Crunchy Pea Salad

I am American. Born here, bred here. But I’ve never been a big fan of American food. I just wasn’t raised on it. In fact, I can vividly remember the times I was subjected to traditional American dishes after I left home, like beanie weenies, jello salad, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and poppy seed dressing. The list is actually very long, I just don’t want to make anyone feel like they have to defend the kind of food on which he/she was raised. I was just fed differently.

My mother was raised in France, and knew no other way to create meals for my sister and I than the local farm-to-table approach. She shopped often, harvested from the ocean, the forest, and her own garden, made everything from scratch, and nothing went to waste.

When I was growing up, my mother made croissants and éclairs. I never had a donut. She also began learning about various global cuisines when I was a tween, so dinners were everything from Chinese hot pot, to Russian coulibiac, to Ethiopian wats. I had no idea what mac and cheese was. Frozen food, fast food and coke? Never. So I truly come by my food snobbiness naturally.

Years ago I left behind a friend in California when I moved to the Midwest after getting married in 1982. Although only 10 years my senior, she had a young family that I adored, and I was often invited for dinner. Spaghetti was an involved meal for her, even though she bought the sauce in a jar, the Parmesan in the green carton, and the garlic bread in a foil wrapper. But it was wonderful. I loved being at her house with her family, which I learned quickly was way more important than the food on the table.

Jeanne actually inspired me a lot, although I didn’t really realize it back then. I was quite young, and had no immediate plans on marrying and having children, but she was a wonderful mother and unconsciously I learned from her.

One day, she served a salad called crunchy pea salad. She had gotten the recipe out of one of her Junior League cookbooks*.

I am not going to say anything about those cookbooks, with plastic bindings and recipes like Aunt Susan’s Favorite Cake and Velveeta Rotel Dip. I’ve probably already lost followers from my anti-American food comments.

But this salad was great! And really unique!!! And to this day I’ve kept the recipe, and actually made it a few times. I’ve never heard of it elsewhere, or seen it on a blog, but I suspect it’s fairly well known considering the source.

You can’t beat the ingredients: peas, bacon, cashews, celery, green onions, and sour cream, which all go together beautifully. It’s great to serve at a picnic, or garden buffet, or even a brunch.

So thank you Jeanne for this recipe and your lovely family of which I got to be a part for a short time.

Crunchy Pea Salad

1 – 16 ounce package petite peas, thawed
8 ounces diced bacon
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 cup salted and roasted cashews
1 cup sour cream, divided
Approximately 1/3 cup vinaigrette, see below

Place the thawed peas over paper towels in a bowl and set aside.

Crisply fry the bacon bits and drain well on paper towels; set aside to cool.

Have your celery and green onions prepared and ready.

Since I didn’t have roasted and salted cashews, I actually roasted mine in the leftover bacon grease. I must say, they almost disappeared before I could put the salad together.

For the vinaigrette, I used a basic recipe as follows:

1/2 cup sherry vinegar, but apple cider will work just as well
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 small cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend everything together well. This recipe makes more than you need for the salad, so keep the leftover vinaigrette in a jar and refrigerate.

Separately, I blended 1/2 cup of sour cream along with only 1/3 cup vinaigrette for the salad. Shake it well in a jar and set aside.

To assemble the salad, remove the damp paper towels from the bowl with the peas. Add the celery and green onions.

Add the remainder 1/2 cup sour cream, and the dressing and stir gently to combine.

I placed the mixture in a serving bowl.

Normally, the bacon and the cashews would be included in the salad, but for the sake of photography, I sprinkled them both on top.

I also sprinkled some salt and coarsely ground pepper.

I served extra dressing, but even as a lover of dressings and vinaigrettes, no more is needed for this salad.

Make sure to add the cashews only at the last minute. The cashews are part of the crunch in the crunchy pea salad.

* Before you even think about writing a comment defending Junior League cookbooks of America, please know that I’ve actually been featured in one, and I’m very proud of that fact. Over the years, the cookbooks have really evolved, and now have normal bindings, gorgeous photos, and creative recipes. Below is a blurb from a write-up about me, in Cooking by the Boot Straps, published in the town where I live.

xx

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54 thoughts on “Crunchy Pea Salad

  • I grew up similar. We lived in the country and my mom and dad grew their own food. We also foraged for other stuff like berries and such. My mom taught me about eating wild strawberries and wild onions. We didn’t eat much boxed foods with the exception of mac and cheese occasionally because it was too expensive. But as a little girl, I was always fasinated by other cultures. I read romance novels and learned about drinking hot tea. (I grew up in the South and tea was NEVER hot_) But my mom let me cook things on my own. I learned how to make cream puffs from scratch when I was about 13. I think growing up that way made me a little more snobby also. :)

    • Oh, that’s fabulous! It’s just nice to be exposed to other foods. I know it helped with with cooking because I’d tasted non-traditional ingredients. It was years before I realized mayonnaise could be purchased, and foods like watercress and mushroom weren’t always picked outside!

