At the Farmers' Market: Pea Shoots
Spring comes a lot earlier to Southern California than it does to most of the country. While Philadelphia is about to be buried under two feet of snow and the few farmers' markets in Colorado are selling things like bread and honey, we're starting with the tiniest spring vegetables.
One of those spring vegetables is peas. While the familiar round legumes are the best-known and snow peas (mangetouts) appear in many Chinese-American takeout stirfries, most Westerners don't know that the pea shoots themselves are edible, delicious and available now at the farmers' market.
Choosing pea shoots is easy; you want the sprightliest greens, ones that are actually green. Shoots mottled with white are normal and not a problem; yellowed means you have old shoots, perhaps better known as "shots". You want curled, springy tendrils.
The price is very cheap, because they're not a particularly mainstream item; you can normally get them for a dollar or so for a large bunch.
Once you get them home, treat them like herbs: wrap them in damp paper towels, then put them inside a zip-top bag. Use them quickly; they are delicate and won't last more than a few days.
The classic treatment is to blanch them in salted water, then stir-fry them with garlic; eat the whole thing. You'll get the sweetness of peas without the huge starch load the legumes themselves pack. I've had pea shoot pesto, which was quite good on fish, and I've had puréed pea shoots used in place of herbs in light vinaigrettes, which works as well.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.