Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Purple Hulled Peas

I lived in Austin, Texas for a year and in that time became awfully fond of fresh field peas. Butter beans, crowder peas, lady peas, creamer peas, even black-eyed peas; these are all part of this family of peas, taken fresh from the field in their hulls, and traditionally cooked with a pork product, some broth and veggies. Yes, they are called "peas" and yes, for the most part, they more resemble "beans" in their dried form. Most of the field peas I have cooked are oblong, like a bean, and have that telltale dark (if not black) eye, off to one side of their center.

Of course, it's easy to find the dried version of these in a lot of stores and some of the specialty markets will even carry the more obscure varieties. But really, there is no substitute for the freshness of flavor of these peas when they are cooked right out of the hull. And my first admission, right from the get go here is that is not what I did, or should I say, not what I am doing, because the pot is simmering away even as I type. I am cooking purple hulled peas that my sister Barbara, who lives in Austin, was kind enough to bring me (in their frozen form) on her most recent visit a few weeks ago.

Most of the articles I've perused on the internet tell me that field peas are the sure sign in the South that Summer has begun. But it appeared to me, while I was living in Austin, that there are a number of varieties that produce well into the fall and it would seem that purple hulled peas are one of them.

One of the great delights of cooking field peas is one that I experienced as well in Costa Rica when I cooked frijoles tiernos (translated as, "tender beans) which are also fresh from the hull. They cook in an amazingly short period of time. While the frijoles tiernos took a whopping 35-40 minutes to cook (because, after all, they were real beans) my purple hulled peas have cooked to a lovely tenderness in the time it took me to write these rambling paragraphs. So now all I have to do is turn the heat way down and let them slowly simmer and marry their flavors with the ham hock I took from our Thanksgiving feast, the chunks of homemade chorizo I used and the aromatic vegetables and spices. And yes, the house is filled with the smell of the cooking soup mingled with the smell of burning oak from the wood burning oven. Take that freezing weather!!!


1.5# Bag Fresh or frozen Purple Hulled, or any field, Peas
1 Big Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Carrots, cut in medium dice (1/2" X 1/2")
2 Stalks Celery, cut in medium dice
6 Cloves of Garlic, smashed and chopped
1 Meaty Ham Hock
1 Spicy Smoked Sausage (chopped)
1 TBS Bacon Fat or a (sigh) canola oil
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 Tsp Dried Thyme (or 2-3 sprigs of fresh)
1/2-1 Tsp Louisiana variety spice mix (I use Kitchen Witch, produced by a friend of mine, but you could use any blackening-type spice mix, I suppose
32 ounces Chicken Stock, boxed broth or water, plus 1 Cup Water

I use a heavy cast iron dutch oven to make this in, but any heavy sauce pan will work.

Heat the pan and add the bacon fat and the chopped sausage. Simmer them until the sausage begins to color and is yielding its fat.
Add the chopped vegetables, the dried herbs and the spice mix. Stir and cook over medium high heat until the vegetables begin to wilt and give off an aroma.
Add the peas to the pot along with the ham hock and cover with the broth and water.
Bring the soup/stew to a slow boil and then turn it down to simmer for 20-30 minutes until the peas are tender. At this point I like to turn the heat down to the lowest simmer and let the soup/stew sit on low heat to allow all the flavors to marry into absolute deliciousness. This will be good today, better tomorrow and better still the following day. And it freezes quite nicely.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.