Until three days ago, the last time I scarfed down a bowl of peas was when I was in diapers. For some reason mothers think babies like peas. Even then I’m sure I raised my tiny harmless fists in protest of peas, even as spoonful after spoonful of them flew in circles over my head as my mother played “here comes the airplane.” I suppose you can make anything taste good so long as it’s masked as an airplane. I probably would’ve eaten dirt if my mom said it was a 737.
Or maybe as a baby I mistook dirt for peas and have since been traumatized—who knows? Bottom line is that peas have always been my number one enemy. But strangely, I have always given peas a second, third and umpteenth chance in and out of their pods, mixed in a stew or tossed in a fresh salad, roasted with other vegetables or complimenting a main dish. I thought I had tried and hated peas in every possible form and flavor and had nearly given up on peas altogether—until I tried them the Nitsa way.
Nitsa is the person everyone wants to be best friends with and is one of the best Greek cooks in Utah. Her daughter Georgia is my good friend, so I get to enjoy Nitsa’s company and cooking often. Show up to Nitsa’s house on a random afternoon and she can easily whip up a full course meal before you take off your shoes. And it’s not like it’s just heated leftovers or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we’re talking horta, oktopodi, orzo, dakos, salata, and more, all at a moments notice. I think that’s due to her Cretan heritage.
Nitsa recently invited my little brother, Mikey, and me over for lunch while my parents left us for a trip to the motherland (Greece) for a couple of weeks. While my parents were posting flawless pictures of themselves sipping frappes on the beaches of Naxos and Santorini, Nitsa felt the need to feed us. Needless to say there were no complaints and my brother and I happily accepted the invitation to a warm home cooked meal.
During one lunch, she served us kotopoulo (chicken), patates (potatoes), and her latest and greatest—arakas (peas). I loaded my plate with the kotopoulo and patates, and maybe put three measly peas on my plate as to not offend the cook. Looking back at it now, I would’ve been better off not putting any peas on my plate instead of drawing attention to my obvious dislike for them. But, I tasted those three peas and not only did I love them, but also after that first little bite I went for an actual, non-offensive serving size. I went for another serving, then another, and basically licked my plate clean. I was shocked that I actually ate and enjoyed mounds of peas that I knew I had to have the recipe.
So peas actually aren’t my enemy after all. All I needed was a tasty recipe from an excellent cook. Nitsa’s peas have so many flavors and are cooked with all the right ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, onions, and lots of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Greeks call vegetable dishes cooked with lots of oil “ladera.” I suggest adding feta on the side for a salty touch and some paximadia (barley rusks) or bread to mop up the juices—look at me, the pea expert now! For those like me who have feared peas since the mushy baby food days and to those of you who have always been loyal to peas, you should definitely give Nitsa’s peas a try. This is the only pea recipe you will ever need.
-32 oz peas (frozen or fresh)
-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
-2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
-8 cloves garlic, chopped
-4 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped 2 cups tomato sauce
-1/4 cup white wine (optional)
-1 cup chicken broth*
-salt and pepper to taste
*Instead of chicken broth, you can use water for liquid.
1. Thaw peas if using frozen peas.
2. In a large pot, heat olive oil over low heat and sauté the onions until translucent. Sprinkle the onions lightly with salt. Add in the garlic and stir in for 5 more minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and wine (optional) and bring to a boil.
4. Add fresh or thawed peas, chicken broth (or substitute with water) and season with salt and pepper.
5. Cook over low to medium heat with the pot covered for about 40 minutes until the peas are soft.
6. Stir the peas occasionally and check for flavor. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Add water if necessary for more liquid. If you want a thicker sauce, take the lid off towards the end if sauce is not thickening.
7. Serve immediately (with feta and bread) and enjoy!