You can eat them raw in salads, but I cook them Chinese style. Stir fry in hot (really hot) oil, add a sprinkle of salt. When they're wilted which should happen within a few seconds, they're done. If you like, you can add some sesame oil, it adds a nice aroma and taste to the fresh pea flavor. Or you can use finely grated garlic in the oil before throwing in the pea tendrils. These should be eaten very fresh or they lose their wonderful flavor and texture within a day or two.
IMO, there are three good ways to deal with pea tendrils.
1...Keep them raw, dress them with a light vinaigrette, and use to top/garnish a dish. A lovely baked fish, drizzled with a beurre blanc and topped with pea tendrils dressed in lemon vinaigrette would be one nice option.
2...Cook them over very high heat for just a few (maybe 10) seconds. Season to taste.
3...Cook them very gently in some butter melted in a pan. I think this is my favorite, as the sweetness of the butter brings out the sweetness of the tendrils. Sprinkle with a little salt, and again serve over a delicately prepared fish, or sprinkled over subtle pasta or ravioli.
I think we don't see these in restaurants more often because they don't keep well and the prep is a little picky: If the pea greens are somewhat mature (hint: there are visible flowers on them), you'll need to make sure to remove any of the twisty tendrils that pea plants use to climb up things. They can be unpleasantly tough, as can the stems of older plants.
I like them cooked as suggested by Jim Leff a few years back (and elaborated on by me): Sautee some garlic with a teaspoon or so of brown sugar until garlic is golden and sugar is melted. Add prepped pea greens and a little bit of salt, possibly some broth or water if you like, stir until wilted. Season with soy sauce and a smushed cube or two of Chinese fermented tofu. Sometimes I throw in some shelled edamame, and this becomes a full meal when served over rice.
It's too late for your first box of pea tendrils, but for the next time, here are two ideas:
- Stir fried in a bit of peanut oil and LOTS of garlic. A simple preparation is perfect for fresh, young pea shoots.
- The LA Times has a recipe for halibut and pea tendrils (which they call "pea shoots", oddly enough) baked in parchment. It sounds yummy. I'm not sure if the recipe is still on their web site - you have to register to see it, and I have, but still can't get it to display. So here's a summary:
Halibut baked `in paper' with pea sprouts and herb butter
Make a herb butter with minced shallots, chervil, chives and tarragon - beat 1 stick of softened butter with herbs until smooth and pale green. Then beat in lots of lemon juice (2 Tbsp) and a pinch of salt. Roll into a log and chill until you're ready to use it.
Prepare six sheets of parchment paper or aluminum foil. On each one, put 1 cup of pea sprouts and a piece of fish (salt the fish on both sides first). Top with a generous slice of herb butter. Wrap up and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Serve immediately - be careful of the hot steam when you open the packets.
LA Times Food Section (with recipe search):