Thursday, July 14, 2005

You Must Not Overcook the Peas

The title of this post, as it turns out, is really not a good line to use more than once, which is one of several reasons that today's post does not contain a villanelle, the other major reasons being that villanelles are exceedingly difficult to write in English and my general lack of poetic talent.

I am told that the villanelle is significantly easier to write in Romance languages, where there are more rhymes. I extrapolate (perhaps wildly) from this nugget of knowledge that the form comes originally from the French. I make this leap mostly as a way to note that today is Bastille Day. No matter what you think of the French (and I think they're just fine, thanks; I went to Paris for not quite a week last year, and the only French person who was brusque with me was the Air France gate agent at the airport in Northern Virginia [the Air France agents in Paris were utterly charming and extremely helpful, though when I told them that I was flying home without my partner because he had lost his passport, they insisted on translating "copin" as "wife" when they spoke back to me in English, which gave me some good material with which to mock V. when he returned home a day after me, having found his passport in his suitcase]; nobody mocked my French; I speak French pretty well for an American, but that's about the most you can say), you have to admit that they do food well, so on their independence day, I think that we can drop all the "freedom fry" and "cheese-eating surrender monkey" nonsense and be grateful for Escoffier and his successors. And the aforementioned cheese, of course.

I recently posted about a hummos-like material made with lima beans that I refused to call hummos because it was made with lima beans while "hummos" comes from the Arabic for chick pea. I have still not come up with a suitable replacement term, but the lima bean dip was so good that I thought about other variations, and I decided that I might as well try it with plain old peas. Or petits pois as our Frankish friends might say. (Yes, I know, you think I'm laying it on pretty thick, but I have only just started.) Anyway, the green pea is pretty close to a chick pea, since they both contain the word "pea" (oh, please! None of your botanical protestations; do you really think that science trumps language? Pas de tout! I, for example, believe in the concept of rhythmic similarity, whereby nouns of the same meter are utterly interchangeable. This, of course, is the logic behind James Carville's declaration that outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the same as Alabama. Other identical places include North Dakota, Minnesota, and San Diego.), so I feel entirely (where "entirely" means not at all, but I'm trying to put a brave face on it) comfortable calling a dip based on green peas "hummos," at least until I come up with something better. If you remain unconvinced, I shall be compelled to repeat Emerson's maxim that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds1. Nothing personal.

Anyway, green peas turn out to make a very different but, to my taste buds, very good dip. Once again, I used the microwave because by defrosting rather than cooking the little peas, one retains so much more of their sweet freshness, which helps to create the deliciously complex mix of flavors. (If you do not want to use the microwave, then leave your peas in the refrigerator overnight to defrost and just skip the microwave portion of the recipe.) As happens more often than I would like, I am compelled to give you the corrected recipe rather than the recipe that I actually used. The only difference between the two is that I was a bit optimistic when I put in the garlic. "Five cloves," thought I to myself "is surely the right amount!" Reader, I was mistaken. Mind you, I still loved the result, but I could not deny that so much uncooked garlic threw the taste somewhat out of balance. Yes, it was too much garlic even for me, which only goes to prove that one can get into one's forties and still be learning things about one's gustatory preferences.

Green Pea Hummos-Like Material2
(Hummos de Petits Pois )

3 cups frozen green peas
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup water
the juice of one lemon
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
freshly ground black pepper

Put the peas in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes. Stir well. Add the water and stir again. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on defrost for ten minutes. Stir. The peas should be cold (you must not overcook the peas) but no longer frozen. Dump the pea mixture into your food processor and turn it on. When the mixture is reasonably well ground, add the lemon juice, cilantro, and black pepper, and process to incorporate. Taste and correct seasoning. You may need a bit of extra water to get it to a good consistency.

I believe, though I have not confirmed, that mint would be an excellent addition to or substitute for the cilantro in this recipe. Whichever herb you use, the final result will be greener than you expect and perhaps a bit greener than you're comfortable with, but you'll adjust, I promise.

1Emerson's saying is enormously flexible. What he actually said was that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." That way, when I'm insisting on consistency and someone attempts to throw Mr. Emerson's words at me, I can simply retort that the consistency in question is not foolish while casting vague aspersions about the accuser's literacy since he obviously doesn't know the entire quote. For future reference, any consistency that I eschew is foolish; those that I follow are wise.

2I am not, generally speaking, a fan of mock foods, so while I might note in passing that this dip has many of the same flavors of guacamole with only a tiny fraction of the fat, you may not call it guacamole, and if you put it out at a party and someone else calls it guacamole, you must either correct him or leave the room at once to avoid perpetrating a lie of omission. The texture is, of course, nothing like guacamole, but years of bizarre diet recipes involving ingredients such as canned asparagus (and, really, I understand the desire to find something to do with canned asparagus because who wants to eat it in any of the ways that you eat good asparagus, but I think the better answer is to either eat all the asparagus when it's in season or to use the canned asparagus as some sort of building material: stucco or wallpaper paste, perhaps) have gotten people used to accepting anything vaguely green and smooth as guacamole. In any case, this dip is perfectly good on its own and does not need to ride on the coattails of guacamole to take its proper place on the snack table.


Anonymous lindy said...

Wow, food inspired by language. Is there any trouble with those slippery pea skins, or do they just blend in?

2:49 AM  
Blogger anapestic said...

The food processor grinds it all up nicely. The whole thing is a bit grainy, almost, if you don't add enough liquid during the processing, but otherwise, it ends up well blended. Some additional olive oil would likely help with that, too, and would taste good besides. I tend to try to get the minimum amount of oil when I'm testing the recipe out, but I'll often add another tablespoon or so when I make it again.

9:16 AM  

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