Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tasty Peas

About the only good thing I have to say about the cool, rainy June that just ended is that my peas were happy. I plant peas every year, and, as it goes with gardens, some years are good years and some years are bad years. For the last few years, some combo of me planting the peas too late and the weather getting hot early has meant that my peas haven't done that well. This year, though, boy are the peas happy. It feels a little bit like a consolation prize for the endless crappy weather. I'm delighted to have peas to put in salad and in orzo and to eat greedily out of the pod while standing barefoot in the garden. But I was also glad to have enough peas so that I could make this dish.

Usually when I eat peas in India, they're in mattar paneer or in a mixed vegetable dish. But this January, in Varanasi, I had dinner at the house of my former study abroad colleague, Bantu. And Bantu's wife Dolly made this pea dish, a special spring dish, she told me, made when peas were in season (as they are in January, which, in northern India, is sort of the equivalent of early spring). As soon as she started telling me about it, and as I watched her cook, I knew I wanted to try to replicate it, so I observed in the kitchen and then made Dolly dictate her recipe to me. It seemed simple enough, with the peas cooked with red onion and bay leaves, and then a paste of green garlic and green onion and ginger mixed in. And then some water added to make it soupy, though by the time we ate it, the water had mostly cooked off.

And the peas were just as delicious as anticipated. We ate them with pooris, which can be heavy, but the peas themselves aren't. (And Indian vegetable dishes, especially the ones you get in restaurants, can be rather oil-laden.) They mostly tasted fresh and green, with a kick from the ginger and the garlic. When I asked Dolly what they were called, she said "Saloni Mattar." I asked what that meant. She paused for a moment, and then said, "Tasty peas."

And so they were.

A few notes. While I took down careful notes of what Dolly did when, I hadn't written down any amounts, so when I made them, I just winged it. It seemed unlikely that the proportions could be skewed so badly that the peas wouldn't taste good. I used a pound of pea pods; when shelled, this was about 2 cups of peas. I used a bunch of organic scallions, 2 bulbs of green garlic and about a 3 inch piece of peeled ginger. I didn't have a mortar and pestle to make the paste, so I used my little mini-chopper instead.

I was actually relieved that I'd taken a photo of the peas cooking, and I was doubly relieved when my peas looked pretty much like Dolly's peas.

Here are Dolly's:

And here are mine:

The other thing I liked about these peas was their versatility. They're an Indian dish, obviously, with Indian spices, but the spicing is not so heavy that you couldn't eat them with non-Indian food. I think they'd be an excellent side dish in general. Alex and I happened to eat them with the early summer orzo I made, which seemed somehow fitting--a meal focused on peas at the height of their all too fleeting season.

And since this post began with a photo of Bantu's very cute daughter Anandi, it seems only fitting that I end it with a photo of his equally cute son (whose name, I'm embarrassed to say, I'm not sure how to spell). He was much less interested in posing with the peas and much more interested in riding his little bike around the flat wearing his sunglasses:

Saloni Mattar
(Tasty Peas)

1 medium red onion, diced
1 tbsp. vegetable oil (can increase if needed)
3-4 bay leaves
2 cups fresh peas, shelled
1 3 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 heads green garlic (or a few cloves of regular garlic), minced
1 bunch green onions, organic if possible, chopped
green chile (optional)
dash of cinnamon
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Fry onion in oil with bay leaves until soft.
  2. While onions are cooking, mix together in mortar and pestle or food processor the green garlic, green onions and ginger, and green chile, if using. Grind into a paste.
  3. Add peas to the onion.
  4. When peas are half cooked, add the ginger-onion-garlic paste.
  5. Continue to cook, adding the cinnamon, turmeric and salt.
  6. Add water to just cover and let cook down.
  7. The peas should be a little bit soupy when you serve them, but you should cook most of the water off.
Serves 2-3, recipe easily increased.

No comments: