Peas have a warm and fuzzy vibe. The very name sounds like peace, and the cliché, “like peas in a pod,” denotes compatibility. Similarly, “like peas and carrots” refers to things that go together harmoniously.
Being so sweet and fun to pick, snap peas are a hit with kids. Shelling peas, not quite so much, as the kids are often roped into doing the shelling. But when the peas are out of the pod, having a bowl of those vitamin-rich spheroids yields a special kind of power. With a bowl on hand, you can easily add them to a dish.
In the garden, the peas are currently in a bit of a lull. The spring peas are starting to wane, although I can still find them at the farmers market. But if the thought of disappearing peas makes you sad, now is a great time to plant a fall crop. They will have plenty of time to produce if they get planted ten weeks before you expect a frost.
Now, about those peas and carrots that supposedly go together so well. Most of us have had that combination as a side dish, usually from a frozen bag. To make them correctly, cut the carrots down to pea-size for easy eating, and cook them separately in salted water. First, do the carrots, and when they are softened but not mushy, remove them from the boiling water with a pour0us spoon and plunge them into ice water. Then boil the peas. Older peas need more cooking, and if they are of a certain age, you may have to sacrifice that bright green color if you want softness. Then plunge the peas in the ice bath to join the carrots. Next, sauté some garlic butter and make a pea and carrot scampi.
I was in the mood for a main course experience and came up with something in the spirit of Guyanese cook-up rice, where various types of meat and vegetables are cooked with rice. Each ingredient is carefully added at just the right time so that by the time the rice is cooked perfectly, everything else is too.
At some friends’ house, I tried my first cook-up rice on the outskirts of Cayenne, French Guiana. That batch included tripe, chicken feet, chunks of beef, and several types of dried beans, which my hosts called “peas.” My dish does not contain meat because it’s satisfying with the peas alone supplying the protein. The other flavors come from fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers, fresh ginger and the Indian spice powder garam masala — in keeping with the West Indian origins of the dish.
Everything about the dish was festive, including the happy vibes as we lazed around waiting for the cook-up to cook. It was well worth the wait.
Peas and Carrots Cook-Up Rice
Once you get the hang of cook-up rice, you can play around with all sorts of ingredients. I kept this one vegetarian so we could enjoy summer’s bounty without distractions.
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
One onion, minced
1 pound of potatoes, cubed to about an inch
2 teaspoons salt
Two sliced jalapenos or pepper of your choice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cubic inches of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala powder
1 can of diced tomatoes or a pound of fresh, diced
2 cups rice (I prefer jasmine, but any will do, including brown rice)
1 cup shelled peas
2 cups carrots, cut into ½ thick rounds
Optional: feta cheese as a topping
Add the butter, oil, onions and potatoes to a deep pan with a tight-fitting lid. Sauté the onions and potatoes on medium. When the onions become translucent and disappear, add the salt, peppers, garlic, ginger and garam masala powder.
Continue cooking on medium for about five minutes, stirring often, to let the aroma develop. Then add the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer and thicken for another ten minutes.
While the sauce cooks, rinse the rice in a bowl or pot by stirring it in the water. Then dump and replace the water and stir some more. Repeat the process until the rinse water stays clear. This means the starch has been removed, and the rice won’t stick together.
After letting the tomato sauce cook for about ten minutes on medium, taste and season, if necessary, add the rice and about two cups of water or stock (just enough to cover everything by a half-inch) and stir it all together. Add the peas and carrots and stir again. After that, no more stirring.
Authentic cook-up rice is stirred several times as it cooks, but I can’t bring myself to stir rice. And I like the brown skin that develops at the bottom of the pan if you don’t disturb it — and manage to cook it perfectly without burning.
Put the cover on the pan and cook for about 20 minutes. Although I frown upon stirring it, you can lift the lid and peek. When the liquid starts to disappear, test a grain of rice. If it has a way to go, you should add another cup of water and replace the lid. Continue adding water, a little at a time, to keep it from burning as the rice cooks. When the rice is cooked, sprinkle on the feta if preferred. (It’s not authentic, but I think it tastes good.) Put the lid on, turn off the heat and allow it to rest for another 15 minutes.
Now you may stir it. And serve.
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