Thursday, August 16, 2012

WTH is a Cowpea??

Sometimes, my roommate sees something on t.v. or reads about it in a magazine, buys it, and then pawns it off on me to figure out what to do with it. If she were to develop a Food Network show, it would be liked Chopped, only it would be called Make Me Something with THIS! Recently, a two-pound bag of dried cowpeas from Carolina Plantation showed up in the kitchen, and when I asked what they were and what they were for, Cyd said she didn't know, but she thought I could figure out something to do with them. 

So I Googled what I was dealing with and came to understand that the cowpea is one of many varieties of crowder peas or field peas--a brownish, earthier cousin of the black-eyed pea. This posed a problem, as I often find black-eyes a little too strong for my tastes. So I knew I needed a recipe with bold flavors to stand up to the super-earthy taste of the cowpeas. And I found an excellent one on Carolina Plantation's website. Chef Kyle Taylor of Pawley’s Front Porch in Columbia, South Carolina calls his dish Southern Plantation Salsa, but it's more like Texas/Cowboy Caviar, and I prefer to use it as a summer side dish salad. I served this with some simple--but simply outstanding--marinated, grilled chicken breasts for a perfect light, seasonal supper!

Summery Cowpea Salad
(Source: adapted from Kyle Taylor, via Carolina Plantation Rice's website)

Soak one pound of dried cowpeas (black-eyed peas may be substituted) in cold water overnight, or bring them to a boil, turn off the heat, and soak for a couple/few hours. Strain liquid. Place in pot and cover with about three inches of fresh water and add a tablespoon of salt. Bring to boil, reduce to a light simmer until peas are tender (about an hour?). Strain liquid and let peas cool.

*Or make it easy on yourself and used canned black-eyed peas, drained.

Creamy Herb Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup champagne or red wine vinegar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cups canola or vegetable oil

Place vinegar, egg yolk, Dijon mustard, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper in a large cup or container. Use a stick blender (emulsion blender) to combine. Slowly add oils until emulsified. Refrigerate until needed.

When peas have cooled, add enough of the vinaigrette to coat (start with a cup then go from there). Then add the following vegetables to the cooked and cooled cowpeas.

kernels from two steamed ears of sweet corn, cut from the cob
1/2 yellow pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced
1 pint rainbow cherry tomatoes, halved
4 scallions, diced
1 or 2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

You may serve the salad right away, but it's better if you let the flavors marry in the fridge for a few hours first!  

As for the awesome chicken breasts, I sliced four big ones in half so they would cook more quickly. Then I marinated them for about four hours in about a half cup of Greek salad dressing, the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of minced garlic, a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of pepper, and a small handful each of fresh thyme and fresh oregano from my herb garden (whole sprigs). Then I grilled the chicken breasts. Simple and YUMMY!

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