Every season is blessed with an agrarian rock star — fall’s bounty of gourds, winter’s hearty roots, summer’s fresh berries and watermelon, and spring’s green peas and shoots, bursting with sweet grassy flavors from the garden patch. As your body regenerates during springtime, peas will help nourish your cells and invigorate your spirit.
■ More than two peas in a pod: Peas have been cultivated for thousands of years filtering from ancient Greece and Rome to Europe, India and China, then eventually to the Americas, with Christopher Columbus one of the pioneer pea planters of the New World. A valuable staple in Europe, peas were dried and stored, then enjoyed in soups and stews during severe winter months when food supplies were sparse.
While there are several varieties and variations of peas, for the purposes of the armchair gardener, the three main types of this legume include Garden (English, Green or Standard Peas), Snap Peas and Snow Peas. The Garden variety has an inedible pod with sweet, fully developed peas inside. The peas are shelled, discarding the tough, stringy pod. Both Snap and Snow Peas, on the other hand, have low fiber pods, making them tender and chewable. Snap Peas can be snapped and eaten raw or cooked along with the immature peas inside. Snow Peas are harvested with flat, soft pods before the peas inside develop.
■ Shoot the breeze: Delicate pea shoots snipped from immature plants, usually the Snow or Sugar Snap Pea varieties, have the sweet essence of the legume with decorative soft leaves and curly tendrils along with the odd bud or blossom to add flavor, crunchy texture and eye candy to various dishes. Dial up burgers, sandwiches, bruschetta, frittatas, pizzas, crab cakes, seafood or wilted green salads, and smoked salmon platters, in addition to refreshing whistle-whetters like peatinis, pea shooters and chilled soups.
Asian or farmers markets are likely to sell these darlings, but don’t wait until the end of the growing season as they turn bitter.
It’s hard to believe that these fine shoots have only been enlivening spring tables for two decades, a relative newbie in the horticultural time line — rooted out in the early 1990s, and have since been much appreciated for their many culinary uses.
When selecting shoots, look for fresh, firm, emerald green leaves that are not wilted or discolored. Wrap the dainty shoots in a paper towel, stored in a plastic bag, and use them within a couple of days.
■ Pea power: Fresh peas and their shoots are a rich store of phytonutrients, immune-boosting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These mighty legumes and tender tendrils are packed with protein and fiber, folic acid to rejuvenate and maintain the body’s cells, along with other B-complex vitamins to put the skids on stress, fatigue and throbbing migraines.
The load of Vitamin C wards off infections, and scavenges for harmful free radicals; phytosterols lower cholesterol levels, Vitamin K ramps-up bone mass to foil osteoporosis, Vitamin A sharpens eyesight and maintains healthy skin, while a supply of vital minerals, including calcium, iron, copper and zinc gives an added boost of well-being.
■ Pod cast: Sugar Snap Peas, late bloomers, were not developed until 1979. Sugar Snap and Snow Peas have pod fibers that run in one direction, making them edible, not stringy and tough.
Ninety-five percent of peas grown are sold canned, frozen or dried, while only 5 percent are fresh, so pick them now when they’re good and plenty. After harvest, peas should not be kept at room temperature, as half the sugar content will convert to starch within six hours.
Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Ginger and Garlic
• 1 pound of pea shoots
• 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 inch of fresh ginger, shredded
• 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons of mushroom or vegetable broth
• Sea salt
• Sesame seeds
■ Method: Rinse shoots with cold water, pat dry. Heat skillet or wok on medium then add oil, sugar and salt to taste. Sauté ginger and garlic until tender. Add pea shoots a bunch at a time, coating with the oil. Cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add broth and cook for another 2 minutes. Garnish with sesame seeds. Enjoy with miso poached salmon or grilled shrimp and fragrant rice.