Summer finally made its way to Chicago. This means mornings full of blue sky and bright sun, long walks to my garden, lunch and occasional evenings with friends in Millennium Park, super moonlit nights, tank tops, skirts, dresses, sandals, and what seems like an endless round of late night weekend fireworks, at least in my neighborhood. I love all but that last bit. It’s easy to be happy, relaxed.
The downside, at least for me, is that I’m not motivated in the same way I am in winter. For example, I haven’t really been cooking, at least not anything worth reporting. Which means I haven’t had anything to write about. So I was super excited last week, when this photo popped up on my newsfeed in Facebook. I was on the el, on my way to work after the daily walk to water my garden. It was hot and humid, finally summer, and I had just eaten ripe strawberries straight off the vine. While I’m not sure I would have made the connection under any other circumstances, at that moment my first thought when I saw the photo was how to incorporate strawberries. And, unexpectedly, black eyed peas sounded good.
It was unexpected because despite my Southern heritage, I don’t really like black eyed peas. I want to. And I even have some in my bean cupboard. (Yes. I now have a dedicated bean cupboard.) So, as I imagined this salad, I mentally went through my food inventory, thinking about what I had either at home or in the garden. I remembered this incredible honey vinegar that my best friend brought me from Utah (http://www.slideridge.com/), which is so special and unique that I haven’t known quite what to do with it. That would be perfect with strawberries, yes! And maybe thyme? Maybe. Of course, I wouldn’t know for sure until I tried it, but in theory the idea sounded fantastic. So I scribbled in down in a notebook and committed to experiment this weekend, top priority.
Cut to today, Sunday. A more responsible, together person, someone more like my former self, would spend the day unpacking the boxes of crystal and china that litter the dining room. That person would probably also finish painting the bedroom. While simultaneously making food for the week ahead. And, to be fair, probably dancing around the kitchen while listening to something awesome. Maybe that version of myself will be back in the winter. But this now me, this relaxed, summer version of myself? I’m spending a day of leisure, some cooking plus hours of sitting on the couch, writing while listening to birdsong in the trees outside my living room windows. I don’t need china or crystal anytime soon. And it’s okay that the dining room is still full of unpacked boxes, that I have not yet hung art, and that the bedroom paint job remains only half complete. I am the only one I have to please. This is a revelation.
Sadly, there is no corresponding revelation of taste sensation. I so wanted to write a glowing review about my experiment, to prove that my inspiration was well-founded. But no. It isn’t so. I mean, the salad good. But I’m not going to make it for a dinner party, or insist that friends at work tomorrow try a bite. And that’s okay. Because, as I reminded myself when deciding to go ahead and post, to not worry about making it perfect right now, this blog is supposed to be about the process, not the end result. And the process is not meant to be perfect on the first try. Or at least that’s my positive self speak of the day
The upside of this salad, the reason why I’ll definitely keep trying, is that it’s a perfect dish for summer. First, it’s super healthy. Second, everyone I know can eat this, as it’s vegan, gluten and dairy free. Third, the black eyed peas cook quickly with almost no need to attend, which means there’s almost no time spent over a hot stove. Fourth, all of the components can be made ahead. Finally, the ingredient list is super versatile; next time I may substitute plums for strawberries. And I will definitely add nuts. Almonds, probably, although I also think pecans might be nice. So, even though this first try wasn’t a roaring success, I’m quite pleased with the outcome of the experiment.
1 c. dried black eyed peas, rinsed
1/2 t. ground cardamon
1 dried chili pepper, crumbled
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 c. ripe strawberries, hulled* and sliced
a few springs of thyme
1 T. walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
2 T. honey vinegar (if you don’t have honey vinegar, substitute a fruity vinegar or sherry vinegar, then add 1 t. honey)
1. Place the beans in a medium pot with the cardamon and chili pepper. Cover with about an inch of fresh, cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about an hour, or until tender. Black eyed peas cook quickly and, if cooked too long, will fall apart. So check them every 15 minutes or so. Also check the water level, topping off as needed to make sure they’re covered. When the peas are tender, add 1/2 t. salt. Then cool to room temperature in cooking liquid.
2. Whisk the oil and vinegar (plus honey, if using) together in a large bowl. Add the kale, tossing to coat.
To serve, plate the kale and top with strawberries and thyme. If you aren’t serving right away, or will only be eating a portion or two, refrigerate the kale and peas separately. Add the strawberries and thyme when you’re ready to serve.
*To hull strawberries, hold the berry in one hand. With the other hand, point the paring knife at a slight angle alongside the hull. Turn the strawberry so the knife cuts around the hull. Then pluck it out. You lose almost none of the fruit. Although I didn’t manage a photo of the process, here’s a shot of the end result.