use spring's bounty of freshness. Check it out if you love peas!