(photo credit: Courtesy)
When I was growing up in the US, green peas came from a box in the freezer. My first memories of peas in the pod were from a neighborhood produce market in Bat Yam, where I lived during my college years. The owner laughed at my ignorance when I asked him what those green pods were. I still remember my embarrassment.
Some time later my mother-in-law taught me how to cook fresh peas, and they were delicious.
Although frozen green peas are generally of good quality, there was something alluring about these fresh sweet peas. I liked their texture, even when they were raw. For me they are one of the fleeting delights of spring. Since they're not always available, when I see them, I make sure to put some in my shopping basket.
Another tasty fresh legume is green fava beans, which I never heard of as a child. They are faster to shell than peas, and are in season during much of the spring and summer. (Some Sephardim have an inherited severe allergy to fava beans, so it's best to ask your relatives if this is the case in your family.) Later in the year you might come across black-eyed peas. Their pods resemble those of green beans but they need to be shelled. At some markets you might occasionally find green chickpeas, which take long to remove from their little two-bean pods but are very tasty. A Lebanese friend told me that in his birthplace his family would also eat them raw; since then I've enjoyed them that way too. Fairly new in well-stocked supermarkets are frozen edamame, or green soy beans, which you cook briefly and eat straight from the pods. You'll recognize them as a common appetizer at sushi bars.
Of course, the most common pods are green beans, which are the easiest to prepare because you eat the whole pod. When I grew them in my garden, I discovered that they turn into shell beans if you forget to pick them when they're young. Their pods become tough and the "beans" inside turn large and resemble navy beans. They cook much faster than dried beans, however, and have a wonderful, delicate flavor.
Sometimes students in my cooking classes complain about the time it takes to shell peas and other legumes. Yet for me these pods are a treat and a healthy one at that. I don't buy a large quantity and I don't spend hours shelling them. I prepare just enough to pamper myself, my husband and occasionally one or two other people I really like. And I don't make an entire dish out of these peas and beans. We eat just a little to savor the season.
Often I use green pods in the French country fashion - in soup. A traditional potage from the Perigord region, better known for its black truffles and foie gras, is a springtime soup with fava beans, green beans and peas, as well as spring onions, carrots, celery and chard. The Loire Valley region is known not only for its beautiful chateaux but for its fruitful vegetable gardens.
In this region vegetable soup, with or without meat, might include leeks, turnips and cabbage and, as a finishing touch, fresh garden peas. As with many country soups, you ladle the finished soup over thin slices of stale bread or toast to make it more substantial.
To make these types of soups, French people check their potager (vegetable garden) to see what has ripened, and take a few vegetables into the kitchen. Incidentally, the word potager comes from potage or soup. When I grew peas and green beans, I found this custom was a natural way to enjoy the produce of my garden. I make the same types of soups with the pod vegetables that I buy.
And I make sure that anyone eating the soup knows that I shelled these peas or beans myself!
QUICK SPRINGTIME VEGETABLE SOUP WITH FRESH PEAS
You can make this soup with peas, fava beans or both. Note that fava beans take longer to cook than peas. If you like, heat 11â„2 to two cups of cooked chicken strips in the finished soup to make it heartier.
The first step in this recipe is cooking orzo, small pasta shaped like rice or barley, to serve as a tasty accompaniment. If you prefer a faster, lighter soup, skip the orzo step (in which case you can use less garlic and omit the oil, onion and part of the broth). Instead of orzo, you can serve the soup with cooked rice, croutons or toast.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
11â„2 cups orzo or riso (rice-shaped pasta)
4 to 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2â„3 cup fresh shelled peas or young fava beans, or 1â„3 cup of each
2 medium carrots, diced
60 to 120 gr. green beans, tough ends removed, broken in 3 pieces
2 medium summer squash (Hebrew kishu) or zucchini, halved and sliced
225 gr. mushrooms, quartered
1â„2 tsp. paprika, either sweet or hot
1â„2 tsp. turmeric
2 Tbsp. chopped dill or parsley
In a medium saucepan heat oil, add onion and saute five minutes over medium heat. Add orzo and half the garlic and saute over low heat, stirring often, for two minutes. Add salt, pepper, and three cups of broth. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 12 minutes or until orzo is just tender. Fluff with a fork.
Bring remaining broth to a simmer in another saucepan. If using fava beans (but not peas), add them to the broth, cover and simmer them for 10 minutes or until just tender. Add carrots, cover and simmer five minutes. Add green beans, squash, mushrooms, peas, paprika, turmeric and remaining garlic. Bring to a boil. Simmer for five to seven minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add dill at serving time. Serve orzo in a separate bowl, for adding to soup.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.
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