Even in Houston the weather is turning us towards Fall food: nourishing bowls of hearty beans, hearty meats, aromatic herbs. We’re into the spoonfuls, leaving the hot-weather fork-pricking light fare.

Purple hull peas are a summer crop. Tastier than its close relative, the black-eyed pea, purple hull peas are in the cow peas family. They’re a historic crop. Native to Western Africa, purple hull peas most likely landed in American soil as a direct result of the slave trade. I came to appreciate the pea in its purple hull when one of my contributors for Edible Houston alerted me to the annual Purple Hull Festival, and wrote about its historic significance in a small town in East Texas:

For the generations connected to this soil, the purple hull pea is so much more than a crop in a field full of history as long as the rows of peas to pick. It’s an ardent cry to recall the people and stories they are all connected to. And with each springtime planting that gives way to shoots spreading deep in the soil, the front porch sits by, its sagging frame dying near a green wood of tall longleaf pine, an homage to what remains of the more than 500 African American Freedom colonies in Texas, parts of rural Texas history undesignated by courthouses or platted streets.” (Sarah Junek, Passion for Purple Hull Peas

You can find purple hull peas frozen, canned, or (in season): fresh!

Purple Hull Pea Stew

Serves 3-4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 celery stalks, cut
  • ½ fennel bulb, diced
  • 2 medium turnips, diced
  • handful fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch lascinato kale, leaves cut into thin strips, stems chopped fine.
  • 4 cups veal tongue stock (see veal tongue)
  • 1 pound frozen purple hull peas
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cooked veal tongue

Veal  Tongue

For the veal tongue and veal stock, follow the basic preparations in this recipe. You may want to add some tarragon and fennel stalks to the stock! When the veal tongue is cooked, strain the liquid (optional: use cheesecloth if you want to to catch a clean stock). When the tongue is cooled down enough, peel off the tough outer layer. Cut the tongue into 1-inch thick slices.

Purple Hull Peas Stew

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and add the kale leaves. Over high heat, stir until wilted. Take out and transfer to a plate until needed.

In the same pan, add the fennel seeds, and cook over high heat for about 30 seconds. Add the celery, fennel, and turnips, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add about stock, bring to a boil and cook for about five minutes over high heat, then add purple hull peas, tarragon, and thyme, bring to a boil again, and reduce heat to medium. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the peas are tender.

Using a soup spoon, take out about 1 full cup of the liquid (more if it is really soupy). Add the sautéed kale, spoon to mix, and take off heat immediately.

Finish

Season the tongue slices to taste with fresh-ground salt and pepper. In a wide skillet, heat the butter until melted and slightly coloring. Add the tongue slices, and cook on high heat until browning slightly. Flip, and do the same on the other side, total about 2 minutes. Add some of the reserved stock that you fished out of the purple hull pea stew, and cook on high heat until reduced to syrupy. Since the tongue is technically already cooked, this is just a flavor step.

To serve, heap a good amount of the peas stew into a bowl, and top with two slices of veal tongue. Serve immediately.