I’ve been in fridge-clean-out mode for the past few days. This happens before I travel – I make an effort to consume all my fresh produce, so nothing goes bad while I’m gone. I’m headed to Colorado for Thanksgiving tomorrow (Have you taken my Thanksgiving Pledge yet? Click here), and want to come home to an empty crisper drawer so I can fill it with fresh new things.
The other night, I found these in the back of my fridge:
Pigeon Peas! I bought these at the farmers market, and they got pushed behind a taller item in my fridge. Thankfully, they were in a container designed to extend the life of produce, so they were still good! But I’ve never eaten pigeon peas before, so one question remained: What was I going to do with them?
I was feeling kinda tired that night, so unfortunately, my meal isn’t that inspired. But I did learn a lot about pigeon peas, and that’s always a good thing.
Pigeon peas are native to India, where a majority of them are still grown. They’re also popular in parts of Africa and in some Caribbean cuisines. Fresh pigeon peas are sold when the pods are still young, and they’re called green pigeon peas. The peas turn yellow as they age, but mature peas are still harvested and dried, and then used like dry beans or lentils (a popular Indian soup, dal, is typically made with mature pigeon peas).
In Thailand, pigeon pea stalks are farmed as host plants for scale insects, which attach like parasites and suck food out of the plants. These insects secrete a resin called lac that can be harvested and turned into shellac, which is used as a wood finish and in the nail polish industry. (A certain species of scale insect is a brilliant deep red, and for centuries these insects have been collected, ground up, and turned into a dye… and that, my friends, is the history of the color we know as crimson!)
As a food source, pigeon peas, like soybeans, are high in protein. They also have a good collection of nutrients, including many B vitamins, as well as vitamins C and K, iron and phosphorus.
The farmer who sold me the pigeon peas must have noticed the quizzical look on my face, because she told me, before I even asked, that pigeon peas can be eaten like edamame. So that’s how I cooked ’em. The peas took a bath in boiling water for about 4 minutes, before I drained them. They got a little deeper in color during the cooking process:
Now for the tedious part: shelling them. You don’t eat the pigeon pea pods, just the peas inside. Luckily, they shell pretty easily, like edamame do, though they’re smaller, so it’s still incredibly time consuming. Here’s a pod that’s been relieved of its peas:
I didn’t buy tons of pigeon peas – just a couple handfuls, but it still took me 20 minutes, at least, to de-shell all of them. I had a stop a few times to go after peas that flew across my kitchen. And here’s my hard-earned yield!
Yay! I have about 1/3 of a cup of green pigeon peas!
I was tired to begin with, and thanks to the cooking and shelling, I was even less inspired to do something creative with them. So I tried a few just like this – and, surprise surprise, they tasted just like edamame. But smaller.
Forgive me for being so boring, but I ended up just adding the pigeon peas to some soup. I heated up one of my favorite boxed soups, Dr. McDougall’s Lower Sodium Garden Vegetable:
I love keeping this on hand, because a serving (half the box) is only 60 calories, is fat-free, and has only 290mg of sodium. And it’s pretty tasty! The soup is not a good source of protein (only 3g), so adding the pigeon peas boosted that number a little bit.
The pigeon peas were good in the soup! The soup’s vegetables were all a little mushy, which is how veggies in soup usually end up, so it was great to have something with a sturdier texture and a fresher taste.
I ended up eating both servings in the box, and toasted a couple pieces of bread to have with it. Add in some Greek yogurt, 3 hard-boiled egg whites (for some more protein) and a banana, and there you have it: A perfectly boring, utilitarian (and really healthy) meal that’s unremarkable in every way… except that it included a veggie that I tried for the first time!
Keep it up, David!