Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
As a child, about the only time seeds of the garden variety of the green fruit, Pisum sativum, graced the dining table of the Tatsumoto family was when Mom made her signature macaroni salad, which was composed of just four ingredients: cooked elbow macaroni, mayonnaise, Coral brand canned tuna and frozen peas (Mom confessed to me later that she also added a couple dashes of Aji-No-Moto). And once again, though green peas are classified as a culinary vegetable, they botanically are classified as a fruit since they are just a seed-bearing structure.
The three main varieties of Pisum sativum are the garden variety which you usually find in the supermarket frozen aisle. Sugar peas, which include both snow peas (which we also call Chinese peas) and snap peas, are found fresh in the produce section of the supermarket and are consumed pod and all and field peas which are primarily dried for livestock feed.
Many years ago while attending graduate school in the Bay Area, I purchased fresh garden peas at the supermarket then proceeded to shuck then blanch them just to compare the taste and texture to frozen peas. In my opinion, the added work of shucking isn’t worth the miniscule difference in taste and texture so I’ll continue to purchase frozen peas even if fresh garden peas are ever offered in the 50th.
Just a half-cup serving of peas provides about 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of dietary fiber, and the starches in peas have a low glycemic index meaning that they are slowly released into the bloodstream during digestion. They also are a good source of the B vitamins, folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine and niacin as well as vitamins C and K. They also provide a fair amount of iron, manganese, zinc and copper. They also are a good alternate starch source for the usual rice, noodles or potatoes.
I first saw it used as a side starch years ago as British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver just started on the Food Network then eventually learned that mushy peas were a classic pairing with both fish and chips as well as their meat pies. I now serve mushy peas as a substitute for mashed potatoes, especially during the holidays.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch green onions, chopped (green and white parts)
1 pound frozen peas
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh mint leaves picked
1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon or mint flavored olive oil (optional)
Heat the oil in a pan and add the chopped onions and peas. Cook for a few minutes to steam then cool. Purée cooked onions and peas in a food processor; pulse it until smooth. Add the mint, lemon zest, flavored olive oil and season, to taste then pulse again. Makes four to six servings as a side dish.
A Great Snack
I’ll confess, whenever I visit Marukai Wholesale Mart, I always purchase at least two bags of those fried green peas. There’s something addictive about those salty, crunchy orbs that pair so well with sake or beer. And I convince myself that because peas are very nutritious, I’m somehow engaging in a healthy snack, even with the additional salt and fat. I shamefully continue to consume those little orbs of goodness.
I have another confession: whenever Costco has a special for Harvest Snaps pea crisps, I’ll purchase two or three bags. Again, convincing myself that because they’re baked, not fried and contain more dietary fiber than any other bagged snack, I’m indulging in a healthy treat.
The New Mac Salad
While I’ll never pass up that scoop of mac salad in a plate lunch (sometimes even ordering an extra scoop), I don’t indulge in mac salad at home as much as I used to. Some 30 years ago, I was on the quest for the perfect local-style mac salad like you might have sampled on a Grace’s Drive Inn plate lunch or even Zippy’s, not because my tastes have changed but mainly because of product availability.
For the past 10 years or so, the favored dried pasta in the Tatsumoto household has been Barilla Protein+ (the Barilla product in the yellow box) because of the additional fiber and protein in the product. While Barilla does produce an elbow macaroni product, the three main supermarkets in Käne‘ohe usually just stock the rotini, penne and spaghetti versions. And true local-style mac salad in my opinion needs to be made with elbow macaroni (slightly overcooked).
Now, I have a side of this pea salad whenever indulging in a bowl of chili or curry. It reminds me of that pea salad Ryan’s Grill and Kincaid’s used to serve on their regular menus. And with just six ingredients, which we usually always have on hand, I can create the pea salad within 30 minutes.
A benefit of always keeping a one-pound bag of frozen peas in your freezer is that the bag can also double as an icepack for overused knees or elbows as the peas perfectly mold around any joint. While you can chop the almonds with a chef’s knife, I purchased a nut chopper on the internet so I don’t have to worry about nut pieces flying every which way in my kitchen. Because of the salty smoked almonds, no additional salt is needed and it tastes like there’s bacon in the salad.
Pea Salad with Smoked Almonds
1 lb. frozen petite peas, thawed
Half a small red onion, finely chopped
1 6-ounce can smoked almonds, chopped
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, chopped
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine peas, red onion, smoked almonds and water chestnuts. In a separate small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and curry powder. Gently stir the mayonnaise mixture into peas. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serves six.
Though this salad is technically a bread salad or panzanella, it does use pulverized peas in the dressing and whole peas in the salad itself. It was created by celebrity chef, Michael Chiarello and you can find the original recipe on the Food Network website, foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/pea-panzanella-recipe-1916230.
As usual, the nutritionist in me tweaked the original recipe to make it a little healthier. Instead of ½ cup of cream, I use either half and half or oat milk. If you’ve never tried oat milk, it has almost the same rich texture as cream or full fat milk. And since the recipe calls for over a cup of grated Parmesan and pecorino cheeses, which really don’t have healthier alternatives, I use olive oil instead of butter to toast the bread cubes.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).