Smaller, flatter, more delicate and grain-like than the garden variety, guisante lágrima (teardrop pea) is both expensive and requires princesses-worthy care. Known by some as Green Caviar, the vegetable delight is one of the world’s most time-sensitive vegetables. Its sugar starts transforming into starch almost as soon as it is picked (always at dawn to avoid exposure to harsh sunlight). With 60% of its quality lost after only two days off the vine, transport from orchard to kitchen is one of the reasons for a price tag of anywhere between 200 and 350 euros per kilo. A constraint that creates a tight link between growers and the renowned kitchens that list it on the menu, a true local luxury.
Seasonal in early springtime, the tear pea is grown most commonly found in Spain’s Basque Country. Although it is rumoured to have been first cultivated at France’s Royal Versailles kitchen, before being exported to France’s Biarritz coast, and then deeper into Basque country, most famously at the Gipuzkoan coastal town of Getaria. A staple in Basque Michelin starred restaurants and now grown in other regions of Spain such as Andalusia or Catalonia.
The thin skin, which provides the delightful sensation of bursting in the mouth, requires a delicate manual harvest process where each pod must be checked individually before pricking and a shelling process just as intricate, often with small female hands. Each pea is around 5 mm in size, with 6-8 grains per pod of which a kilo renders around 60 grams of the delicacy.
The taste is both subtle and explosive: a herbal undertone, sweet and salty experience best described as freshness. And while Spanish chefs have tried serving it as everything from ice cream to an accompaniment to seafood, the golden rule is that cooking should be limited to a matter of seconds to cherish the exquisite flavour of this vegetable green gold.