My husband tells a story about being a young boy in Bedfordshire, England and gathering peas to earn money…with his charming accent he says “we would get paid 50p for each green mesh bag of peas we gathered…that was a lot of money to a young child and the bag was almost as big as I was.” For some reason this story makes me laugh because I feel like he is forty years older than he is as he tells it. I think I also picture adorable little British children flitting around a garden gathering their peas. All just part of my gauzy fantasy of what a childhood in England must have been like.
At home in the garden I grew up with, we did not have such peas. My grandfather grew sugar snap peas that you could eat off the vine with sweet edible shells and crunchy insides. We didn’t gather them to earn money but just to eat and enjoy. I had never even heard of an English pea until he started talking about them. So now when I see them at farmer’s markets or in the produce section of our grocer I buy them and we try to find different ways to use them.
This is one of our favorites despite its simplicity.
English peas are a late spring to early summer vegetable. They are at their best in May when they are sweet and plump. If you purchase them at a farmer’s market or in your local produce store, be sure to purchase more than you think you need as each shelled pea does not yield very many shelled peas. The shells of English peas are very fibrous and inedible, but they do provide great flavor if you use them in stocks.
We shelled our peas and quickly (about 45 seconds) blanched them in boiling water and then rinsed them with very cold water. You can eat these peas raw, however, it is still a little early in the season so we chose to blanch them.
In a large salad dish we tossed arugula with cilantro leaves and added in our fresh peas. We seasoned this with kosher salt and pepper.
In a separate bowl we created a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon and a touch of mustard powder.
We lightly dressed our salad and then added ribbons of cucumber to the top of the dish after we plated it. What we loved about this combination was the contrast of flavors from the sweet and crunchy pea to the peppery arugula to the fresh bite of cilantro. Each flavor is capable of standing on its own, but really came to life together. This was a fresh and delightful salad which we served for lunch on a spring Saturday in April.