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Black-Eyed Peas & Leeks

June 13, 2011

For a long time, I didn’t know what to do with leeks. Sure, I noticed them in the produce section now and then and made potato-leek soup a few times, but deep down I knew I was not harnessing their full potential. I had the nagging feeling that I was missing out on something.

Ditto with black-eyed peas. I love that they show up on menus so often here in the South because they are a filling part of a plant-based meal, but the only ways I knew to eat them were plain or with chow-chow.

So it is not an overstatement to say that my favorite food idea ever posted by Heidi Swanson at 101cookbooks is this recipe for black-eyed peas and leeks. Her blog is wonderful, so for me to claim one favorite is really saying something! When leeks are in season my husband and I keep this in our regular dinner rotation.

One of the reasons I like it so much is because it is a fresh take on a Southern classic. It reminds me of my California roots: vegetables take center stage, it uses simple ingredients and preparation, and it relies on herbs to provide flavor and complement the veggies. At the same time, it feels Southern because black-eyed peas are a staple here and sage is the dependable star of so many stuffings/dressings.

David and I like it best when we make slight changes to Heidi and Miriam Bale’s (in Put An Egg On It #2) original recipes. Though it pains me to admit it, I do regularly use the transparent frozen bag of field peas and green bean snaps that I find at Publix for this recipe, and you can too! It just seems more convenient, especially on weeknights. Also, it may just be because I did not grow up with them, but am I the only one who finds that fresh peas often smell funny? I can never tell if they are spoiled or not. Clearly a skill deficit I need to overcome as a Southern transplant. Any advice is welcome!

You can cook the peas a night or two before you plan on making the dish, to save time during the weeknight dinner circus. Just keep them in the fridge until you are ready for them.

I cut my leeks like this to get rid of the tougher dark green parts you discard:

Once I saw Ina Garten trim them that way on Barefoot Contessa, and I feel like I waste less and get more from each leek. You just hack off the dark green parts at an angle, so you cut away the darkest parts and still make use of some of the lighter parts inside. It doesn’t look pretty but you end up with more leeks in the recipe, which is worth the eyesore as far as I am concerned! After I slice them into pieces, I wash them in a colander, rubbing them with my hands to get all that pesky dirt off.

As a main dish for pea lovers like my husband and I, this recipe serves about 4. For a side dish, probably 6-8. I pack the leftovers for lunch the next day, so I like a nice big skillet full.

Black-Eyed Peas & Leeks

(adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe at 101cookbooks.com)

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 4 large leeks (only the white and light green parts, washed very thoroughly, halved or quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/2 inch thick pieces)
  • 4 cups uncooked black-eyed peas or field peas
  • 2 tsp. dried tarragon (or 4 tsp. fresh, chopped)
  • 4 tsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped

1. Cook the peas, either by following the directions on the package of frozen or the method you know by heart. Undercook them a bit, so they won’t get mushy when you stir them into the leeks and herbs. Drain.

2. Warm up the olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, put in 2-3 big pinches of salt. Do not be shy! You are seasoning a lot of leeks and peas, and the salt really brings out the flavors in this recipe. Add the leeks to the skillet and cook, stirring regularly, until they are tender, wilty, and translucent, about 10 minutes or so. If they start sticking and acting difficult, you can turn down the heat. I have better luck getting them soft and letting them release their own liquids instead of trying to get them golden or caramelized.

3. Stir the drained peas into the skillet with the leeks and let them get warm. Stir in the tarragon and sage, and add pepper, salt, or a drizzle of olive oil to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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