It is that time of the year when the humble green pea occupies centrestage on Indian winter menus
These days, I invariably find myself planning my lunch/dinner menus around ‘Matar’ or green peas. I don’t know about you but I count myself among the multitudes of people who can’t wait for it to be green pea season, once again.
The pleasure of savouring the season’s first fresh, tender and green peas is second to none. The smaller ones lend themselves beautifully to a simple sauté in a tiny bit of butter (ghee is even better) with a basic seasoning of salt and pepper, though an Indian tadka seasoning of cumin seeds and chopped green chillies, with a squeeze of lemon and a garnish of mint and coriander never harmed anyone, did it?
And then with the peas on the shelves start getting rounder and harder, it is time for Aloo/Paneer/Gajar/Keema Matar, or Matar Pulao and Matar Kachoris or Parathas. While the first component gets ubiquitous to the extent of jading one’s palate as winter recedes, the last one is always welcome, personally speaking.
Our greed for more peas in curries goes up as the supplies of peas peak, remember that ad from the 90’s (pre-millenials, please note!) of a popular vegetable cooking oil where the daughter answers her mother’s question of what she would like to eat, “Aloo Matar, Aur Dher Saara Matar!”
Koraihutir kachori served with that other Bengali favourite of Aloo Dom (cholar dal is also a preferred option) is basically a deep-fried luchi stuffed with a boiled and mashed green pea filling, seasoned with cumin, ginger, green chillies, ‘gorom moshla’, and a hint of hing or asaefotida, a pinch of sugar and salt, and is drop dead delicious! Especially when they come from the frying pan, hot and puffed up and when you pierce the kachori, you get both a whiff of hot air and the divine aroma of the green pea masala and the hing.
In fact, so popular is it with my Punjabi friend here in Hyderabad that the request (pending from late last year due to my travels) of treating her to some hot korashutir kachori remains on top of my winter agenda this year. You could make these kachoris from frozen peas too, but there is a distinct taste to the ones made from fresh green peas. The same puris are also made in the north, including in UP and Rajasthan, with minor variations and a different set of names like Masala Matar Puri or Bedmi Matar Puris.
Another delectable green pea delicacy called Nimona comes from Uttar Pradesh and is made of pureed pea paste, a thick curry of pea paste and coarsely ground peas, onion, tomato and, sometimes with the addition of pea pods or shells too. In fact, I had first savoured Nimona at a journalist friend’s house in Delhi, made by her mother who was visiting from Lucknow. A first for me was the use of green pea pods or shells, the key being using fresh tender pea shells, which were of course washed and soaked in salt.
Ideally, of course, one can use pea shells or pods from one’s own garden in a farm to table kind of format. Can you imagine using pea shells, in today’s polluted environment, from the ones picked up on supermarket shelves these days, with all the dust and grime?
Green pea pods or shells in fact have more nutritional benefits, like antioxidants and more fibre too than the peas. Pea shells are used in Continental cuisine for making purees to add to soups or had slightly charred with olive oil. In Indian cuisines, they are also used sometimes, like making Nimona, though the recipes you will find online don’t make any mention of them.
Next to cookingg and eating peas, I find the process of shelling peas quite therapeutic, especially while watching TV or listening to music. I have a foodie friend on one of those huge online foodie forums who puts up hilarious memes and pics of having been handed out by the missus, some sacks of peas to be shelled as soon as he gets back from office, in the fond promise of having matar paneer.
Picking them up from the supermarket is also an art. Once, I had an avuncular person advising and demonstrating to me to make his point as to how one should dig in one’s hands to “shovel” out the best peas from the heap. Needless to say, I was amused!
There comes a time of course, especially when winter is on the wane, when the green peas start getting ubiquitous and a bore, bth for the vision and the palate. You have had enough of your gajar/aloo/paneer matar and your fill of matar kachoris.
Then you will find the likes of cookbook author and gourmand Rocky Mohan showing you videos of how best to freeze fresh peas for the next season at home. So popular and versatile is this humble green pea. And while “like two peas in a pod” is an idiom used to indicate the similarity of pea pods, not all pea preparations work well for me.
While I can have peas in any form, anytime, I dont think I can ever dare to try Matar Halwa, a biious paste of green peas made into halwa with