It’s been a crazy, hectic week here. Our 9-year-old E. is in an opera! She and several of the students from her school are part of the children’s chorus in a local opera production, which will (finally) be performed this weekend. Between driving her to and from rehearsals and staying up late to make sure she gets her homework done, D. and I are almost as tired as she is. So our meals have become simpler as our lives have become more chaotic.
One of my favorite fast-but-healthy meals is fresh peas, a steamed vegetable, and a starch. If you can get fresh peas of any kind, the taste is just miles better than the canned version. Here in Mississippi, farmers’ markets and farm stands often sell already shelled peas in several varieties–lady cream peas, pinkeye purple hull peas, and baby lima beans are among my favorites. Whatever the variety, my technique for cooking them is pretty much the same.
First, I chop an onion and sauté it in a non-stick saucepan until it starts to caramelize. Then I add a little garlic, and cook for another minute. Then I add the peas (about a pound for the 3 of us) and enough water to cover them by about an inch. I season them well with whatever herbs I’ve decided to use. This time around, I cooked the adorable pinkeye purple-hull peas with thyme, rosemary, and fresh French tarragon, but for lima beans my favorite combination is thyme and marjoram. Sage, parsley, pepper, basil, oregano–all of these herbs have made their way into my peas at one time or another, and they’re all good.
Once the peas and seasonings are in the pot, I cover it with the lid slightly ajar and let the peas cook until tender. It depends a lot on the peas whether this takes 20 minutes or an hour, so I plan for about an hour. I watch the pot and add water as necessary. When they’re done, I add salt to taste. I sometimes thicken the cooking liquid by adding a cornstarch mixture or by simply mashing some of the peas to release their starches; this makes a wonderful gravy, suitable for “sopping up” with a piece of cornbread. (I skipped this step this time, choosing instead to serve the “pot liquor” in its natural state.)
While the peas are cooking, I prepare my side dishes. Steamed broccoli is a favorite around here, so it’s my fall-back vegetable. As far as starches go, we’re usually potato people. Mashed or baked potatoes both go well with peas, though sometimes I will opt for hash browns. On this occasion, however, I took a little extra time and threw together some corn cakes.
Corn cakes are great when you’re in a hurry; they cook much more quickly than a pan of corn bread, though if you’re feeding a crowd, a pan of corn bread will save more time. I make corn cakes a little differently each time, but here’s the version I made most recently, which should be gluten-free if you use brands of corn meal and flour that are certified gluten-free.
Easy Corn Cakes
- 1 cup yellow corn meal
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 3/4 cup chickpea flour besan or rice flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. Ener-G Egg Replacer
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup unsweetened soymilk
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
Mix the corn meal with the hot water until crumbly. Add the remaining dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Mix the soymilk with the lemon juice and pour it into the dry ingredients. Mix well, and set aside while you heat your skillet.
- If necessary, spray a non-stick or cast iron skillet with a little canola oil (if your skillet is truly non-stick, you may be able to skip this step). Get it hot, and then cook the corn cakes like pancakes, allowing about 1/4 cup batter per corn cake. Cook until well-browned on each side. Makes about 8-10.
It’s going to be a long weekend, so I’ll see you after the opera! 🙂