Getting Fresh: A World of Peas

I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
I know it may seem funny
But it keeps them on the knife

Remember that nursery ditty? I kept singing it in my head last weekend while strolling through Arlington Courthouse market, where peas of various shapes and sizes, were strutting their stuff.

Sugar snap peas. (Kim O'Donnel)

It's a wee early in the season for the aformentioned runaway peas (that also require shelling), but in their place for the moment are the sugar snap pea, pea shoots and, on occasion, pea sprouts.

The sugar snap pea is a relatively new invention, a hybrid developed in the 1970s that combines the sweetness of an English pea with the crunch of a snow pea. Unlike its English counterpart, the sugar snap is completely edible, pod and all, and is one of my favorite things, other than the red bell pepper, to eat raw.

However, Elizabeth Schneider, author of "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" argues that "brief cooking - even when they are meant for cold dishes - develops their charm."

Brief is the operative word here -whether you steam, boil or stir fry these little cuties, make it snappy, folks. Overcooking makes for a mushy mess. And should you cook them, do rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and help retain crispness. Sugar snaps like being paired with herbs such as dill, cilantro and mint, as well as other crunchy veg, such as radishes, carrots, cucumbers, fennel and other lettuces. Citrusy vinaigrettes are nice as toppers, as simple as a quick glug of olive oil and squeeze of a lemon. I also like the idea of sauteeing sugar snaps in a honey glaze, a la carrots.

Now, before peas become peas, they're a leafy network of tender vines or tendrils, also known as pea shoots. Sometimes sweet, sometimes a wee piquant, pea shoots are terrific, raw or cooked, so long as they're tender. If they're tough, toss them into the garden. Raw, they're great mixed with other lettuces; cooked, they need a zippy 90 seconds, with only the simplest of dressings, such as butter, olive oil or a wee bit of sesame oil and lemon juice.

Pea shoots. (Kim O'Donnel)

In her cookbook, "A Well-Seasoned Appetite," Molly O'Neill writes, "Like anything snatched up before its time, raw pea greens are sassy and hot. It's almost enough to make you think twice. When cooked, however, the greens wilt like ballerinas after a good show, lending their spice to the ingredients around them, a final adieu, a bittersweet memory, before collapsing limply and almost sweetly upon themselves."

O'Neill also suggests throwing wilted pea greens into pasta. They also make a spectacular garnish for seafood; imagine a flash-cooked emerald green bouquet atop soft-shell crabs or a piece of wild salmon. Spring hopes eternal!

By Kim ODonnel |  May 31, 2007; 11:26 AM ET Getting Fresh , Spring Produce
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I never thought of eating the pea sprouts that I thin out of the garden. Maybe next year, I'll plant super-duper extra peas just for the thinned shoots.

Posted by: librarylady | May 31, 2007 5:10 PM

I really enjoy reading the Email articles I currently receive from the Washington Post. Is there a menu from which I can pick more subjects to receive online? My Email:
should someone want to coach me on this.I read the Post cover-to-cover when visiting my son in Hamilton, VA. Pickup down on the OBX of NC involves a 20 mile drive one way, if any copies are still available.

Posted by: Virginia N. Overman | June 10, 2007 2:56 PM

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