Just when you get to the point you believe pea pods are for peas and along comes Rick Martinez to tell you they're really for cream cheese and other things, like pistachios.
And once you taste his stuffed pea pod appetizers, you know he's right, especially if they're served with his version of fish tacos.
While Martinez, 39, of Huntington Beach, owns a small Mexican restaurant, he saves his real specialties--like the pea pods and "anything Oriental"--for guests in his home.
"I love to cook with a wok," says Martinez. "Everything's fresh and crisp, throw it in the wok and, boom!, it's done and it's delicious."
While raised in a Mexican home, and well grounded there in south-of-the-border dishes, he was trained in the culinary arts at a cooking school he attended after graduation from the University of Michigan. So, he's as at home with fancy French dishes and ice sculptures as he is in burritos.
"While my dad was a typical macho Mexican father, he encouraged all the kids--me, my six sisters and three brothers--to cook," says Martinez. "He believes the kitchen is an extension of the living room and it was the gathering place in our home for sure."
Home was Lincoln Park, Mich., where Martinez lived until four years ago when his wife, Mary, 32, was offered a better position by her company (Ford Aerospace) at its Newport Beach facility.
His working life had been spent in the food industry, but not as a cook, says Martinez. "I worked in sales in various companies and began by doing the same thing when we moved to Huntington Beach."
He says he discovered fish tacos on a trip to Baja California and experimented until he had an acceptable-to-him version to serve guests.
"They all went nuts over them and that's how I wound up opening my burrito shack (the Fiesta Grill in Huntington Beach). And they're still the main thing people come in for."
The main difference between his fish tacos and most others is that the fish is dipped in a beer batter and fried before being nestled into a tortilla shell.
The pea pods come from his culinary training, with some personal touches added. "You can serve them with anything," says Martinez. "They add a nice touch of bright color to any plate."
FISH TACOS AND STUFFED PEA PODS
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound cod fillets
1 head lettuce, shredded
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
1/4 pound Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 pound Jack cheese, shredded
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped fine
2 medium tomatoes, diced
Batter for Fish
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 beaten egg yolks
2 beaten egg whites
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3/4 cup flat beer
Reserving egg whites, blend all other batter ingredients. When smooth, fold in beaten egg whites and chill for at least 3 hours. Meanwhile, heat oil and form taco shells. Cut fish into 1-inch strips and dredge in flour. After batter has returned to room temperature, dip each strip of fish into it and fry a few at a time until done (wait until oil has heated back up before cooking new batch). Place 1 stick into taco shell and top with cheeses, lettuce, cabbage and tomato-cilantro mixture.
Pea Pod Ingredients
Snow pea pods
2 cups salted, boiling water
4 ounces cream cheese
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
6-8 drops Worcestershire sauce
Boil water, drop in pea pods and remove as soon as water begins to boil again. Place pods in bowl and cover with ice cubes to stop cooking process and preserve bright green color. Mix all other ingredients. Split pods with sharp knife and stuff with cream cheese mixture (use cookie gun or pastry bag). Top with shelled pistachio nuts or walnuts.
Each week, Orange County Life spotlights a man who enjoys cooking and features one of his favorite recipes. Tell us about your candidate. Write to: Guys & Galleys, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.