There’s more to the pea plant than the row of green seeds hidden within each pod. Come springtime, chefs also snap up sprouts (the stems topped by two tiny leaves that serve as the plant’s aboveground debut) and the slightly more mature pea tendrils, which consist of several inches of stem, several leaves, and possibly even a blossom.
“I have seen pea tendrils used by chefs as long as I can remember,” says Brannon Florie, executive chef and partner at The Granary and owner of On Forty-One. “But they were super-seasonal and hard to come by, only available in early spring. They are much more accessible now because they’re grown year-round, both hydroponically and in hot houses.” The hydroponic tendrils are typically smaller than the three- to four-inch versions harvested from hot houses or, around this time of year, from farms.
Florie delivers peas and the delicate pea tendrils in a trio of dishes. In his spring pea salad, “the earthiness of the beets complements the fresh, sweet shoots. The tangy goat cheese blends well with the sweet peas, and the watermelon radish gives a crisp crunch of texture,” he says. The chef throws in soft-boiled eggs for protein, creaminess, and flavor.
His veggie flatbread makes an appetizer that sings of the season. A spicy curried-carrot puree provides the base for an array of vegetables that can be tweaked to accommodate the best offerings of the farmers market. Pea tendrils and shaved asparagus impart bright brio, while goat cheese and salty, nutty Parmesan make a great combo for the finishing note.
The garnish of a crisp, sweet pea tendril brings a tongue-tempting contrast to a chilled buttermilk pea soup that Florie describes as creamy and refreshing. Delicious for light lunch, it also makes a sophisticated start to an alfresco supper.
When cooking with this favorite ingredient, the chef sources from an array of purveyors, including Ambrose Family Farms, Rosebank Farms, Thornhill Farm, Sweet Bay Nursery, and GrowFood Carolina. For the home cook, pea tendrils can also occasionally be found at specialty food stores and farmers markets.
Dishing It Up with Chef Brannon Florie
Partner and executive chef at The Granary and owner of On Forty-One
FIRST F&B GIG:
In 1993, he worked at the now-shuttered Blackriver BBQ on Rivers Avenue, opening cans of vegetables for the all-you-can-eat buffet and getting hog meat ready for smoking.
FAVORITE LOCAL INGREDIENT: White shrimp, shad roe, oysters, and soft-shell crabs