Like most cooks, I love the idea of bringing produce from the farmers’ market to my kitchen table — especially this time of year, when fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant. The only problem? I don’t always know how to use the more obscure ingredients, which are also the ones I’m most excited about.
Enter Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, founding editor of The Kitchn and author of the cookbook Good Food to Share. Simple, seasonal recipes and fuss-free entertaining are her specialty, so I asked her for ideas on preparing a short-season spring ingredient, pea shoots. She even featured them in the Spring Ragout pictured on her book cover!
Pea shoots, the delicate leaves and tendrils that grow from the vines of the pea plant, are known for their mild flavor and bright green color. Popular in Asian cooking, pea shoots are also popular in restaurants focusing on fresh, local cuisine.
“What I like about pea shoots is their concentrated taste of spring,” Gillingham-Ryan tells me. “The taste is not strong, and they don’t taste a lot like peas. I like the brightness.”
When buying and eating pea shoots, you want a quick turnaround. “This is one of those things you want as fresh as possible,” she says. “Ideally pinched from your own pea vine, or direct from the farmer.”
Here are a few of Gillingham-Ryan’s suggestions for enjoying pea shoots this spring:
- Stir-fries: “A traditional preparation is stir-frying them, as in Asian cuisine. Recipes generally call for a couple of minutes for stir-frying, but for me it’s a minute, tops. If I’m going to cook them, it’s just to mix the flavors. I like crushed garlic and red chilies.”
- Soups: “They’re great thrown on top of a brothy soup, like a fish soup. If you have access, lumps of lobster in a brothy sauce with lots of pea shoots look so pretty with the pink and green.”
- Pizzas: “I like them wilted on top of a pizza with mild buffalo mozzarella or other bright flavors and herbs.”
- Salads: “A salad would be the other classic. “Pea shoots are so light that I would keep the other ingredients super light. If I were pairing with asparagus, I would just use the tips.”
Gillingham-Ryan developed this fresh pea shoot salad for a refreshing spring first course.
Pea Shoot Salad
This is the bare-bones preparation for a pea shoot salad using a fragrant nut oil as the base for the dressing. Of course, you can sub in another kind of oil, acid such as vinegar, and add an assortment of spring-themed vegetables or herbs. I especially like snipped chive blossoms, basil and cilantro. Fresh peas are a great pairing. A special treat is to sauté some cubed pancetta or guanciale and use the rendered fat as the oil for the dressing.
3 Tbs. walnut oil
1 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 handfuls fresh pea shoots
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese shards
Shake the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a jar, or whisk in a small bowl. Taste for the right balance between the oil and the lemon, and for seasoning. Toss vigorously with the pea shoots. Top with the Parmesan and serve. Serves 4.
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.
Pea shoot image courtesy of Emily Ho of The Kitchn.