Fleeting warm breezes tease on cool mornings, while sporadic rays of sun manage to break through cloud cover, gently kissing still frozen earth. Tempting, taunting, spring arrives in maddening snippets too short to savor at first. Right when you begin to peel back layers of heavy sweaters and fold up thick comforters, winter rages back in with a vengeance, more brutal than before, crystallizing budding sprouts into frosted popsicles or piling on a fresh coat of ice, depending on your locale. Every time it seems certain that the seasonal shift has taken place, hopes soar high on those fresh winds of change, and crash hard like a kite with no string, back down into the forbidding frozen tundra.
For the first time in recent memory, the calendar date actually seems to align with the weather. Spring resonates through dewy grasses, shouting its arrival from the rooftops of micro gardens across the urban landscape. At least in the bay area, the changing of the guard has officially occurred, and I’m more than ready to reap the benefits.
Spring is all about fresh greens in so many forms. Tender, sweet curlicues branch out from between soft pea leaves, one of the best if underappreciated parts of the whole plant. Though it’s a tough sacrifice to cut these vines down in their youth, before pods appear bearing those toothsome green caviar, the greens themselves are a true delicacy that are worth a splurge. Typically found in Asian cuisine, stir-fried very simply with a splash of wine and a handful of garlic at the most, their full potential has yet to be realized in western culture.
Borrowing inspiration from Spanish tapas, the term “cazuela” simply indicates the terra cotta cooking vessel for the dish, much like you would refer to a tagine. Contents of that pot vary widely across countries, always encompassing some sort of vegetable, though sometimes meat as well. The version from Barcelona Restaurant, based on spinach and chickpeas, inspired my springtime spin-off.
Deceptively rich and complex but full of verdant, simple vegetables, think of it like a warm spread that falls somewhere between hummus, pea puree, and spinach dip. Masses of fresh pea leaves wilt down into a concentrated tangle, amplified by the fruit of the pods themselves with a garlicky, cumin-forward taste that will linger with each bite.
If Mother Nature remains stubbornly resistant to embracing a timely spring conversion in your area, sunflower sprouts or baby spinach might just be able to suffice in a pinch… But the best things remain for those who wait. Ask around at local farmers markets, search ethnic markets for dòu miáo (豆苗,) or head to the backyard and get growing. Though it may sound like great lengths to go for just a handful of tiny sprouts, you’re only 1 – 3 weeks away from the best taste of the season, and it won’t get any fresher than that.
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 1 Small Shallot, Minced
- 2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
- 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 1.5 Ounces (About 14) Whole Wheat Saltine Crackers
- 1 Pound Frozen Peas, Thawed and Divided
- 1/2 - 1 Cup Vegetable Stock, Divided
- 1/2 Pound Pea Leaves, Sprouts, or Shoots
- 1 Teaspoon Sherry Vinegar
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot, stirring periodically, until translucent, fragrant, and just beginning to brown around the edges; about 8 - 10 minutes. Stir in the cumin and red pepper flakes, cooking for just a minute longer.
- Transfer the aromatics to your food processor along with the crackers and about 1/2 cup of the peas. Pulse while drizzling in 1/4 - 1/2 cup of the vegetable stock, until you get a chunky, mostly smooth paste.
- Place 1/4 cup of the vegetable stock in the saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Add the pea shoots, stirring constantly, until wilted and bright green; 3 - 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked pea shoots into the food processor and pulse to break the leaves down without pureeing them. Introduce the remaining peas next, along with the vinegar and pepper, and pulse just to incorporate. Alternately, stir by hand if you'd like to keep the peas more whole. Drizzle in more vegetable stock if needed to reach your desired consistency.
- Spoon into a cazuela for authenticity, or any dish you desire (I won't tell.) Enjoy warm or at room temperature, with crackers or on toast.
Prepared in advance, this dip can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat in an oven-safe dish at 350 degrees for 5 - 8 minutes, until warm all the way through.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 122 Total Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 128mg Carbohydrates: 17g Fiber: 5g Sugar: 5g Protein: 5g