My father always told me “soul food” to the Northerners is simply the food that everyone in the South could afford in my grandfather’s time. However, everyone in the south that indulges themselves in this regional cuisine should pay thanks to our neighbors that smuggled, cultivated and made foods like okra and field peas staples in our diets. The African influence in the southern diet is as strong an influence as any factor. As soon as the summer approaches, the local farmer’s market begins and I can begin to adapt my cooking to what is local and fresh. Our regional farmers have begun to expand their offerings into offerings that were not typically grown locally. Mushrooms, chard, broccolini, squash blossoms, all now can be found readily on Saturday mornings picked fresh from an hour radius.
The things that I anticipate most each summer season are the southern staple vegetables. Okra, peas, squash and tomatoes are the cornerstone of summer meals. A succotash of the weeks findings can be made to accompany any dish. Or each vegetable can be a dish unto itself. One such seasonal treat I enjoy making is Lemon Mine Cream Pea Spread. It is an adaptation of the bean puree’ that might be found accompanying an antipasti platter or a hummus. It captures the reward of the pea harvest (anyone that sat on a sweltering screened-in-porch and shelled peas for hours understands) in a spread that makes a great appetizer or spread.
The key to his recipe is very fresh ingredients. You can substitute any variety of field pea (crowder, black eye, lady), but if you can find cream peas, I find their flavor blends well with the mint and lemon producing a light fresh nutty flavor. This can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for a week.
- 2 cups fresh cream peas
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/8 cup loose fresh mint leaves
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp pepper
- pinch of red pepper
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp diced preserved lemon rind (if available)
- Blanch peas in salt water by boiling for 10 minutes
- Strain peas in a colander and rinse with cold water
- Using a food processor, blend peas and garlic with 1/2 cup of olive oil
- Add lemon juice, mint and preserved lemon
- Blend until incorporated
- Slowly add remaining olive oil while blending on high until spread is smooth, you may need addition oil
- Taste and season with salt, pepper and red pepper and blend
I like to store this spread with a thin layer of olive oil on top. It keeps air from affecting the flavor. Serve with toast points, crackers, or even as a spread on a sandwich.