25 August 2015

Asparagus peas

Each year, I like to try growing something new in the veg plot – either a vegetable that I haven’t grown before, or, in the case of asparagus peas, something I haven’t eaten before. Earlier this year I was given a copy of James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution. Wong’s book is full of unusual new species to try. Asparagus peas sounded interesting, and looked pretty easy to grow, so I got hold of a packet of seeds.

Asparagus peas (with a few mange tout)

Growing asparagus peas

I sowed the seeds in small pots in early April, and kept them inside until they had germinated. Once they had formed three or four true leaves I moved them to the cold frame in the garden to harden off, and planted them out in late May. Unlike many legumes, asparagus peas aren’t climbers. They are described as bushy, and have a tendency to sprawl. The plants have attractive deep-red flowers, so much so that I would consider popping one or two in the flower border in future years. By about early July, I was picking my first asparagus peas. In terms of sowing time to harvest they were pretty quick, and had the advantage of being ready to pick several weeks before my maincrop runner beans. By the time the runners are in full swing, I usually have more than enough legumes for my liking, so I always look to plant other legumes that will be ready to harvest in early/mid-summer. Asparagus peas scored well on this front.

Asparagus pea plants

Do they taste like asparagus?

I liked the taste of asparagus peas, but frankly I don’t think they taste much like asparagus. So if you are thinking of growing asparagus peas because you love the taste of asparagus but don’t fancy planting an asparagus bed and waiting three years before you can harvest any asparagus, I would recommend biting the bullet, planting an asparagus bed and resigning yourself to being patient. In my view, asparagus peas have a flavour that is like a cross between haricot verts, salsify and okra. They have an unusual shape, like a small round bean with four fins running down each side, so make a visually interesting addition to a plate of veg. They need to be picked young, as they get stringy very quickly, and when they get stringy they get very stringy. This was my main dislike about them. I  found that size was not a very good indicator of stringiness either: it wasn’t just large ones that could be stringy, some fairly small ones were stringy too.

How to cook asparagus peas

Like many legumes, asparagus peas are tasty simply steamed or boiled with a knob of butter and a grind of black pepper. I found them to be very good in a dry vegetable curry, where they made a viable substitute for okra. They also worked well in vegetable stews.

Braised artichokes with pak choi and asparagus peas

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