After a particularly long and cold winter of convincing ourselves that root vegetables make delicious salads, and that a daily baked potato makes a perfectly healthy one of your five a day, I finally have something fresh and new and green to eat. Today I have eaten my first salad of the year from the greenhouse. This is pea and pea shoot salad. A celebration of peas.
Of course it’s just the pea shoots that were grown in the greenhouse. Sown just a couple of weeks ago they have quickly sprung into life. All parts of the pea plant can be eaten at any stage of their lives, once the dried seeds have been soaked for 12 hours they are basically fair game. And every bit, at every stage, tastes of pea. It’s magic. The little tendrils and shoots tastes like salad leaves made of peas, the just sprouted pea seeds taste of fresh peas just with a more hearty texture. Try it, any bit of it. You’ll see.
In fact I made this salad with some frozen peas just defrosted by leaving them in lukewarm water for a few minutes, the reason being that I have been recently told by several people that this is a perfectly good substitute for fresh peas. The trouble with your pea is that it starts to lose sugars the moment it is picked. The quickly convert into starch. So the pea you pick and pop into your mouth on the allotment will not be the same pea you cook for tea that night, and it will be a far cry from the pea you eat the next day. The frozen pea dudes on the other hand can pod, clean, blanche and freeze the peas within 150 minutes of their being picked, and so the maximum sugars and vitamins are retained. Of course having said all of the above about every stage of pea tasting fantastic, a fully fresh alternative would be to start a handful of peas just into growth, and eat them with the pea shoots, but I didn’t think of that.
Instead I mixed peas, pea shoots and some feta cheese in a bowl and made a slightly lemony dressing using a little zest and juice, plus the very few first mint shoots that have popped up from my greenhouse plants, and it made for a spectacularly springy lunch, despite the weather.
There are a number of other shoots getting underway in the greenhouse, some coriander micros for that punch of strong coriander flavour, and some radish micros to sprinkle over salads just like this pea shoot one. It is a time when there isn’t much to eat, but these micro leaves grow so quickly – just a sprinkle the seeds fairly thickly across some fine seed compost, water in and wait a week to ten days – that they are the perfect crop for this end of the year, when rewards for gardening are thin on the ground. Also excitingly some baby leaf salads in a pot in the greenhouse are nearing maturity, or whatever you call the point when tiny things are ready to eat. They are a few inches long, and the nice tapestry of colours and textures that you get when sowing oriental mustards: spikes and feathers and reds and greens. Given the time of year they would most probably quickly flower and go to seed given half a chance so I must not give them half a chance and must instead chop them off smartly for my second greenhouse salad of the year. My (small) salad bowl runneth over.