Black-Eyed Peas with Kale & Fennel

As one grows older, the concept of memory becomes ever more elusive. As my younger self, I regarded memory as fact, my recollections never faltered. But nowadays, as my own life history builds and evolves, I realise that memory is as transient as it is subjective. Memories change as we grow, experience and explore. Our everyday is constantly shaping how we frame our memories.

Of all the memories I hold of my childhood, it is recollections of food and eating that are the strongest and most poignant. I remember snagging Arrowroot biscuits from my paternal grandmother’s pantry and the sweet, musky aroma of her house. I remember the sound of my mother’s wok every night, sizzling away furiously as dinner neared completion. I remember fruit, always in such abundance, brought home from my father’s job at Flemington markets.

And I remember my mother’s secret pantry, full of exotic ingredients used in the medicinal broths we were forced to slurp up nightly. Brimming mostly with unrecognizable ingredients, I remember how odd it was that amongst these mystery jars, there always sat a container of black-eyed peas.

This salad is inspired both by my own memories of food, and by foods which are purported to boost memory and brain function. Certain foods rich in Vitamin E like oil-based salad dressings, dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts contain powerful antioxidants that help protect nerve cells, keeping our brains happy and healthy. This salad is packed with brain food – a simple dish of wholesome black-eyed peas, teamed with nutrient rich kale, fennel, tomatoes and fennel seed oil.

Black-Eyed Peas with Kale, Fennel, Tomatoes and Fennel Seed Oil

Serves 4

  • 1 cup black-eyed peas, rinsed (or use 2 tins, drained)
  • 2 small cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 fennel bulb (or 2 bulbs baby fennel, about 300g)
  • 150g kale, stems removed (about half bunch)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium tomatoes (any variety, about 300g)
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Fennel Seed Oil

  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted*
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup (tightly packed) basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Black pepper

If you are using dried black-eyed peas, place them in a medium saucepan with one clove of crushed garlic and add enough water to cover by 5cm. Bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt, reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer until tender but intact, about 35 minutes. Drain and allow the black-eyed peas to cool.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the toasted fennel seeds. Then add garlic, basil and salt and pound until you have a rough paste. Stir in the olive oil and lemon zest. Season black pepper.

Roughly tear up the kale. In a medium frypan, add the extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, and kale, along with ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Cook until the kale is wilted, about 2-3 minutes.

Finely slice the fennel with a mandolin, food processor or with a sharp knife. Roughly chop the tomatoes.

Combine the black-eyed peas with the kale, fennel and tomatoes. Pour the fennel seed oil over and toss together. For maximum flavour, let this salad sit and marinate for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to come together. When ready to eat, scatter over sunflower seeds.

* To toast fennel seeds, add them to a small frypan over a medium low heat and toast until the seeds start to pop and smell aromatic. This usually takes about 60 seconds.

Hetty McKinnon is the salad maker extraordinaire behind Arthur Street Kitchen in Surry Hills. Her first cookbook will be published by Plum Books and will be released on the 1st of May, 2014.