Pea Shoots Gaining Popularity
Burma Superstar’s wok-tossed pea shoots serve as a fine complement to curries and noodles.
Quick exposure to heat with a bit of olive oil and garlic does the trick.
Photo by Lori Eanes
If you frequent Chinese restaurants, you may be hip to dòu miáo, also known as pea shoots.
These delicate winter-spring greens are a staple side in Chinese diets but haven’t yet significantly penetrated a more mainstream audience, said Josh Assink, operations manager for the Urban Village Farmers’ Market Association, which runs 10 markets in the South and East Bay. The shoots are mostly available in Asian markets and some Bay Area farmers markets, Assink said. “As part of my job, I’ve become more familiar with them and have been more than happy to incorporate them into my culinary repertoire,” he said. “They’re delicious.”
Harvested from snow, sugar snap, and shelling peas, pea shoots comprise the tender growing shoots, leaves, and tendrils that sprout from the ends of pea vines around two to four weeks into the plant’s life cycle. Assink equates the flavor and texture most closely to leafy greens like chard or spinach but with an even more vibrant taste thanks to their being picked so early.
Apart from the taste, Assink makes the case that there are ecological and sustainable reasons to explore pea shoots.
“It’s a great exercise in full-plant utilization,” he said.
Locally grown pea shoots are generally available in the Bay Area from January through May. Many farmers markets carry them, but some have more variety than others. For instance, Assink said that only one vender in UVMFA’s Sunday Temescal market offers pea shoots, whereas upwards of 10 venders sell them on Fridays in Old Oakland, which is a stone’s throw from Oakland’s Chinatown and its denser Asian demographic.
When picking them out, choose ones with leaves and stems that look fresh and crisp. As for preparing them, pea shoots can be eaten raw. But at least in Asian restaurants, you’ll most often see them sautéed. The key there, said Assink, is to not cook them for too long and keep the recipe simple.
That’s the approach at Burma Superstar, where owner Desmond Tan offers Chinese-style wok-tossed pea shoots as a light, refreshing side dish to complement the richer curries and noodle dishes at his popular restaurants. It’s one of many recipes available in Burma Superstar’s cookbook, Addictive Recipes From the Crossroads of Asia, released last spring.
Wok-tossed Pea Shoots at Burma Superstar
(Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish)
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces pea shoots, chopped into 2- to 3-inch pieces (about 8 packed cups)
1 small dried chile, broken in half (or a bunch of dried chile flakes)
1 tablespoon rice wine (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
In a large wok or pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Swirl the oil in the wok and add the garlic. Stir-fry until lightly golden and fragrant, about 20 seconds. Turn off the heat, use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic from the wok, and set the garlic aside. Leave the oil in the wok.
Heat the wok over high heat and add the pea shoots, chile, and wine. Stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the leaves have wilted but the stems are still crisp, or about 1 minute. Return the garlic to the wok and toss to coat. Season with salt.