  • We really understand how you feel about traditional American foods. Even though many of the foods ideas were brought here from abroad, they are not our favorite. However, pea salad with crispy bacon is one of those exceptions. This salad is addictive and delicious. Beautiful photos Mimi. Hope you are doing well.

    • Thank you! Things really changed for food back in the 50’s and 60’s, and personally I’m happy my mother didn’t buy into a lot of those changes, plus American food in general. the big joke was that we used Velveeta for fishing. We never knew people really ate it!

  • Your idea to saute’ the cashews in bacon fat was genius! This sounds soooo good, Mimi. Ironically, I used to be a home typist for a cookbook publishing company so I’ve seen every recipe known to man — or Aunt Susan. :) All of them were handwritten, submitted on recipe cards or scraps of paper, and it was my job to categorize and decipher them before I typed them in cookbook format. (Those were the days…) Never ran across this one though! Glad you kept the recipe. Nice write-up about you, too! xo

    • Oh wow! What an interesting job! Aunt Susan, poor thing. She was credited with a lot of crappy food! But obviously I was in the minority, not loving those recipes. This one is good. At least there wasn’t any Miracle Whip in it!

  • Mimi, I would have much preferred growing up eating the food from your childhood table than to my creamed tuna on toast and Swanson’s TV dinner of my upbringing. I’m not big on any of the America style dishes you mentioned, especially the sweet potato and marshmallow dish. I love sweet potatoes, just not that way.
    A lovely salad and one we’ll be trying. We can’t do nuts, but I’m thinking of toasting up some pine nuts in the bacon fat instead of the cashews. What do you think?

    • Oh my. My husband as well. Every day was a different meal, and all were ones I could never choke down. Fried bologna I could handle, but not anything else his mother “prepared.” Pine nuts would be fabulous. The nut flavor with the bacon is really important.

  • You and I were raised much the same way. My mom was a Julia Child devotee and my mother made it her goal to “master” the art of French cooking. So I’m sure I’d love this salad as much as you did. GREG

    • This is wonderful. My mother loved the French Chef. Probably the only American she ever liked! You’re lucky you got to eat some good food growing up.

  • This is a light and refreshing salad Mimi. I usually dont use peas in salad other than in a Potato salad with mayo..Now you have given me a great option..Have a great week ahead!

    • I would never have thought to make just a pea salad, either, but it’s really good! Especially with the other ingredients!

  • I was a brunch manager at a prime rib house back in 1980. We served a very similar pea salad and it probably came from a Junior League cookbook.That salad was always the first to disappear! And I have several JL cookbooks along with a lot of temple cookbooks, too. Truth is I love every one! Such good wholesome cookbooks! As long as I skip the condensed soup recipes!

    • Oh, please, no cream of mushroom soup! I mentioned in a comment that I’m surprised this salad didn’t list miracle whip instead of mayonnaise. To this day, my husband thinks he hates mayo because he was fed miracle whip!

    • Yes, it’s very different, and there were so many changes made to food, as an industry, back in the 50’s and 60’s. A lot of them coincided with the women’s movement, women working outside the home and burning bras and such.

  • We had your Crunchy Pea Salad for dinner tonight! My husband gave it a ‘thumbs up’ and has requested it to made again.
    Not being an American I have no idea of the aforementioned cook books but if this salad originated from one of those books, I say jolly good.
    Well done Mimi, another good recipe. :))

  • Love petite pois in a dish. I use to grow them and probably ate as much as I picked. I enjoy all cookbooks from the local high school band to Ottolenghi. Loving history, being a former teacher/librarian there is always something to learn. Your recipe is a keeper and I’m looking forward to making it!

    • I’m sure you’re right, i just don’t like a lot of ingredients used in those cookbooks, like Lipton soup mix. It seemed like it was in everything!

  • this salad sounds quite tasty mimi. when we were living for a few months with a friend in Philly, we were given things like jello salad (oh the horror) and sweet potato pie with marshmallows and other ‘interesting’ dishes. it was a bit surprising to us innocent aussies! oh yes monday night dinner was always sweet crepes with veg.! eek…

  • I had a feeling that this post would produce a ton of comments. My parents were first-generation Italian-Americans, and the food at our table wasn’t traditional Central Pennsylvania “American.” My father hated casseroles and such. He had grown up in Maine and my parents had lived in Boston for the first few years of my life, so old-time New England cooking (boiled dinners, “real” baked beans) showed up on our table. But there was nary a cake mix, pasta was often homemade, and our dinners always included a vegetable and a salad and fruit for dessert, except on special occasions. Summers featured eggplant parmigiana and stuffed peppers (in season!). Thus, I know exactly what you are talking about. I get a kick out of those “can of this, can of that” community cookbooks and in fact have a small collection of them. And yes, that pea salad isn’t bad!

