Dress Up Spring Snap Peas With Harissa and Tahini

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Have you ever tried growing snap peas? I have, and I can tell you that it's nearly impossible to get a good yield out of them. Not because the plants are particularly difficult to grow (they aren't) and not because they don't produce plenty of sweet, snappy peas over the course of the season (they do); it's because snap peas are so incredibly sweet and delicious freshly plucked off the vine that it's nearly impossible to resist eating them straight out of your hand in the garden.

Luckily, real farmers have more restraint than I do, allowing the peas to actually find their way to the market and eventually into your home. At that point, the next best way to enjoy spring and summer snap peas is in a simple salad. Sweet snap peas and mint is a classic combination that lends itself well to variation. Last year, Daniel made this version with yogurt and lemon. I decided to riff on that recipe by mixing in a couple other flavors.

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I start by blanching my snap peas in salted water. Blanching for just a minute helps set their color and gives them a crisp, snappy texture. I find that it also cuts down on the most raw, grassy flavors, allowing the snap peas' natural sweetness to really shine. (Read up more on the science of blanching here.)

While the peas chill in an ice bath, I whip up two simple sauces. The first is a lemon, shallot, and olive oil vinaigrette flavored with a handful of mint. For the second, I start by blending together garlic and lemon juice. Why blend them together instead of mincing the garlic separately and whisking it into the lemon juice? There's some interesting science behind that.

It turns out that alliinase, the enzyme responsible for creating those unpleasantly hot, pungent compounds in minced garlic, is inhibited by acidity. By blending garlic directly with lemon juice, you can tame its hot bite. Not so much that the garlic flavor is completely covered up, but just enough that the most pungent flavors are muted, so that you can enjoy a more subtle, sweeter garlic flavor. It's a really neat trick that I first saw used by Michael Solomonov in his book Zahav.

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(Here's more garlic science if you're interested!)

Once the garlic and lemon are combined, I blend in some tahini, yogurt, olive oil, and harissa, the North African chili paste. The resulting dressing is creamy and rich with a nice hit of heat from the harissa and plenty of bright, acidic flavor from the lemon and yogurt.

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To serve, I toss the blanched snap peas in the mint dressing, pile them on a plate, then drizzle them with the tahini-harissa sauce and a sprinkle of crushed Aleppo chilies. You could also use other fruity crushed chilies like Piment d'Espelette or even Korean gochugaru. All three are worth having in your arsenal!

Is it better than eating snap peas straight off the vine? Not really. But it's a heck of a lot easier to share.