Field peas are the ultimate hallmarks of summer here in South Carolina,” declares chef Sarah O’Kelley, who together with chef Chris Stewart owns the popular local-food-focused eatery The Glass Onion. “My favorite are lady peas because they are so delicate. Chris loves the Dixie Lees, a tiny pea packing a punch of flavor.”
The field pea convo quickly gets confusing. They are interchangeably called “cowpeas,” and they are actually beans and not peas at all. In our part of the country, the thing to remember is that they fall into four groups. Cream, the lightest, are small and delicate; examples are the lady peas, white acres, and zippers. Black-eyed, so designated because of the “eye” where the seed attaches to the pod, are just on the muddy side and include pink-eyed and Dixie Lees. Crowders are “crowded” in their pod and cook up dark and hearty. Field peas, small and ruddy, cook the darkest and beefiest of all.
Showing off the legumes’ possibilities, Stewart and O’Kelley whip up a refreshing summer salad that pairs well with pan-roasted fish, crab cakes, or pickled shrimp. Their field pea pilau stems from Sarah’s grandmother’s interpretation of perlou. “Since,” quips Sarah, “she is from Georgia and my family ate this in Florida, there’s plenty of culinary confusion.” And Chris delivers a Southern take on falafel that is “earthy and garlicky, with a touch of spice and much more flavor than versions made with chickpeas.” The Glass Onion sources their field peas from Limehouse Produce, but farmers market shoppers can get a variety of peas from Joseph Fields.
If you’ve ever felt a slimey pod, you’ll know that field peas are best when freshly shelled, and Stewart advises that both raw and cooked be refrigerated and eaten promptly. But with their long growing season and up to a year’s shelf life if blanched before freezing, it’s possible to experiment with every pea in the pasture.
Dishing it up with Sarah O’Kelley & Chris Stewart
The Glass Onion
ACCOLADES: Featured on Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, and The Cooking Channel’s Road Trip with G. Garvin, and as the place for lunch in Charleston in Southern Living’s “Tastiest Towns in the South;” touted by Saveur magazine for their French fries with béarnaise sauce.
FIRST F&B GIG: Sarah at Emeril’s Delmonico, New Orleans, LA (2000); Chris at Schlotzky’s Deli, Birmingham, AL (1992)
EDUCATION: Sarah attended University of Georgia; Chris attended Johnson & Wales, Charleston
FAVORITE LOCAL INGREDIENTS: Sarah says: “Peaches, figs, summer fruit!” Chris says: “Field peas, seriously!“
RECIPE THEY'LL TAKE TO THE GRAVE: Sarah: “Buttercream icing because I have no set recipe; it’s different every time!” Chris: “Thunder Sauce!”