    • Oh that’s nice. Many years ago I met my real father’s family in Pennsylvania. My parents had divorced when i was a baby. He came from Sicily with his brothers and parents at 14 i think. My sister somehow found the family and i attended a reunion. One night was dinner at an aunt and uncle’s house, and she served Ragu. In a jar. I was devastated!!! I still can’t “do” casseroles. I was appalled the first time I saw one! When I had a baby someone brought me one with crushed potato chips on it! I could have been starving and wouldn’t have eaten it.

  • I love when you talk of your mother and her kitchen, and your upbringing. It always makes me smile. While mine was different, I think our mothers were similar…

    And I am with you on the Junior League cookbooks and their ilk. Like you, I have found a gem or two within, though. This pea salad is one to save and try. Thanks !

    • You know what? This salad probably originally had Miracle whip in it! Because I never saw the recipe in a book, my friend just wrote it down for me. I’m serious when I say that my husband won’t eat mayonnaise, because he was raised on miracle whip, and can’t stand it. He still doesn’t believe me when I tell him it’s different!

  • You know, it’s all about what you were raised eating. I personally love American food – but more in the homemade style. A good mac and cheese is hard to beat. Same goes for a burger made from ground beef – not the premade frozen patties. But homemade American is what I grew up on. And speaking of those Junior League cookbooks, I had to laugh. I’ve seen some pretty AWFUL recipes in those. However, in the same breath, I have to say that I’ve come across some really GOOD recipes in those, too. I’m intrigued by this salad. The flavors sound excellent, and I’m thinking this would be an excellent summer salad next to grilled food. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Exactly. There’s no bad or good here, just what you were exposed to. However if you’ve tasted a bigger variety of food, and fresher, higher quality of ingredients, you approach cooking differently. So I think that did help me when I started cooking. As far as this recipe goes, it’s fabulous!

  • Actually a lot of those Junior League cookbooks have one or two recipes in each that are gems. Gotta dig to find them, though. :-) This looks like one of those gems — really nice. Gotta say, though, I could have done without being reminded of beanie weenies. :-)

    • Sorry, that was a serious pet peeve of mine. Get invited to some kind of get together, and there were the beanie weenies. Ugh. Well, I believe you about the books. And maybe I didn’t give them a fair chance. I just don’t like a lot of the ingredients in them!

  • I love some American food, but certainly not all of it. And I’ve found that as I’ve aged, my tastes have changed for the better. I guess that’s one of the few benefits of aging! But this salad looks delicious, thanks for sharing the recipe.

  • This salad looks amazing! I have never seen this particular combination, but it’s everything I love and cannot wait to try it! Thanks for this :)

    • Thank you. I did discover Cocoa Puffs at a friend’s house, maybe in 6 th grade and was really upset that my mother didn’t believe in cold cereal!!!

  • My mom loved to cook from the New York Times Cookbook—though, she also got a number of less gourmet recipes from her friends. I was exposed to a wide variety of cuisines. I never had pea salad until a collage roommate made her mom’s recipe. We were living on junk back then, and it tasted amazing. I’ve never made it, but I’d love to try your version!

    • I bet The NY Times cookbook was fabulous. I wonder if there’s a recent publication of it? During college I lived on liver and eggs – both really cheap and pretty healthy, which probably saved me! This recipe for pea salad is surprisingly wonderful. I’ve never seen another one.

  • Now, just FYI the Junior League is considered the top of the line of spiral bound cookbooks; lots of “entertaining” done by those ladies. You obviously have never had a run in with a Lutheran Church ladies (no offense, could be another denomination depending on where you live) cookbook! I l love browsing through them especially the very old ones (before Cream of Mushroom soup!) where you’ll find recipes for things like how to render lard, and how to make everything from soap to your own wine. (Sorry, Mimi…not just any wine, but very often backyard dandelion wine…)

    When I was with the folks in South Dakota, the little local steakhouse had a small buffet and this was on it, along with a big wheel of cheddar and crackers, pickled herring, and of course, an iceberg lettuce salad assortment.

    Bacon fried cashews are a genius move!!!

    • No, no run-in!!! Before cream of mushroom soup would be a plus for me. A big plus. They sound really interesting! Pickled herring? Interesting! A Scandinavian faction in South Dakota? Interesting!

      • Oh gosh, yes, you betcha! :) Scandinavian and Norwegian in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. The waves of immigrants that came to the Midwest in the 1860s to the 1890’s included lots of German, some Irish, and then the Scandinavians and Swedes. I think most of them came a little later than the majority of Germans and a lot had to push through to the western edges of the Midwest and settle in where land was still available. Here in Minnesota, many homes lay out pickled herring and lefse during the holidays.

  • I grew up in the midwest in a family that did “jello salads” etc, haha!! I definitely rebelled against my roots and love cooking up all sorts of unique global dishes (as you know!) but sometimes American food is good, and hits that perfect spot of comfort. This salad looks like that to me!

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