The next time someone tells you to mind your p’s and q’s, tell them you wouldn’t mind some p’s at all — or peas. Peas are one of the many foods that come into season during spring. Growing up, they were always my favorite vegetable. They’re tiny, sweet, and kids love them.
You may not know this (I didn’t either), but peas are not actually vegetables. The pea pod is considered a fruit and the peas inside are seeds. When snow peas and sugar snap peas are left to grow a bit longer and then podded, they turn into sweet garden peas. If they are dried, they are then considered split peas. See? There is already so much more to know about peas than you probably thought. So let’s take a closer look at peas, how to select, store, and cook with them.
1. Types of Peas
There are a few varieties of peas. Sugar snap peas are small, pale green, and have a tender, crisp, edible pod that contains sweet round seeds. Try them in this Snap Pea Salad With Almonds and an Herbed Vinaigrette. Snow peas, which you probably know from East Asian cuisine, have edible pods with smaller, flat sweet seeds. Try them in this Lo Han Jai: Buddha’s Delight. Last, but not least, are garden peas, the sweet, round green seeds we all know and love.
2. Selection and Storage
Peas come into season around May and stick around until October. Of course, you can buy peas, including canned and frozen peas, all year-round. When buying fresh peas in the pod, choose small to medium-sized pods, as the large ones have matured more, meaning that the peas may be less tender and sweet. Avoid pods that are cracked or limp — they should be bulging from the seeds inside. A pod with good peas will make a snapping sound when you break it and the peas inside should be small, bright green, tender, and sweet. Try one, but don’t stand around the store snapping all the pods, okay? How much should you buy? One pound of peas in their pods will give you about one cup, or six ounces of shelled peas.
Try to use the peas as soon as possible, as they have a short shelf life. They need to be kept cold, or their sugar will convert to starch, and they will be less sweet. They will stay fresh for a few days when kept in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Once the peas are shelled, they can be frozen for storage. Blanch them first and then freeze them in freezer bags for up to six months.
3. Prepping Peas
When you’re ready to use your peas, wash them before shelling and cooking. Shelling peas is easy though not too exciting. It elicits visions of people sitting on their porch with a colander in their lap, shelling peas while watching the world go by. Just pinch off the ends of the pod and you’ll see a string that runs along the side. Pull the string down and pop out the peas. That’s it. Don’t throw the pods away! You can use them to make broth or add them to stews for their flavor. Waste not, want not.
If you can’t find fresh peas or you don’t want to do all that shelling, use frozen peas. They are picked while young and tender and then immediately frozen, so they will taste good, and they are convenient.
4. Cooking with Peas
Peas not only taste delicious, but they cook quickly and are extremely versatile. They can be boiled, braised, added to stews, risottos, and pasta, or turned into soups. They are also good raw in salads. Peas have such a mild flavor; they go well with almost anything. Classic pairings with peas include mint, thyme, basil, dill, chives, and tarragon. They also go well with onion, garlic, scallions, and shallots. Use peas with their other spring buddies such as carrots, asparagus, fava beans, and of course, potatoes. For recipe ideas, see Give Peas a Chance With These 20 Delicious Green Pea Recipes. Let’s look at some more specific ways to cook with peas.
5. Dips and Spreads
Despite the controversy known as “Peagate,” peas make delicious hummus like this Spring Pea Hummus and guacamole like this Knock-off-amole (Guacamole Made with Fresh Green Peas). Green peas and avocado are best buddies in this Green Pea Avocado Spread. It has the sweet, refreshing taste of peas combined with creamy avocado, green onions, chives, and lime. Use it as a dip for your favorite raw veggies, add it to a salad, or spread it on your sandwiches.
A simple pea puree like this Perfect Pea Puree can be a delicious side dish, spread on toast or crackers or become a creamy pesto for pasta or grains. These Spring Pea Toasts with Radish and Lavender are a delicious light lunch or snack. You get creamy and crunchy texture along with bright, fresh flavors. Spread some pea pesto on a burger like these Clean-Eating Portobello Burgers with Pea Pesto for a yummy change from the usual condiments. Once you taste the pea pesto with its little kick of spice, you’ll never use ketchup on your burgers again. Or put the pea pesto on top of pasta like this Smoky Eggplant Pasta with Bok Choy and Pea Pesto dish. The pesto here is made with a combination of bok choy and pea pesto which is unique and delicious.
Pea soup is really easy to make and it’s light, bright, and refreshing. You can make it simple with just peas and some herbs or add non-dairy milk for a creamier soup. This 6 Minute Green Pea Soup is light and tasty. You can make it with just a bit of garlic or add your favorite herbs and spices to jazz it up. If you want a refreshing soup that energizes and awakens, you must try this Minty Pea Soup. Potatoes give this soup a rich and creamy texture, and a generous cup of spinach creates a bright green color.
