When my friends and I saw the big bags of fresh garden peas at Stono Market last weekend, we just had to have some. You don't routinely see fresh green peas in the grocery store, so we considered this a real find.
Make that a splurge because at $4 a pound (shelled), the peas make a gallon of gas seem like a bargain. Market owner Babs Ambrose explained that the peas, grown at Ambrose Farms on Wadmalaw Island, are picked by hand, very labor-intensive work.
I only blinked once at the cost, however. Supporting local farmers and having fresh vegetables at hand are personal priorities.
There's a good reason why you don't see fresh peas in the supermarket. Unless refrigerated, their sugar will turn to starch fairly quickly. That explains why frozen peas were among the first frozen vegetables introduced in the 1920s and 1930s. For people who didn't have access to just-picked produce, peas that were harvested and frozen immediately offered the "freshest" option.
Ambrose says if you don't plan to cook fresh peas immediately, they will keep three or four days refrigerated at 33 degrees. Or blanch the peas and put them up in the freezer. They must be blanched first, she emphasizes.
Another pea relative in season is sugar snaps, which were created in the 1970s as a cross between the snow pea and green pea.
I found an appealing spring pea dish in the cookbook "Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes From Foster's Market" (Clarkson Potter, 2005).
Sara Foster is the founder and owner of Foster's Market, country-style market/cafes in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C. She and her husband live on a farm outside Durham.
Jasmine Rice Pilaf With Sweet Peas, Chives, Lemon Zest and Toasted Almonds
Serves 4 to 6
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice or basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken broth, or vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup fresh or frozen petite peas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
3/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes, until the rice slides easily in the pan. Stir in the broth, coconut milk, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and peas, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the rice is fluffy and has absorbed the liquid.
Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the chives, almonds, and lemon zest and juice and gently stir to combine. Season with more salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.
Here's a side-dish recipe for sugar snaps. It's adapted from "The Whole Foods Market Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, 2002).
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup diagonally sliced carrots
1 pound fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed (see cook's note)
1/8 cup toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/8 cup white sesame seeds
1/8 cup black sesame seeds
1 scallion, sliced thinly and diagonally
Cook's note: To string the peas, start at the bottom tip and pull the string up the front, snap off the stem, and pull the string down the back side.
Steam the carrots in a steamer for 3 minutes. Add the sugar snap peas, and continue cooking for an additional 4 minutes, until both vegetables are al dente. While the vegetables are steaming, place the sesame oil, ginger, salt, lemon pepper, white and black sesame seeds and scallion in a large mixing bowl. Blend well. Add the cooked sugar snap peas and carrots. Toss well. May be served at room temperature or heated gently in a saucepan.
Note: Vegetables may be cooked in a microwave-safe dish in 1/2 inch of water. Place the carrots in first, lightly cover them with plastic wrap and cook on high for 2 minutes. Add the sugar snap peas and continue to cook for 3 minutes longer.
Joan McCutcheon of Charleston asked about recipes from local restaurants for some of her favorite dishes. The owners and chefs very kindly shared these:
Boathouse Roasted Corn and Crab Soup
1/4 pound butter
1 each red, yellow, and green bell peppers, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1/2 pound andouille sausage
4 cloves garlic, minced fine
3 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed from cob
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Boathouse Cajun seasoning
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups bottled clam juice or fish stock
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound claw crabmeat, cleaned of any hard parts
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
In large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the bell peppers, onion, celery, andouille sausage, garlic and corn. Saute for 5 minutes and then add the thyme, oregano and Boathouse Cajun seasoning.
Add the flour, stirring to avoid lumps. Turn to low heat and continue cooking for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly.
Slowly add the clam juice or fish stock, stirring constantly so that there are no lumps. Simmer the soup for 5-7 minutes.
Add the milk and cream and continue to heat until soup begins to thicken. Lower heat and let simmer out for 2-3 minutes.
Add the crab meat, add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Hyman's Seafood Bisque
1 whole lobster
2 whole onions
2 ribs celery
2 whole carrots
1 clove fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry
1/2 pound fresh peeled raw shrimp, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 pound fresh scallops, cut into bite-size pieces
8 ounces tomato puree
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup butter
Salt to taste
Ground red pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
Pinch of sugar
Fill a 6-quart kettle 3/4 full with salted water and bring to a boil. Put lobster headfirst into water and cook about 8 minutes. Transfer lobster into a large bowl. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid.
Remove lobster tail and claws and save any juices. Remove meat from tail and claws (meat will not be cooked all the way through). Coarsely chop lobster meat and chill.
Discard the head sac, intestinal tract and roe from the body. Save the body and the tail shell.
Chop onion, celery and carrots. Halve garlic clove crosswise.
In 6-quart kettle, heat olive oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Saute reserved body and tail shell, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables, garlic and sherry and simmer until all liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add reserved lobster juices and the 2 cups cooking liquid and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Pour mixture through a fine colander into a large saucepan. Press and discard solids.
Whisk in tomato puree and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add cream and butter and simmer another 5 minutes. The bisque will begin to thicken. Add lobster meat, shrimp and scallops and cook until seafood is cooked all the way through but not overcooked, about 5 minutes. Season bisque with salt, fresh red pepper, paprika and a pinch of sugar.
Dianne Woodward of Charleston called looking for a sauce recipe. This orange-colored sauce is served with the "Bloomin' Onion" at Outback Steakhouse, but she's had a similar sauce with whole fried onions at other restaurants. A couple of knock-offs for this sauce showing up online are:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 tablespoons cream-style horseradish
1/3 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch ground black pepper
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients well. Keep sauce covered in refrigerator until needed.
Creamy Chili Sauce
1 pint mayonnaise
1 pint sour cream
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients well, and chill.
Who's got the recipe?
Recipe requests are running low, so please don't be shy about asking for one!
--A reader named Harry e-mailed: "Years ago you printed and I tried several times a recipe for LaBrasca's spaghetti sauce, but it was not the same as the original, not even close. Do you have an authentic recipe for this terrific spaghetti sauce?" Harry, I couldn't find one in the newspaper's archives, so I'll put this one out to readers. By the way, LaBrasca's refers to LaBrasca's Spaghetti House, a local restaurant legend that operated for 32 years on Upper King Street.
--Here's one more try for Margie Whiddon, who seeks recipes for dishes she once enjoyed at Morrison's Cafeteria west of the Ashley. They are spinach casserole and an eggplant casserole without tomatoes or tomato sauce. She'll accept close approximations of those recipes, too.
--Ah, the power of a food "memory." Wendy Smith of Summerville worked with someone about 12 years ago who shared with her chicken salad from the cafeteria at Hanahan Middle School. "It was so good," Wendy says, describing the texture as coarsely ground chicken, "but not mush." She thinks the salad contained celery and egg, too.
--Charles Wilson of Moncks Corner requests recipes for rice and bulk or link sausage.
Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor by calling 937-4886; e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org; writing to The Post and Courier, 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403; or faxing to 937-5579.