By Barbara Kobsar | Illustrations by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
Spring is all about green with fresh leaves, new shoots, dainty blossoms, and crisp pods of all sorts coming to the farmers’ market for us to admire, ponder, prepare, and enjoy.
Spinach is ubiquitous through every season, but I enjoy it most in the early spring months when the crisp, dark-green leaves are tender and sweet. As the weather warms, heat-tolerant types like Malabar or Bloomsdale step up with their rich flavors and hardy textures.
Spinach needs careful handling. Chilling it shortly after purchase helps prevent breakdown of the leaves, but before storing, pick out and compost any wilted or yellowing leaves and use the rest quickly. To prepare, remove any tough stems and swirl leaves in cold water. Drain on towels to use in salads or leave the moisture on the leaves to steam in a pot for 3 or 4 minutes until just wilted.
It’s easy to bask in the gentle beauty of spring when pea shoots appear on the plate. At the start of the growth cycle, any type of edible pea plant will produce delicate young leaves, stems, blossoms, and tendrils that are edible. These are particularly tasty in salads, but also wonderful when steamed or added to stir fries.
And here come the pods …
Crunchy, sweet, edible-pod peas like snow peas and sugar snap peas arrive early in the season all ready for tossing into salads or stir fries. You may need to remove the tough strings running along the outside edges, or look for the stringless variety (a cross between snow peas and English peas), which still requires a little trimming. I like to blanch edible-pod peas for 30 quick seconds and then plunge them into cold water so they remain crisp and green.
The pods of English peas (aka green or garden peas) are not edible. These types are harvested when the peas are still immature and tender but after the pods have become too thick to be edible. Once the peas have become so large that you can see their shapes in the pods, they will be starchy and tough.
Undoubtedly the freshest peas are the ones picked and eaten right in the garden (a fond memory for me). Freshness is key because the sugar in peas rapidly turns to starch after harvest. Cooling or freezing retards this process, but the just-picked peas at the farmers’ market are what I’m looking for. Choose crisp peas with smooth and glossy bright-green skins. If necessary, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two or three days.
How much to buy? One pound of snow peas or sugar snaps serves four. One pound of garden peas in their pods yields about one cup of shelled peas and serves two. ♦
Veteran journalist and cookbook author Barbara Kobsar focuses on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. Find her at the Walnut Creek, Orinda, and San Ramon farmers’ markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies.
Artist Charmaine Koehler-Lodge grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.
Salmon en Papillote
- 4 (16-inch) sheets parchment paper
- 6 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup snow peas
- 2 cups pea shoots
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 4 skinless salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each)
- 2 lemons, cut into ¼ inch thick rounds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Lay out the parchment on a table and arrange a ¼ portion of vegetables in a line along the center of each sheet. (Leave at least 2 inches at the ends for folding.) Top vegetables with salmon and lemon slices, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with oil. Bring long ends of paper together and fold down about 3 times to make a secure seam, leaving about an inch of space above the food for steam to collect. Fold and then tuck the ends underneath.
A more traditional way to make the packets is to fold the parchment paper in half and cut a half heart shape that unfolds to a large heart shape. After filling with ingredients, fold the parchment and seal with closely overlapping little folds starting at the top of the heart and working around the edge to the bottom.
Place packets on a baking sheet and bake 15 to 18 minutes until packets are puffed and salmon is cooked through. To serve, transfer packets to plates. Pull or cut open carefully.