More Peas, Please!

It used to be that I hated peas.

I think it had to do with being forced to eat mushy, olive-drab, tinny-tasting canned peas with pearl onions as a child. Or worse, garden fresh or frozen peas cooked into a similar state of squishy, dull-green death. These poor malignantly mistreated morsels of former vegetation were regularly dropped on my plate in a pool of melted, liberally salted margarine, and to this day, I shudder just thinking about them.

For years, the only way I would willingly eat garden peas was either fresh off the vine and raw, when I would eat them pod and all, “like a rabbit,” as Grandpa would say, or frozen peas from the garden simply thawed and not heated up in any way. The latter was because I liked the fresh green flavor and did not trust my relatives to not cook the poor things into squicky oblivion.

To this day, I will do anything to avoid canned peas, as I believe they are a food fit for the denizens of hell, and I still do not love peas in most any other form, other than snow peas or snap peas. I will eat them if they are presented to me in order to be polite, but I will not generally go out of my way to either cook or eat plain old garden peas.

Morganna, who grew up with similarly abused peas at the tables of her grandmothers’ homes, has a similar aversion to them.

Which is a shame, because garden peas are one of Zak’s favorite vegetables, and in fact, is one of the original handful of vegetables that he ate when I met him.

So, inspired by the reading I have been doing on the net and in cookbooks on the foods of southern India, and by the recipes of Indira, my good friend from Mahanandi, I decided to give peas another try by treating them the way an Indian cook might.

I followed no recipe, but instead improvised with the techniques and ingredients I have learned from my research and reading, and came up with a simple, quick to prepare dish that all three of us could not only eat, but enjoy and yes, even relish.

The slightly bitter, somewhat musky flavor of the curry leaves really accents the sweetness of the peas, without allowing their sugary quality to take over the dish. The dalia powder not only thickens the sauce, binding the peas and flavorings together, but gives a nutty richness to the dish, while the reddish caramelized onion and garlic give a browned sweet savor to the curry. The cumin complements the musky bitterness of the curry leaves, while the mustard seeds synergize with the chilies to give the peas a warmth that spreads over the tongue and tingles at the back of the throat.

I can’t believe it–I ate two helpings of these peas and even wanted more! Hence the name I have given them….

I cannot wait until this spring and early summer to try this recipe with some verdant, fresh from the garden beauties.

Moreish Indian Garden Peas


2 tablespoons ghee
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 fresh curry leaves
2 fresh thai chilies, red or green, thinly sliced
3/4″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 8 ounce bag frozen peas, partially thawed
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons dalia powder (Indira’s Magic Powder)
salt to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves


Heat ghee in a cast iron skillet that is big enough to hold all of the peas.

Cook the onion in it until it is golden brown, then add the curry leaves, chilies and ginger. Keep cooking, stirring, another minute or so, then add the whole spices and the garlic slices. Cook, stirring, until the mustard seeds begin to pop.

Add the frozen peas, and stir to cool the pan down slightly, to keep the spices from overcooking and becoming bitter. Add the water, the turmeric and the dalia powder and cook, stirring, until most of the water cooks away and the curry sauce thickens. Do not cook too along; allow the peas to retain their brilliant color, popping texture and sweet flavor.

Salt to taste and just before serving, stir in the mint leaves.

Variation: I think you could put red or orange bell pepper bits, diced very small (brunoise), into this curry after the peas and have another source of sweetness and a contrasting color and texture in the dish.


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  1. I agree with you on the mushy peas. I think they have a bad rap because of overcooked peas – even I stuck my nose up at them until my mom convinced me to try frozen “petite” peas. But the best was when I discovered sugar snap peas in my grandfather’s garden! I ate as many as I brought in for dinner, and it took all of my will power to be polite when my aunt served them boiled to death for dinner.

    Comment by Kim — February 16, 2007 #

  2. My tortoises (I have 2 different ones) eat canned peas with gusto. In fact, I have to mix canned peas into the other healthy-correct-diet things in order to get them to eat their good foods.

    Otherwise, blech! I’m embarrassed to be seen buying them.

    Comment by wwjudith — February 16, 2007 #

  3. I love peas but will not have anything to do with them if they are mushy or canned. I particularly like the little French petite ones. My greataunt Anna used to make cream peas on toast – a special dish created with such glory and flavor that it brought comfort, healed the soul, warmed a cold night and made better singers of all of us. Sadly, none of us have been able to reproduce this gem.

    Comment by Maureen — February 16, 2007 #

  4. My father hated peas for the same reason you do, but I love peas! So sweet, and yet green. I especially like spring soup with a puree of fresh green peas, a dab of butter, buttermilk, salt, and tarragon.

    Comment by Honey — February 19, 2007 #

  5. How ironic!! Last week I had a similar epiphany!

    Like you, I have never really been a big fan of peas – except snowpeas and sugarsnaps. I love steamed sugarsnaps or snowpeas with a little butter and fresh mint! (And like you, I was subjected to canned peas with cocktail onions – I never knew which were worse, the peas or the cocktail onions)

    My husband LOVES peas though. Whenever we discuss what vegetable we should have, he often suggests peas. And my response is invariably, “That’s not a vegetable; that’s a starch.”

    Last week, my husband overrode my objections and made a peas/potato curry using frozen peas. And I have to admit that it was absolutely delicious. Next time (because there will be a next time), we’ll try adding curry leaves.


    Comment by ejm — February 19, 2007 #

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