You know it’s spring when little peas start appearing at the market — perky, perfect and ready for any dish you can dream. Most of us default to peas as a side dish, but when spring serves these mineral- and nutrient-rich green nuggets, it’s time to let them shine.
Wandering through the farmers markets and produce aisles, you’ll find a slew of peas — and not all of them are created equal. Some can be eaten whole, while others need to be shelled or cooked.
Flat, with very small peas inside, these peas often show up whole in stir-fries regularly as the entire pea pod is edible. Bright green and perky (not limp) are the signs of a tasty snow pea. Pick peas with no visible lumps of peas inside.
Best for: stir-fry, sautéing, eating raw
A cross between snow peas and shelling peas, these plump pods have juicy peas inside. The entire pea is edible, including the pod. These peas have a thicker shell than snow peas, and will have the best flavor when they’re bright and crisp. When choosing peas, look for glossy green pods that are crisp and plump.
Best for: eating raw, tossing in salads, grilling or sautéeing.
Often called garden peas, sweet peas or English peas, these peas have shells that are firm and rounded, protecting the big, sweet, juicy peas inside. The shells must be removed and aren’t edible. When you pick up a package of frozen peas, you’re selecting garden peas that have been previously shelled. These peas should be cooked quickly after they’re picked as the little peas inside get mealy with time. To select peas, look for green, glossy pods that feel firm and full.
Best for: pastas, soups, freezing, salads
Here are four highly recommended ways to prepare peas (and how to use them once they’re done):
METHOD #1: Blanch
This method is best for shelled peas. Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil, then add 16 ounces of peas. Reduce heat, cover and let your peas simmer until just tender, roughly 1–2 minutes. Then shock in ice water, drain the water completely and enjoy.
METHOD #2: Steam
Pour about an inch of water into a saucepan. Place these legumes in a steamer basket and drop it into the pan. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot. The steam that rises gently cooks the peas. Steam for 2–4 minutes, testing occasionally. When the peas are tender, they’re ready. This is a fantastic way to cook fresh, delicate shelling or snap peas which deserve gentle treatment to preserve their flavor.
METHOD #3: Saute
This cooking method makes it easy to toss in other ingredients, for example making a pasta dish. Begin by heating a tablespoon of butter or oil over medium-high heat. Toss in a bit of chopped onion or minced garlic if you’d like to amp up the flavor. Let your aromatics cook a couple of minutes, until they’re wilted and soft. Next, add about 2 cups of peas. Stir them around, still over medium-high heat, until they’re heated through and tender, and have a little bit of color, about 3–5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and consider sprinkling on your favorite spice or adding fresh herbs.
METHOD #4: Eat Raw
Snap peas and snow peas are delicious raw and are perfect to toss into salads, sink into dips and snack on. This is the best way to enjoy their sweet, special flavor.
If you can’t cook your peas and eat them immediately, store them in a produce bag in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Wait to shell peas until just before you cook them. To shell peas: Start by removing the stem end of the pod with your fingers. Then peel away the string that runs the length of the pod, starting from the stem. Pry it open and gently tease out those roly-poly peas. (Pro tip: 1 pound fresh peas yields about 1 cup, or 150g, shelled peas.)
All peas should be refrigerated after you buy them because their sweetness declines quickly.
Once you’ve picked and prepped your peas, it’s time to enjoy them. Here are a few of our favorite ways to utilize peas.
- Toss blanched peas into salads. Toss whole and enjoy.
- Make whirled peas. Smash tender, sautéed or steamed peas with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice and olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper and voila!
- Cream into soup. You can add peas whole as an ingredient in your favorite chicken soup or blend them as you would pumpkin in a favorite cream-based soup.
- Stir into savory pancakes. Cut back any sugar in your favorite pancake recipe, then stir in steamed round peas as you would blueberries. Top with fresh herbs and a dollop of cremé fraiche or an egg.
- Pasta, peas. Pasta is a perfect place to plop peas. Sauté them into sauces, toss on top of simple noodles with Parmesan. For the simplest pea pasta, follow the instructions to sauté peas above. Then, brown 2 tablespoons of butter and add sautéd peas or snap peas, cooked noodles and stir to incorporate. Top with Parmesan, maybe a bit more butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.