PEAS pass me the grilled shrimp, zipper pea and heirloom tomato salad!

In my recent search for local figs (hardly any luck here I’m sorry to say) I have run across an item at the farmers market that caught my fancy. It reminds me of my youth and many a summer afternoon sitting on my parents screened porch cross-legged, basket in my lap shelling field peas or butter beans or a peck of whatever goodies had been picked that morning. It could be a monotonous job, and was not something I volunteered to do.

It was the better of two choices my Mom would offer (demand), like “weed the garden or shell peas” or perhaps, “fold 3 loads of laundry or shell peas”. For some arcane reason I liked shelling peas and by the end of the summer I was fast. And if we had a bushel or two to “put up”, we would all shell –  even neighbors would join us, and it was sort of a pea-shelling party. There would laughter, some gossip and perhaps a slice of something sweet my mom had baked when we were finished. Divide up the finished bags ‘o peas with an extra bag and slice of cake for the elderly neighbors.

It sounds quaint, even old-fashioned and maybe hard to believe in today’s world that a tween/teen would enjoy something like that and even decades later remember it fondly. But it’s all true – well, the extent of my warm feelings are probably more exaggerated now that I have grown older, experienced a few things, and look back in retrospect. The demanding ways of the busy world make that repetitive and quiet hand work more appealing. Sometimes one needs to pull the hand brake and extricate oneself from the ceaseless hamster wheel of life. Sometimes one needs to start a task and finish it the same day. Sometimes it okay to relax your mind and allow nothing to seep in… only the question of whether you’ll get 3 or 4 bags of peas for the freezer.

A feeling of accomplishment can do wonders for the human soul, especially when it’s a solid task, one that directly benefits your family, friends and even strangers. Got an extra bag of peas? Cook them up and send them over to the neighbor down the way, you know the one who’s been struggling, but always gives you a wave and asks if they can do something for you. Pay it forward may be cliché but who cares? There are peas to be shelled.

Good times… good feelings all around… and all you need are some peas. Who knew?


The peas I use in this recipe are called zipper peas. They are a ‘cream’ pea akin to black-eyed peas but smaller. I mean teeny tiny. Fresh ones are a cinch to cook – some chicken or vegetable stock and a little bacon (I used smoked hog jowl, believe it or not… amazing what you can find at the Piggly Wiggly). The cook time is quick – 25 to 30 minutes for about 2 cups of fresh peas. Don’t overcook them because they will get mushy, thus the term “cream” pea.

I like them over rice with pickled onions on top – a traditional, southern way to enjoy field peas. But I also love them in salads as I served them in the post. They make a good addition to grain based salads like couscous, rice or quinoa or added into a vegetable soup.

This salad also boasts the most gorgeous and wonderfully-flavored heirloom tomatoes I’ve encountered in a long while. Purchased at the Bluffton Farmers Market and called ‘Mr. Stripey’.  Also one of my favorite grilled shrimp recipes, using local Beaufort County shrimp and a fairly low fat creamy dressing made with ricotta cheese, buttermilk, lime and cilantro.

Ingredients for cooking zipper peas. I like hog jowl as it isn’t too smoky and a little bit renders a good amount of fat, which is what you want in a this dish. The cooked jowl is discarded.

Grilled Shrimp, Zipper Pea & Heirloom Tomato Salad

  • 1 recipe zipper peas, room temperature
  • 1 cup creamy ricotta cilantro lime dressing
  • 1-2 lb. grilled shrimp – your favorite recipe or see below. I figure 6 shrimp per person for lunch and 12 for dinner.
  • 1-2 sliced large tomatoes, preferably heirloom or home grown or your favorite
  • 2 Avocados, sliced and coated with a squeeze of lime or lemon to prevent browning
  • Mixed greens like green and red leaf, Boston butter, spinach, etc. – 1 1/2 cups or so per person

Prepare dressing and set aside in refrigerator. Prepare zipper peas. Both of these can be made earlier in the day. Prepare your grill. 20 minutes before serving prepare the grilled shrimp. Assemble salads with green first, tomato slices, avocado slices, and  shrimp. Drizzle with dressing. Serve with slices of 1-2-3 bread slathered in olive oil,sprinkled with parmesan cheese and lightly toasted.

The peas are boiling, so then turn down the heat, cover and allow to simmer until they are cooked through.

The peas are done! Allow them to cool while you assemble the salad or make them earlier in the day.

Zipper peas

  • 2 cups fresh zipper peas
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • (4 ) 1-inch pieces bacon, hog jowl or fatback
  • salt & pepper to taste

Wash the zipper peas in cold water and drain in a colander or sieve. In a medium saucepan cook the hog jowls or bacon until fat is rendered –about 4-5 minutes (do not burn). Remove from the saucepan and add the stock and peas. Bring up to a boil, stir, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to simmer for 25-30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Peas should be soft but not mushy.

Mixing the dressing ingredients in a food processor makes quick work of this recipe. You could also use a blender or immersion blender. Stir in the cilantro and green onions into the blended mixture.

I used this product – wanted to give it a try and it gave a light cilantro flavor. I prefer fresh but this will do in a pinch…

This dressing uses no oil – but it’s creamy and flavorful without all that fat. Makes a nice dip for veggies and grilled shrimp too!

Creamy ricotta cilantro lime dressing 

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, light or regular*
  • ½ cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1 lime – juice (approx. 2 tablespoons) and zest
  • ¼ cup plus chopped fresh cilantro or 2 mini cubes cilantro seasoning
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
  • 2 green onions tops, minced fine
  • 1 scant tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

In a blender or food processor combine ricotta cheese, buttermilk, lime juice and zest, salt, pepper and garlic. Puree. Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in green onions and cilantro. Store in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for at least an hour for flavors to meld. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before serving so dressing comes close to room temperature before drizzling on your salad greens. Makes about 2 cups of dressing.

* If using regular ricotta cheese increase buttermilk by 1/4 cup  (3/4 cup total) so dressing will be easier to pour.

Ingredients for the grilled shrimp. Double or triple this if you are grilling several pounds of shrimp. This grilled shrimp recipe is a nice appetizer on its own too, just add a toothpick because the tumeric will stain your nails!

Shrimp on the grill. If you use wooden skewers be sure to soak them in water before hand. Or else if your grill is super hot they may catch on fire. I like these smaller-diameter wooden skewers for grilling shrimp.

Grilled Shrimp with 3 Spices

You can use your favorite grilled shrimp recipe for this salad. Here’s one of mine based off a recipe from the classic cookbook, The New Basics by Julee Rosso and the late Sheila Lukins. In the original lots more butter is used and  they are broiled (even though they say in the book ‘grilled’). I find wooden skewers easier to use with medium shrimp, just remember to soak them in water so they do not catch fire…

  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp, washed, peeled and deveined (if necessary). Tails left on.
  • 1 tsp. tumeric
  • ½ tsp. coriander
  • 1/8 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbl. butter, melted
  • skewers – wooden or metal

Skewer the shrimp and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator while you make the marinade. In a small bowl mix the spices, lemon, salt and melted butter. Prepare your grill. Brush one side of each skewer with the butter mixture and lay that side down on the grill. Brush the other side of the skewers (facing up) with the butter. Allow to cook about 3-4 minutes*, or until they begin to turn pink, turn over and brush again with the butter mixture and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from the grill and serve immediately. This recipe can doubled or tripled, depending on how much shrimp you are grilling.

* If using extra-large or jumbo shrimp grilling time be a minute or so longer on each side.

“Mr. Stripey” was so pretty – and flavorful. Just dunk those slices into that dressing – yum!


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