Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Peas

Learn how to shell and cook peas. Video by Liddie Martinez 

By LIDDIE MARTINEZ
Española Valley

 

We always grew peas in our garden. A northern New Mexico staple for centuries, alverjón is an old Arabic word, a remnant of the invasion of Spain by the Moors in the 8th century that made a permanent home in Northern New Mexico by way of the Camino Real. The archaic word was first documented in the new world in 1626 by Fray Alonso de Benavides. Newly arrived to northern New Mexico nearly 30 years after Don Juan de Oñate he wrote in his journal that the land was, “…exceedingly fertile and produced in great abundance corn, wheat, beans, lentils and peas…” or alverjón.

Because of the centuries of isolation experienced by the Spanish in Northern New Mexico, our language did not change as the Spanish language modernized and so the archaic, rural Castilian that is not spoken actively anywhere else in the world, is still the dialect of choice in our northern rural communities.

I witnessed an old Spaniard hearing our dialect on a trip to Spain with my good friend, Estevan Arellano, a gifted writer who was doing research for his book on ancient acequias. He was interviewing a mayordomo in the hills of Las Alpujarras, an historic region of Andalusia, Spain. When we spoke to him, surprise registered on his lined face then tears fell from his eyes. He told us that he had not heard the old language since his grandfather had passed. If you are interested in this unique dialect, I urge you to read A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish by Professor Rubén Cobos.

If you are fortunate to have enough fresh peas left over to process, freezing them is the best way to preserve. I try to put up several quarts to use over the winter for fideos, caldos and braised dishes. The most difficult part of the process is shelling the peas. Rinse the pods with cold water in the sink then fill the sink with cold water and add the pods and a few cups of ice cubes. Chilling the peas crisps the pods so that they will easily pop open when shelling.

Equipment needed: 

  • Stock pot
  • Metal strainer
  • Parchment paper
  • Tea Towels
  • Baking sheets
  • Quart-sized Freezer Zip Lock Bags
  • Large bowl with ice water

Directions:

  1. Shell peas
  2. Fill stock pot with water and bring to a boil
  3. Line baking pans with parchment paper then place a clean tea towel on top of the paper
  4. Fill bowl with ice water and place metal strainer in bowl keeping ice out
  5. Work in batches. When water comes to a boil, place peas in boiling water for 1 ½ minutes then remover from water and plunge into ice water to stop cooking by placing in metal strainer.
  6. Remove strainer to drain water and place strained peas on tea towels to dry for about 15 minutes. Repeat.
  7. Gently roll peas off tea towel and onto parchment paper in a single payer
  8. Freeze for at least one hour, I leave trays overnight
  9. Open freezer bags and have a measuring cup handy before removing trays from freezer
  10. Remove trays one at a time and working quickly pull corners toward center of tray. Peas will roll towards the center.  Gently loosen them with free hand then scoop and bag.  Get them back into the freezer fast as they will thaw quickly.
  11. The peas will remain loose and peas individually frozen to be used as needed.

FAQs:

  • Do you have to blanch the peas to freeze them? No, you could just put them straight into the freezer, however; they will begin to discolor in a short time (4-6 weeks) and lose their flavor and nutritional value. Blanching keeps them bright in color, preserves their flavor and nutritional value and lengthens the time they will last in the freezer to a full year.
  • Why do I need to work quickly when packaging? Frozen peas will thaw very quickly, especially when you are handling them in the summer with warm hands. If they thaw even slightly, they will clump when you put them back in the freezer. If you can get them into freezer bags quickly, before they thaw, they will remain loose and easy to portion out as needed.

Two litres of peas. Photo by Liddie Martinez

Editor’s note: Liddie Martinez is the author of the popular Chile Line Cookbook: Historic Recipes of Northern New Mexico, which is available online at www.pajaritopress.com.

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