I managed to shoe-horn a small vegetable garden into a sunny spot not shaded by the giant pecan tree in our backyard. In that small plot, in the Texas heat, tomatoes, green beans, peppers would thrive. In a shady spot, I coaxed a patch of upland cress and horseradish to use in salads.When we moved to Baltimore, we bought a row house, so it wasn’t until I found a community garden that I could re-exercise my green thumb. I shared that plot with a friend at work and we built raised beds and hauled in bags of dirt and manure. Baltimore, like Fort Worth, had hot and humid summers so it was easy to grow the vegetables I was accustomed to. It was there that I also fell in love with lima beans. In one of our raised beds, I created an A-frame lattice of bamboo sticks puchased from the local garden store. In the spring I would patiently plant rows of lima beans into the soil and wait until they matured during the summertime, thick with pods, their runners climbing all over the bamboo and threatening to take over the garden. We also planted squash and quickly learned that we had to keep an eye on them, or else the 4- or 5-inch-long squashes morphed into giants overnight. In the springtime, I would pick a few of the blossoms to fill with cheese, dip in egg and fry for a healthy lunch. But a little squash goes a long way. One plant is plenty. More than one and you just can’t give away all of the squash to your friends. That summer people would eye me warily if they saw me at work with a basket of produce to share because they knew beneath the few tomatoes and cucumbers would be giant mounds of squash.
When we got to Oregon and bought a house, the clay soil meant that the best thing to do would be to again build raised beds. So the first spring, I went to work plotting out a space in the backyard next to our kitchen and concrete patio, built two long 12-inch-high raised beds out of wood and hauled in dirt and manure. In the middle of my vegetable garden, I also built a smaller square series of stacked raised beds to have space for herbs. (I’ll blog about how to build this in a post this summer.)
Then I went to work learning about what grows best here and quickly found out that the things I was used to growing would be a challenge. Oregon does not have long, hot, humid summers. We have mild, dry days in the summertime with cool evenings–not the best kind of weather for tomatoes or peppers. But I learned that all kinds of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, bok choy, peas, and beans really thrive here. So every spring, I bide my time until it warms up to the 60s and I can plant peas. I love peas. Snow peas. Snap peas. Shelling peas. My family loves them too. And so do our three little dogs, who can often be found in the backyard during the spring and summer, picking and eating the produce if I’m not careful. Usually we’ll delay picking in order to eat the pods. But one of the delicacies I remember from my childhood in Asia and can now enjoy are pea shoots quickly stir-fried with garlic and soy sauce.
I’ve come to look forward to spring for the pea shoots.
While it’s still too early to put peas into the ground, at the supermarket yesterday I noticed pea shoots in the organic vegetable section, growing out of little square containers. They were among the lettuce and mixed field greens being sold for salad. I looked around and people were snapping them up for sandwiches and salads, and I decided to buy a couple of containers myself. A woman next to me asked what I was going to do with them. “Stir fry with olive oil and some garlic,” I replied. Her eyes grew big in amazement at the idea and she reached for one of the containers. “What do you do?” she asked. The tender pea shoots were about 5 inches long, growing from square plastic containers crammed with pea seeds in a sterilized seeding mixture. “Well, when they’re this long, I usually take kitchen scissors and cut the shoots off right above the seeds, and then cut them again lengthwise in half so that the pieces are about 2-3 inches long. Then I chop some garlic, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wok and brown the garlic, and then toss in the pea shoots and some salt to season and they’re done in about 2-3 minutes when they turn a bright dark green,” I explained. “You don’t want to overcook them,” I cautioned her.
Grinning from ear to ear like a little kid, the woman said thanks, tossed two containers in her grocery cart and went her merry way.
I left, smiling to myself…thinking that I made a convert.
Sautéed Pea Shoots
- About 4 cups (two handfulls) of pea shoots cut into 2-inch lengths
- 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons (10 ml.) olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Over high heat in a wok, sauté the chopped garlic until they’re golden.
- Add pea shoots, quickly turning them over in the wok to slightly wilt them for 2-3 minutes.
- Add salt to taste.