April 3, 2011

the taste of green

There are some rare people who can feel, taste and smell color -- a condition known as "synesthesia." To such people, yellow may feel squishy or bouncy, blue may taste bitter and chartreuse may well be pungent.

For some time I was sure that 4-year-old S had a somewhat similar condition. I called it "tasting with her eyeballs" and for months I went around lamenting to friends and family (and anyone who had an ear for me) that she would not eat anything green, especially if it is asian leafy greens. She would come to the dinner table, take a spilt-second look at the vegetables and pronounce her decision to not eat it, as "they do not taste good." If she did not have the capability to taste with her eyeballs, I don't know what that is about.

Since I read that children needs to be offered the same food about 30 times before they may even begin to not like it (but agree to taste it), I kept offering. And every time I offered some sort of asian leafy green as a menu option, S would remind me that she did not like it. She even asked if I had forgotten that she had informed me thus?

So, the frequency of asian greens appearing on the dinner table began to get lower and lower and lower... until one day I saw pea shoots being sold at my local oriental supermarket. I grabbed them. I was already drooling before I paid for them. I drove home, my heart making happy pirouettes, memories of the delicious taste of the shoots tingling my tongue. I could not wait for dinnertime to arrive. I washed the pea shoots, minced up a small mountain of garlic, sauted the pea shoots in the garlic, added a splash of soysauce and drizzled in a tiny bit of hoisin sauce.


Moans and mumblings at the dinner table: Mmmmmmmmmm, hmmmmmmmpppphhhh, mmmmmmm.

Finally when they found their tongues the girls asked what that vegetable was and I told them: dou miao, otherwise known as "pea shoots." Yum, they said.

They shrink a lot, like spinach. This small bowl will barely satisfy.
The reason for my excitement was the limited and seasonal availability of peas shoots.  I remember when living in Hong Kong and when eating out, a special point will be made of the pea shoots when they were available, and no one would hesitate to order them. They are almost always stir-fried with minced garlic and soy sauce, or oyster sauce. There is a smoothness to its taste and texture... you can almost say they taste green. From what I read here, farm-raised pea shoots are available for a month or two only, but they are also hot-house grown and the latter variety can be found year-round. I have also come across discussion threads that mention them being sold at farmers' markets!

When I asked the girls what they liked about pea shoots, their reply was: "yummy."  ((Note that now when L see that I am preparing pea shoots for dinner, she will say, "I know dinner is going to be good!")  Then I asked how they would describe the taste of pea shoots and I was told: "tasty", "sweet", "delicious" and "crunchy." Well, they are not supposed to be crunchy, but a conscientious cook will remove the lower, larger stems of the pea shoots before cooking, for they can be fibrous, or more "crunchy." Some purists will even sit and pick through the pea shoots, striping the leaves from the stems! I do not find it necessary, but then I am not that conscientious or fastidious cook. (But I do make sure to look for the pa shoots with more delicate-looking stems when making my selection.) 

2-year-old L insisted that I take the picture with her fingers caressing the pea shoots.
Pea shoots are not snobbish to deal with either, despite their being highly sought after in spring, when they show up in the markets. All they need is to be washed, drained and a quick stir-fry in a wok (or large pot) with lots of minced garlic. You can add sliced mushrooms if you feel so inclined. I feel silly writing a recipe here, because it is so simple. After you have the pea shoots washed, mince up as much garlic as you favor (I use 6 to 8 cloves, and tend to mince them medium-fine, but you can decide if you like your minced garlic coarse or super-fine). Heat some vegetable oil (I use rice bran oil, or a refined coconut oil that will not impart flavor) in a large pot, stir-fry the garlic till fragrant and then throw in the pea shoots. They will wilt and decrease drastically in volume. Stir-fry until they are nicely wilted and tender, but still bright green. Season as desired: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili sauce. Plate, serve and enjoy!  That said, you can experiment. I have been wondering how they would taste steamed, and then tossed with garlic-infused olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice!

As you see, I prefer my garlic not-too-fine.
So if you come across pea-shoots, why not try them? An 8-ounce package will only set you back about two dollars (and will serve two adults, approximately). You may decide that you know how a delicate green taste like.


  1. Oooooh! This is my kind of food. I love the taste of green.

  2. from what I understand, they are not too difficult to find in the UK, try looking for them!