Sunday, June 7, 2009

A recession beating vegetable

I'm not normally inspired by recession beating things, but then 'technically' Australia isn't in a recession! Plus I wouldn't actually advocate growing a vegetable for that reason; taste, yes; sustainability, absolutely; availability, sure; recession beating, not really. But seeing as this vegetable has more of the latter than the former I thought I would jump in on the bandwagon. So I present to you....the pigeon pea or Cajanus cajan.

Originally thought to be from Asia, the pigeon pea is a grain legume grown in the tropics and sub-tropics around the world. It is commonly used in permaculture as a pioneer plant being a nitrogen fixer and helping to break up clay soils. Being a fast growing drought tolerant shrub between 2-3m tall makes it a hardy windbreak. Other uses include mulch production and forage for poultry.

Some loitering pigeon peas

It was originally invited into our garden a few years ago and now refuses to leave a long time after the first plant was cut to the ground. In the past it was a useful shade plant for the veggies in summer, as well as screening from the neighbours and it has very pretty delicate yellow and red flowers. But we never really ate the peas despite the huge quantities weighing down the bushes, because I'd heard were poor tasting, until one day my step-father showed an interest in procuring some for his chickens. Well, if it's good enough for the chickens I figured it would be good enough for us!

Raw, the green peas taste like cucumber, but cooked they taste like the beans we ate with them. The hardest part is shelling the peas although not as unpleasant as shelling chick peas which have spiky 'fur' on them which scratches your fingers. It's just time consuming but the sense of pride of eating a vegetable you grew, with no actual effort on your part, makes it worth it. And that's not all. They are a good source of protein, they can be sprouted making them even more nutritious and they can be ground into flour. Talk about versatility in one vegetable!

Raw, naked peas

The dried peas also have a use, as apparently in India they are a staple for making dhal. We have few dried ones at the moment, but when the time comes I will be sure to compare a dhal from split peas as is common here to a pigeon pea version.

So that is my amazing vegetable of the week - useful in the garden, on the table and a plant that just won't die! Ever grown or eaten pigeon peas? Do you have any unusual plants that you have grown or seen at the markets? Do you like buying random vegetables you've never heard of and experimenting?


  1. I have never had pigeon peas, and I am pretty sure I have never seen them around here, but now I'll be on the look out for some!

    I think the most unusual thing we are currently eating is garlic scapes--the flowering stalk of the garlic plants. They are pretty intense raw, but very mild when cooked.

  2. Cool! Never heard of this plant before. Experimentation is always fun, I need to do more of it when it comes to unusual veggies.

    - Sagan

  3. Patty - That's got me intrigued. Will have to google garlic scapes.

    Sagan - Yeah experimentation is fun. You never know what you can find.



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