Triple-Pea and Asparagus Salad with Feta-Mint Dressing
My upbringing in Australia was unequivocally cross-cultural. Growing up in the suburbs of Sydney with Chinese parents, food was the pipeline to our heritage. My mum was a fervent cook, wowing her three hungry children with complex Cantonese flavors from her motherland. Our palates were accustomed to big flavors—stir-fried Asian greens laced with sharp fermented bean curd, steamed ‘porkcakes’ spiked with salted black beans, and hotpots that sang with salient notes of ginger and umami. With these punchy flavors as our dinnertime norm, the day my mum served steak with peas was always going to be memorable. While I still ate and appreciated meat during my early teens, it was the vibrant mound of peas that got my attention. Sure, I had eaten peas in omelettes and fried rice before, but I had never experienced peas as a side dish, so naked and unadorned. As I popped them into my mouth, each pea burst with a grassy sweetness that thrilled me. Soon, I would part ways with steak forever, but peas remain one of my ultimate comfort foods.
While I enjoy peas all year round (you will always find a bag or two in my freezer for quick pantry meals), there’s sweet relief when the first peas of the season, in all their incarnations, appear. The arrival of green peas, snow peas, sugar snaps, and pea shoots signals promise and renewal, and the chance to reset our mind and our diet with a greener outlook.
I usually kick off early summer by excessively gorging on peas. Sugar snaps and snow peas don’t even require cooking—snack on them raw or slice razor thin and add them to salads. And while it’s great to find pre-podded peas, there is something intensely gratifying in methodically tearing open a fresh pod and sliding out the pudgy, tender spheres. When purchasing fresh peas, choose pods that are bright green and plump, and on the smaller side—overlarge pods can house starchy peas. Make sure you don’t discard your pods – I recently discovered that the empty pea pods can be used to make veggie stock. The Venetian dish risi e bisi, a soupy rice with peas, is traditionally made with pod stock, which delivers an assertive pea flavor.
This salad brings fresh flavors to the plate with confidence and swagger. Barely blanched peas mingle with pan-fried sugar snaps, snow peas, and another of my favorite spring ingredients, asparagus, which are cooked on high heat until just tender yet still crisp with the slightest hint of charring to add smokiness. I’ve chosen farro as the workhorse grain in this salad—its distinct chewy, nutty texture is substantial both to the bite and to the appetite. Salty, lemony, and herbaceous, the feta-mint dressing will likely become your summer stalwart, as it is also perfect served with grilled vegetables, folded through warm pasta, or slathered on crispy roasted potatoes.