The pairing of avocados and peas has the capacity to instigate debate: Last summer, it was such a hot-button issue that the President of the United States was asked to comment after the New York Times tweeted a link to a years-old recipe for guacamole that combined the fruit with the legume.
The recipe asserted peas brought substance and texture to the dip, which had appeared on the menu at ABC Cocina to raves and was a collaboration between the restaurant's chef de cuisine Ian Coogan and venerated French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Still, a vocal majority was unconvinced, including Barack Obama, who took a hard pass on peas in his guac.
While I'm against peas in guacamole, I'm all for the combination in other applications. To be specific, I find it surprisingly effective in a double-pea spread that has a spot in my current condiment rotation, a product of my want for a sauce that behaved similarly to pesto but without the cheese and not as much oil.
Using the flesh of a small avocado to add body to a herb-and-pea paste results in a spread that is both lush and light. The avocado is a background player, used more for consistency than anything else. The focus is on the sweet peas, the watery freshness of the sprouts and the fragrant grassiness of a handful of herbs. The red chile punctures the spread with random heat and the lemon keeps it zingy.
I use this sauce, thinned with a water, with grilled meats of all kinds. I've also fortified it with labneh, a fresh, Middle Eastern, yogurt cheese, to make a dip. I have thoughts of it alongside battered fish, but it's most often used as a sandwich spread. As a general rule I don't go in for eggs with avocados, but the peas keep the pairing from unctuousness: My go-to lunch is now darkly toasted wholegrain bread, smeared with this sauce and adorned with slices of hard-boiled egg, a garden of sprouts and extra lemon juice. It's exceedingly good.
The spread is also ideal on a lamb burger, as a filling to naan or pita with chickpea fritters, quinoa patties or spice-heavy chicken kebabs, such as these ones.
Chicken thighs have enough fat to take the heat of the grill without drying out, so you can cook them until the edges go deeply golden and are licked with char in places while the meat closest to the skewer stays gratifyingly juicy. If boneless, skinless chicken breasts are your preference, give them a better chance at succulence by swathing the pieces in buttermilk or yogurt thinned with milk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so. Pat the chunks dry before coating in the spices, then cook as directed.
Since the spread uses raw peas, their freshness is of paramount importance. If not buying sweet, young peas in their pods, go for frozen. If they seem starchy, blanch them for a minute in boiling water. And yes, shelling 1 cup of peas will take time but it's worth the effort.
Ground sumac has lemony twang, and can be found at some grocery stores, bulk stores and Middle Eastern shops.
The avocado in the sauce can be replaced by well-stirred tahini – about 2 tablespoons is a good place to start, and go from there.
The chicken can also be served as an appetizer, with smaller skewers and 1 to 2 pieces of chicken a serving. Offer the sauce alongside.
1 cup mixed herbs (cilantro, parsley, chives, mint), roughly chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed pea shoots, roughly chopped
1 cup freshly shelled peas or frozen petit pois
1 garlic clove
1 small red chile, seeded and chopped
1 small avocado, cut in half and the stone removed
Medium grain kosher salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp medium grain kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground sumac, optional
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
6 to 8 skewers, if bamboo, soak in water for 1 hour before using
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Naan, grilled or warmed
Thinly sliced fresh beets and radishes
Yogurt, kefir or labneh
Ricotta salata cheese or feta
Make the sauce first. In the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade in place, process the herbs, pea shoots, peas, garlic and chile until finely minced, being sure to stop the machine once or twice and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Scoop the avocado flesh into the processor, along with a few fine scrapes of lemon zest, all the lemon’s juice and a good pinch of salt.
With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a thin, slow stream. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process for 30 seconds more. Check for consistency; if the sauce is too thick, incorporate more olive oil or some cool water until it is lightly whipped yet still mounds on a spoon.
Transfer the sauce into a bowl – float the thinnest layer of olive oil on top, then cover and refrigerate. The sauce can be made up to a day ahead.
For the chicken, stir together the spices in a medium bowl. Toss the chicken in the spices to coat. Thread the pieces onto the skewers; 4 pieces a skewer is good, you want them close enough to protect some of the flesh from the flames, but spread out enough that the meat cooks through.
Heat a grill or cast iron pan to medium-high heat. You could start the grill sooner, but I like giving the chicken some time to sit in the seasoning. If using a charcoal grill, cover and refrigerate the skewers.
Once the grill or pan is hot, brush the skewers lightly with the oil and cook, turning regularly, until deeply bronzed and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
To serve, spread the sauce across the hot naan. Pile on your chosen toppings, followed by the chicken. Have extra lemon wedges on the table and serve.