Crunchy Pea Salad

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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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Creamy Nut Sauce

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The actual name of this sauce is sas. It’s Indian in origin, and the recipe I’m basing this on is out of the Foods of the World – The Cooking of India cookbook.

The sauce is made essentially with nuts and cream and is served with various kababs. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a recipe for Mughlai kababs, which are grilled, ground-lamb skewers. The kababs and the sauce together are pure heaven.

My most favorite dishes to order in Indian restaurants are the kormas – meats in creamy sauces made from nuts, although you’d never know it. The sauces are very delicate in flavor, yet scream decadence because of their richness.

So today I’m making this sauce, and tomorrow I’ll post the kababs.

Sas, or Creamy Nut Sauce

Pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon boiling water
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup mixed almonds and cashews, blanched
Seeds of 4 cardamom pods
1 cup milk
1 tablespoons ghee
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon salt

Place the saffron in a small bowl and add one tablespoon of boiling water; set the bowl aside. Given time, the hot water will leach the beautiful color and flavor of the saffron, which you can see as it changes color.

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I happened to have green cardamom pods, so I peeled off the outer shell to reveal the actual spice pods. (There are also white cardamom pods.). Below I show the difference between the whole pods, the cardamom itself as it occurs naturally inside the pods, lower right, and some ground cardamom, upper right. If you own ground cardamom, you definitely don’t need to buy the pods. Just try to use the equivalent of ground.

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Place all of the nuts, the cardamom pods and one cup of milk in a blender jar and blend until smooth.

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Then place the ghee in a saucepan and melt it over medium heat. Pour in the nut and cream mixture and cook it for a couple of minutes.

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Add the saffron and the water, the half and half and salt, and cook the mixture until it coats the back of a spoon.

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Store the sauce and refrigerate until needed. Stay tuned tomorrow!