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The Pea Salad Misnomer

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I belong to a pretty active CSA, which I love – even though I get completely overwhelmed with produce through the summer.  Each year I try a couple of apporaches to staying on top of the horde; making jam with the excess fruit, keeping salads in the fridge, meal planning, preserving, freezing, anything I can.  Since the distribution is on Saturday, I’ll often include a lot of the bounty in my Saturday breakfast; this morning was an egg florentine with a handful of strawberries on the side.  Delicious, and used up half the spinach in one fell swoop.

This week we also got fresh peas in the haul, and I eagerly came home, thinking that there must be some kind of a lovely pea salad somewhere in the world.  Something spotlighting the sweetness of the peas, maybe adding some chopped nuts for a bit of crunch, laced with some herbs and a light dressing.  I did a search for “pea salad” online.

….Oh, there are pea salads alright.  I had no idea that pea salads are apparently a potluck or picnic staple in most of the country, and so there were pages and pages of recipes, all from people swearing that their recipe was a family favorite or that it was the big hit at last summer’s barbecue or whatever.  But nearly every one of them loaded the thing with mayo, and bacon, and cheese.

Peas have flavor, especially if they’re fresh – and it is a sweet flavor.  It’s a subtle flavor, too, something that would get totally overwhelmed by mayo.  But recipe after recipe had the mayo and bacon front and center, smothering the poor peas.  How in the hell can you taste the peas with all of that gooey stuff all over them?  You may as well just make a spread of cheese and baconaisse and spoon that into your mouth.

Or maybe that is exactly the point?  Because everyone would look at you funny if you ate condiments by the spoonful.  But if you douse vegetables with it and call it a salad you can delude yourself into thinking it’s healthy.  Even though deep down you know it’s really not.

I actually think that deep down we all know that the rich and heavy stuff isn’t as healthy.  And parts of us do want the simpler, fresher stuff.  I went to a potluck once, and took a very simple vegetable dish – a melange of green beans, peas, and lima beans, dressed with a little melted butter and two crumbled up strips of bacon at most.  When I got there I saw a lot of the other offerings were elaborate plates of lasagna and baked ziti and rich casseroles, and humbly put my little bowl on the table alongside everything; everyone else had done a lot more work, I thought, and was embarrassed.  But then I was surprised when everyone kept coming up and thanking me for it – everyone else’s food was just rich and heavy, they said, and my mixed vegetable dish was exactly what they needed to balance it.  At the end of the day, everyone else had to bring home half-eaten trays of pasta and cheese and sauce, but my bowl was totally wiped clean.

I did manage to find one lovely-sounding thing with mint and arugula, a lashing of lemon juice and a hint of Parmesan cheese.  That’s much more like it.


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