Pea shoots, with their delicate tendrils and beautiful leaves, are often used by chefs to dolly up plates of food (often to no avail, I’m afraid) but they have a wonderful fresh-pea taste and deserve to be eaten on their own as a salad leaf.
|Low-Carb Pea and Pea Shoot Salad with Bacon & Eggs. Plate by David Walters|
They’re now available in South Africa, in season, at better supermarkets, and you can also occasionally find them at farmers’ markets.
This double-pea salad uses frozen peas thawed in boiling water; use fresh peas by all means, but they never taste as sweet and delicious as top-quality frozen ones.
Some very crisp thick-cut bacon cubes, a wobbly poached egg and a plain dressing of lemon juice and olive oil all add up to a most satisfying dish. If you can’t find thick-cut bacon, use smoked pork rashers. This is also good with frizzled Parma ham.
Please don’t be put off the idea of poaching eggs: it’s really very easy. The most important thing, in my opinion, is that you use very fresh eggs. Elderly eggs have thin whites that don’t hold their shape. To test whether your egg is fresh enough to poach well, break one onto a plate. The white should be viscous, and the yolk must perch proudly on top, at a slight height. If the yolk is flat and the white spreads out on the plate, buy fresher eggs.
Keep the water at a gentle simmer (that means a slow burble, with some busy little bubbles) and make a gentle whirlpool in the water with a spoon before you slip in the egg. Break it into a teacup first so you can pour it easily into the centre of the vortex. If you’re not confident this will work, poach your eggs in clingfilm purses. If you can’t find pea shoots, use any dark green leaf.
This needs to be made at the very last minute, as pea shoots bruise quickly and wilt fast under a dressing.
Pea and Pea Shoot Salad with Bacon & Eggs
2 cups (500 ml) frozen peas
2 tsp (10 ml) white vinegar
1 Tbsp sunflower oil
6 thick-cut bacon rashers, cubed
4 fresh extra-large free range eggs
2 punnets fresh pea shoots (or enough for 4 people)
For the dressing:
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
a pinch of white sugar
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper
80 ml extra-virgin olive oil
First make the dressing. Put the lemon juice, mustard, sugar and a pinch of salt into a small bowl. Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved, then whisk in the olive oil to form a smooth emulsion. Season with more salt if necessary, and some milled black pepper. Reserve.
Cover the peas with boiling water from the kettle, let them stand for a minute or two, or until thawed, then drain and reserve.
Now get the pot ready for poaching the eggs. Half-fill a deep saucepan with boiling water and set it on the stove at a slow simmer. Add the vinegar.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the bacon cubes until crisp. While the bacon is frying, poach the eggs. It’s easiest to do this one at a time. Break each egg into a teacup, make a whirlpool (see above) and slip it gently into the middle of the pan. Poach for 3 minutes, depending on the size of your egg, or until the white is cooked and the yolk is still quite runny. Don’t poke the eggs or stir the water, and don’t worry if the water looks cloudy. If your egg is fresh, it will form a good shape. Remove with a slotted spoon, place on a warm plate and cover while you poach the remaining eggs.
Drain the bacon on kitchen paper. Arrange the pea shoots on four plates, sprinkle over the peas and bacon, and top each one with a warm poached egg. Pass the dressing round in a separate jug.
If you like, you can add the lemon juice to the hot fat left in the bacon pan, let it bubble for 30 seconds, then continue making the dressing.