Cowpeas, or southern peas, are something I had never heard of until just a couple of years ago. I started seeing them sold fresh at the farmers’ markets and high-end grocery stores, where they go by names like purple hull peas, lady peas or cream peas, depending on the cultivar.

They start showing up around this time of year, and you can usually buy them already shelled. They’re on the pricey side, but they’re worth it because even though they look like regular old black-eyed peas (which are also a type of cowpea, as are yardlong beans), they taste so much better. They’re not as starchy or “beany” as dried beans but they’re not sweet and juicy like English peas. They’re sort of in between.

They cook much more quickly than dried beans, but the traditional way to prepare them is the same, with some sort of cured/smoked pork, maybe some onion and some water or stock. I usually freeze my peas and then eat them this way in the winter.

They're easy to shell and they turn your fingers purple!
They’re easy to shell and they turn your fingers purple!

Last week we got some unshelled peas in our CSA basket, so I decided to make them right away instead of freezing them (I’m trying to make room in the freezer for the 11 lbs of fish coming soon from Alaska!). I made a salad with them along with quinoa, cucumber, pepper and onion and a cilantro-lime dressing.

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