Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Superfoods: Today's Top Tendrils

I was sitting around the dinner table, anxiously awaiting a home-cooked meal by a very accomplished cook. I constantly look forward to what she will make: always healthy, always fresh, always local (often from her own garden), and best of all- always delicious! So when I complemented her on what I though was a spin on some typical greens- she surprised me yet again with the news that I was eating tendrils. I instantly froze with the greens in my mouth. “Tendrils?” I asked, thinking there was some bug delicacy I had never known of. Thankfully she quickly clarified, “No, Pea Tendrils!” Ah ha, I thought- a super secret ingredient!

What is a Pea Tendril?

These are the leaves and tips of the pea plant that grow almost immediately after planting, and are harvested when the pea plant is only about a foot off the ground. While they are growing, the flowers are picked off the plant, leaving all that great flavor (and nutrients) for the tendrils (stems and leaves).

Why Have You Done A Good Thing?

Pea tendrils are in the “locavore” movement, grown seasonally at this time. Most recently I found them at a Farmer’s Market in Cambridge, MA (which by the way was awesome, if you ever find yourself there, check it out!). They are filled with great amounts of key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C- the powerful antioxidant, vitamin A- amazing for the eyes, vitamin K- important for adequate blood clotting, and folic acid- vital for prenatal health. All of these great components make greens (and tendrils) a superfood in the nutrition community! Plus, let’s not forget that these great benefits come for practically no price (calorie wise, that is). A cereal bowl size of this vegetable only has about 40 calories, and even throws in some fiber for good measures!

What to do with pea tendrils?

Find them mainly at Farmer’s Markets’ and specialty stores, such as Whole Foods.

Wash and spin dry, as you would with any lettuce. Then go through and remove any especially large/tough stems, which may be rough (but not impossible) to eat. Enjoy them raw in a salad or sautéed as any other green leafy vegetable. Mix and match with other green friends, as well!

Sautéed Greens and Pea Tendrils

Greens (kale, swiss chard, spinach, etc), washed & dried.

Pea Tendrils, washed & dried.

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Almonds, slivered, ½ cup.

Raisins, ½ cup

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, 1 cup

Garlic, sliced, 2-3 cloves

Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic slightly for a few minutes, careful not to burn. Add the greens and sauté. Add salt and pepper, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the raisins, almonds, and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, topping with some extra almonds.

So next time you are hosting a dinner, let your guests enjoy this nutrition superfood, and be sure to let them know about the “tendrils” they are consuming!

--Samantha Jacobs, MS RD CDN

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