Kitchen Witch - Sugar snap pea and cucumber salad

Snap judgment

I was 14, maybe 15. It was late spring, around this time of year, when the school year was coming to a close. My mother had hired a guy named Larry to paint our very old three-story house, both inside and out. It was a huge job, so Larry was at the house every day nonstop for a few months. It didn't take long for Larry to endear himself to our family, much in the quirky, irresistible style of Eldin, the house painter on "Murphy Brown."

As for me, I had a huge crush. Although all grown-up and married like my parents, Larry didn't play the part. Instead, he listened to the Who on his transistor radio and rocked out on his ladder. He called me "Kimberly" and teased me like a big brother might. And when he broke for lunch, he came inside and joined me at the kitchen table.

I remember a stretch of rainy, humid days, which gave Larry an excuse to prolong his lunch break. The contents of his lunch escape me, but I recall making plenty of tuna salad and, most of all, that bag of fresh string beans.

I had come to love the crunch of a raw string bean and shared my discovery with my painter pal. I'd grab a few from the bag, snap off the ends and pass the bag to him while chomping on pods. We'd talk, snap and crunch, as if nothing else mattered.

The recent arrival of sugar snap peas, the sweet, edible pods with a respectable crunch of their own, took me back to that summer of beans out of a bag.

Here for a short time while nights are still cool, sugar snaps are delightful both raw and cooked, albeit quick-quick, like the snap of a bean. Below is a simple combination with early season cucumbers, tossed with a heady vinaigrette of pureed walnuts; if cukes are out of reach, consider substituting thinly sliced fennel, radishes or carrots for equally snappy results.

Sugar snap pea and cucumber salad

Adapted from The Real Dirt on Vegetables by farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics

1 pound sugar snap peas

1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon walnut oil or peanut oil

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon fresh dill (I like the idea of cilantro here as well)

Pinch of cayenne

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove strings from both edges of pea pods by gently pulling from the stem, if you find the string irritating. If not, proceed.

In a shallow pot or saucepan, add 1-2 inches of water and place steamer basket on top. Bring water up to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Add peas, cover and steam until just crisp-tender, 3-5 minutes.

Drain peas and immediately run cold water over them to cool and stop the cooking. Transfer to a clean, dry dish towel and pat them dry. Place in a large bowl and add cucumber slices.

In a blender or food processor, combine oil, walnuts, lemon juice, water, dill and cayenne, and puree until smooth.

Pour dressing over cucumber-pea mixture, and toss until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes enough for 4 side-dish servings.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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