Fresh from the Pod

The Huevos Rancheros at Magnolias, in Charleston, South Carolina, features cowpeas that have been puréed with butter, salt, and cumin, then cooked again to mimic refried beans.
The Huevos Rancheros at Magnolias, in Charleston, South Carolina, features cowpeas that have been puréed with butter, salt, and cumin, then cooked again to mimic refried beans.

Seasonal shelling beans and legumes steal the side show.

From purple and white tie-dyed cranberry beans to bright green garbanzos and creamy cannellini, fresh shelling beans and peas signal the start of summer for chefs from coast to coast. 

Crunchy when blanched and creamier when cooked, these colorful beans bring as much life to farmers’ market stands as they do to salads and soups, pasta dishes, and more. However, they can be difficult to locate. Fresh shelling beans can be hard to obtain through traditional distribution methods, so they’re often sourced from local farmers and gardeners. 

Preparation can also be a bit tricky. Shelling beans can have a bitter pod, thus requiring shucking or hulling. In some cases they can be quickly blanched or shaved super thin for crunchy salads. If you’re lucky, you might find some of the larger, more prolific bean growers who offer shucked beans and peas. But, if self-shucking is necessary, some argue the unique pop of color, texture, and taste makes the task worthwhile and these seasonal gems a true labor of love. Here’s a look at some lesser-known local and seasonal favorites from chefs. 

Purple Peas at Passerelle Bistro

Summer’s the season when Chef Teryi Youngblood of Passerelle Bistro in Greenville, South Carolina, sources purple hull peas from local farmers who are often growing crops specifically for the restaurant. “These peas are similar to black-eyed peas, but more tender, and they pop when you bite into them,” Chef Youngblood says. 

She uses the peas in a variety of dishes, including a cassoulet with duck sausage and confit, and bacon—substituting the peas instead of traditional white beans. She lets the peas slow-simmer in the stock, wine, and tomato broth—along with the other ingredients—for about an hour. “We like to use purple hull peas for this South Carolina version of a traditional French dish because they are more local and fresher than white beans,” Youngblood explains. Earlier in the season, she sources the shucked peas from coastal farmers because their peas tend to pop up first. 

Green Garbanzos á la Chef Grant 

A Scotland native whose family had a large vegetable garden, Chef Cameron Grant of Osteria Langhe in Chicago grew up feasting on the rows of fresh peas early in the season. Sometimes in a sneaky way: “If I did something naughty, I would be sent to my room without dinner, so I would lay down in the garden and those peas would be my dinner,” he says. “You would have to go through the pain of picking and shucking them, but you were rewarded with the freshness and sweet taste.” 

Now, Chef Grant enjoys all types of peas but has favored green garbanzo beans as a special treat—and he’ll often have to shuck them himself, just like when he was a kid. It’s a tedious but tasty task: “You have to crack open the pod with your thumb and you only get one bean per pod,” he says. “They are a labor of love compared to English peas that have six to 10 peas in a pod, but they’re worth it—they have a bright and refreshing taste.” 

Grant prefers to simply blanch the bright green-hued beans in boiling salted water for 20 to 30 seconds, and then shock them in ice water to preserve their vibrancy and color, plus make them more digestible. Because of how labor-intensive the preparation is, he uses the beans as a special touch rather than a staple, choosing to add them into housemade pasta dishes with seasonal vegetables tossed in a velvety chicken stock, butter, and fresh herb reduction and topped with a citrusy breadcrumb blend. 

He’s also re-created a traditional pasta e fagioli using the green garbanzos instead of cannellini beans—producing extra color and crunch. For another twist on the traditional, he will sometimes make a green garbanzo hummus with coriander and cumin. 


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