I have a love-hate relationship with pea tips. When they are perfect, shot through with tenderness and spring-fresh
pea flavor, I’m in a state of bliss. But they are an iffy vegetable to
buy, a potential pain in the butt. If you’re not thorough in prepping them or
buy a bag full of mature tips, you end up with a stir-fry riddled with dental
floss-like pieces. Sometimes the pea tips resemble damp toothpicks. In other words, you don’t want
to eat them because you can’t chew them. Pea tips thrill but can frustrate.
What are pea
variety of snow pea that’s grown only for its tender tips. Sold at Chinese
markets, they’re called dou miao in
Mandarin. Pea tips look like pea vines but they only grown a foot or two; they
are not trellised. (If you want to grow pea tips, here is a seed source.)
years back, I visited with an Asian-American farmer who explained that harvesting pea
tips is very time consuming. To get a
bag of good tender ones you have to be careful and knowledgeable when snipping.
She showed me some plants in a hot house and while they all looked the same to
me, they were over the hill to her. We had to squat to get at them. Pea tips
are a bargain at $3 to $5 a pound, given the amount of labor that’s required to
get them to market.
week, I bought two bags for about $3.50 a pound. They looked fresh and tender
at the market. My husband cleaned them, snipping off the tendrils that always
cook up like floss. What he and I didn’t anticipate were the stiff
pieces that refused to soften in the wok. I had cooked them up for a Lunar New Year dinner but decided to not serve
them because they were not ready for primetime. I wasn’t about to tell guests
to spit out woody, inedible pea tips.
next day, I went through the pea tips again and found that some pieces felt very hard and stiff. They seemed unyielding compared to the stems that charmingly bent. The stiff ones were likely the ones that gave me trouble.
snapped all of stiffies and in some cases stripped off the leaves to cook. At the end of the line, I had only about 3/4 of my stash.
I stir-fried what was left and even with the
second pass, there was still an inedible piece that stuck out from the rest of
the pile. That said, what I ate was delicious, the essence of peas but
in leafy green form.
pea tip experience reminded me of something my mom likes to say, "Tiền nào của nấy," (tee-en now cu-ah ney) which roughly means you get what
you pay for. Next time, I’m buying closer to the $5 a pound range. I'll hopefully waste less time and fewer pea tips. If you have pea tip tips, please please share!
How to cook pea tips? Restaurants often present
them in a shallow bowl surrounded by a moat of rich chicken stock. At Koi
Palace, a fantastic Cantonese restaurant in Daly City, CA, the chefs add some
fresh tofu skin (yuba) for color and textural contrast.
stir-fried pea tips with stock and chicken/duck fat in the past too. But you
can also just do this:
Simple Pea Tip Stir-Fry
Yield: 4 servings
of canola oil
- 1 or
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 1/3
pound of pea tips, tendrils removed and stiff pieces discarded (net 1 pound)
- Heat a wok or large skillet over
medium-high heat. Swirl in the oil, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until
fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the pea tips and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Stir-fry
for several minutes, until wilted. If things seem dry, splash in water to
- The pea tips are done when
they’re about a third of their original volume. Dish out to a serving plate.
Drizzle on some sesame oil.
More simply delicious vegetable