What springs to mind when you think of spring vegetables?  Perhaps artichokes, asparagus, peas, or ramps?

What about pea shoots?  Well, to me they scream spring.  Pea shoots are the immature tips of young pea plants, which include leaves, tendrils and stems, all of which are deliciously tender and crisp with a fresh pea flavor.

Although pea shoots are considered a traditional Chinese ingredient, in recent years they have popped up in farmers’ markets and gourmet grocery stores.  In fact, when I strolled through the Greenmarket at Union Square this morning, I spotted them at several vendors, including Gorzynski Ornery Farm, Lani’s Farm, Northshire Farm, and Windfall Farms.

Chefs around the world have also fallen in love with pea shoots and started to incorporate them into their creations.  Pea shoot and artichoke salad with sherry vinaigrette?  Bring it on.  Spaghetti with pea shoots and pancetta?  Sounds deliciously Italian!

Because of their very delicate texture and flavor, the best way to cook pea shoots is to treat them gently, with minimal or no cooking.  In China, they are usually stir-fried briefly until just wilted, or added to soups at the last minute.

Chinese chefs like to use minced garlic or fermented tofu to add a punch to their simple pea shoot stir-fries.  Fermented tofu (腐乳, also known as preserved tofu, or Chinese cheese) is a cheese-like form of bean curd that has been preserved in brine with rice wine, salt, and spices.  It’s used as a condiment, or a flavoring agent in braising or stir-fry dishes.

Borrowing these ideas, I developed the following recipe, which uses a mixture of garlic and fermented tofu to season the pea shoots before steaming them briefly atop shiitake mushroom caps.

Steamed pea shoots with shiitake mushrooms

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

2 oz (60 g) pea shoots, torn into about 2-inch (5 cm) pieces
3 oz (85 g), shiitake mushrooms (try to find medium-sized ones with open caps)
½ cube red fermented tofu (see note below)
1 teaspoon soaking liquid of fermented tofu
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Procedure:

  1.  Remove the stems of the mushrooms and reserve for another use (they are great for soups and stocks).
  2. Clean the mushroom caps with a damp cloth.  Arrange them in a steaming tray, gill side up.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.
  3. Steam the mushrooms until soft, about 4 – 5 minutes.  Remove the steaming tray from the heat.
  4. Mash the fermented tofu and mix well with the soaking liquid, garlic, and oil.
  5. Toss the pea shoots with the fermented tofu mixture, and arrange them beautifully on top of the mushroom caps.
  6. Steam the pea shoots until just wilted, about 1 minute.  Serve immediately.

 

Fermented tofu (腐乳, also known as preserved tofu, or Chinese cheese) is a cheese-like form of bean curd that has been preserved in brine with rice wine, salt, and spices.  You can find both white and red varieties in the market.  The color of red fermented tofu is a result of red yeast rice being added during the fermentation process.  The red variety also tends to have a more intense flavor.  If you can’t find fermented tofu for this recipe, try other soybean-based pastes or use soy sauce instead.

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