If you prefer creamier soups, try this Green Peas and Almond Soup. Fresh green peas and homemade almond milk create a soup that’s filling yet light. This Thai Spring Pea Soup is thick, creamy, and just a little spicy. It’s made with green peas, lemongrass, yellow curry, and coconut milk. It tastes good either hot or cold.
While you may not think of soup as a festive food, these Pea Soup Shooters will be the life of your party. They’re made with green peas, basil, and spinach plus sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Serving the soup in shot glasses makes these a fun appetizer.
7. Added In
The bright color of peas makes for stunning presentations when they are used as fillings in recipes. For instance, this Pea Ravioli with Basil Pesto puts a green spin on the traditional Italian pasta dish because the ravioli dough is filled with green peas, lemon, and vegan parmesan. Peas are familiar ingredients in both samosas like these Green Curry Rice Paper Samosas and empanadas so, of course, when you put those two dishes together, peas have to be part of the recipe. These ‘Samosanadas’ are a fusion of two favorite filled hand pies. Roasted pumpkin stands in for the traditional potato filling. Dip these in your favorite chutney or salsa. Peas can also be added into burgers like these Vegetable Cutlets with Coriander Mint Chutney and these Garden Veggie Burgers.
Peas are a great addition to dishes because they cook quickly and add a bright pop of color. You can toss them in at the last minute and just let them warm through. This Spring Onion Farro Fritters with Fresh Peas, Asparagus, Radish and Tahini Mint Dressing is a beautiful and colorful dish. The hearty salad is fully loaded with healthy seasonal vegetables and crispy fritters made with farro. The mint tahini dressing pairs with the peas perfectly. This Pasta-Free Baked Cauliflower and Cheese with Peas has cauliflower standing in for pasta and is tossed with a homemade cheese sauce and bright green peas.
Peas are a common ingredient in Indian food. This Super Simple Potato Curry is a perfect weeknight dish. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and peas are cooked in coconut milk and lots of flavorful spices for a simple and satisfying dish that’s also delicious. In this Cauliflower Chickpea Cashew Curry, green peas add color and protein to this dish filled with cauliflower, chickpeas, and tofu.
8. Rice and Peas
Rice and peas go together like peanut butter and jelly. As with other dishes, you can just add the peas to the rice at the last minute since they only need to warm through. A simple dish of rice and peas gets tons of flavor in this Mint Biryani with Garden Peas. Garlic, turmeric, cloves, coriander, cumin, chiles, and ginger are just some of the spices that fire up this dish. Fresh mint adds brightness and is a common pairing with peas.
Rice doesn’t have to be the only grain, though. This Indian-Style Quinoa and Peas is a simple dish that’s not too spicy. It’s made with peas, coconut milk, chiles, and lots of Indian spices. The quinoa makes this dish filling enough to be enjoyed on its own, or as your go-to-bed of grains for a variety of curries. This Magnifiqué Millet with Spring Vegetables is a beautiful dish. Millet is the healthy base for fresh, seasonal produce like carrots, radishes, asparagus, and peas. You don’t need to speak French to know this dish is délicieuse.
9. In the Spotlight
Most often, peas are an afterthought or just one of many veggies (though we now know that peas are not veggies) tossed together in a recipe. But peas can also be the star of the show. In this dish of Peas with Shallots, Mushrooms, and Tarragon, peas are in the spotlight. This is a wonderful side dish to share at a family gathering, or even just to have for dinner. The fresh flavor of the green peas goes so with the buttery shallots, rich mushrooms, and peppery tarragon. The three “M”s in this recipe’s name may stand for Mushroom Mutter Masala, but they’ll also be the only thing you’ll be able to say (mmm…get it?). It’s an easy, Indian-style dish of mushrooms and green peas. It’s ready in less than thirty minutes. These Greek Peas, also known as Arakas Kokinistos, are a whole new way to eat this familiar veggie. Green peas swim in a sauce of tomato, onions, dill, and of course, Greek oregano. You’ll want to have lots of crusty bread to help soak up all the extra sauce in this simple but tasty dish.
Peas also make thick, creamy sauces. This Fiddlehead Fern Risotto from Blossom on Columbus in NYC celebrates all that’s spring and green. The risotto has a green pea sauce made with peas, spinach, and lemon. The dish is topped with sautéed seasonal vegetables including carrots, fennel, and the unique-looking fiddlehead ferns. Don’t forget dessert! Yes, you can use peas to make cookies. I’m not kidding. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you make these Green Pea Cookies. Made with green peas, calcium-rich tofu, and protein-packed almond flour, these cookies are nutritious and delicious. Surprise!
Green peas are sweet, tender, healthy and more versatile than you think. Give peas a chance and use them in all your springtime recipes.
Lead image source: Spring Pea Toasts with Radish and Lavender