For the new year, maybe you decided to eat more vegetables, or you’re craving green foods after a season of richer meals. Or, perhaps you didn’t resolve to do anything new, but you appreciate a little adventure in the kitchen. Allow me to introduce a delicious dessert whose ingredients include a heap of unlikely vegetables: green peas.
Frozen peas are my back-up for fresh veggies, and the kind I buy come in a bag that boasts, “Naturally sweet!” Despite those truthful italic words, I usually mask the peas’ sweetness with a bit of sea salt or parmesan cheese, serving them as a savory side. But then again, I’ve done the same thing with carrots, zucchini and pumpkin — and if these can make much-adored sweets, why not give peas a chance?
So I finally paired my sweet peas with sugar, flour and vanilla — along with plenty of fresh peppermint leaves and a bit of tangy lemon zest. The result was a delicious and refreshing cake, bursting with minty citrus and sweet herbal undertones. Here is the recipe:
Green Pea and Fresh Peppermint Cake (makes two 8” layers; serves about 12)
4 small lemons
1 ¾ cup green peas (about 9.5 ounces), defrosted if using frozen peas, drained if needed
¼ cup (about .25 ounce or 5 grams) fresh peppermint leaves, moderately packed, rinsed and dried, stems removed
5 egg whites
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon mint extract*
¾ cup melted coconut oil*
1 ½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
scraped seeds from one medium vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Preheat oven to 350 F.Lightly grease insides and bottoms of two 8″ cake pans, then line bottoms of pans with parchment; set aside. Finely zest the peel of one lemon; set zest aside. Juice the peeled lemon, plus 2-3 more, to make 3/4 cup lemon juice (seeds removed); set aside. Fill food processor with peas and peppermint leaves.Blend, gradually adding 1/2 cup of the lemon juice (reserve remaining 1/4 cup juice). Stop occasionally to scrape down sides, and keep blending for just a few minutes, until mixture is consistent and there are no remaining large leaf pieces or whole peas. Texture should not be too smooth or liquidy; do not overblend.
With an electric mixer, beat egg whites on high speed, gradually adding ¼ cup of the sugar once they’re foamy and becoming white. Keep beating until whites are fluffy, opaque, and hold quite solid peaks; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the remaining ¾ cup sugar, oil and extracts until smooth. Gently fold in the pea mixture, stirring until even. Sift or sieve over the mixture: flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Mix until incorporated, adding remaining ¼ cup lemon juice along the way. Fold in the vanilla bean seeds and lemon zest until just evenly disbursed.
Gently fold in the egg whites 1/3 at a time until just incorporated, being careful not to flatten them too much. Batter will be frothy and delicate. Quickly transfer it equally into the prepared pans, spreading gently to edges. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until toothpick tests clean in center and edges are becoming golden brown. Cakes will be an unusual color and not very tall. Let them cool completely in pans before loosening edges with knife and removing. Once cool, cover until ready to frost or decorate, then store and serve at room temperature; do not refrigerate.
Because the cake is best at room temperature, you’ll want to wait to frost it until just ready to serve. This cake matches perfectly with a basic cream cheese icing, perhaps with some lemon juice and a drop of mint extract. To keep the dessert dairy-free, I opted to frost mine with this meringue frosting, replacing the orange juice/champagne mixture with: 4 tablespoons lemon juice, 3.75 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon mint extract. If desired, decorate with peppermint leaves and even peas — if you’re confident they won’t scare away your diners.
Deliciously fresh-tasting, this sweet pea cake is an unusual dessert whose flavor hints that spring is coming. Rather unsurprisingly, its complex texture reminds one of moist carrot cake with pineapple in the batter, while its flavor offers grassy hints that perfectly highlight the citrus and mint within. With an open mind and an open mouth, let us all welcome peas to the wonderful world of veggie-laden desserts. After all, they’re in very good company.
*Note: In lieu of frosting, a dusting of powdered sugar would make a winning topping. Similarly, orange zest would be a great substitute for the lemon. I chose coconut oil because of its natural sweetness and pleasant flavor, but most other vegetable oils will work fine. Also, I chose mint extract (which is a mixture of spearmint and peppermint) over the more potent pure peppermint extract. Peppermint extract is known as a finer product because of its purity and strength, but sometimes I prefer the more generic mixed mint type because of its softer flavor. Whichever kind of extract you choose, use caution, add it slowly, and do not use more than the little amount noted here.
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