Food Focus: Peas

Growing up, pretty much my only experience with peas were the sad, mushy guys found in the canned goods aisle of the grocery store. They were okay (and a cheap and easy way to make sure my parents could get some veggies into us kids), but it wasn’t until I had farm-fresh peas for the first time that I realized a fresh, sweet, bright green pea in the spring can almost be a religious experience! They are bursting with flavor and nutrients and can be used in so many ways—I encourage you to hop on the pea train!

What do they look like?

Peas come in a few different forms—shell, snap and, snow. Shell peas are the little, round, bright-green guys we’re all used to seeing—the ones in cans. Aptly named, shell peas are shelled from their inedible pod before cooking, where as snap and snow peas are special varieties that have edible pods. Snap peas tend to be thicker, juicier pods (and work great as a dipper for hummus). Snow peas have very thin pods and work great in stir-fry.

What do they taste like?

While peas are bright green like a lot of other veggies, they are distinct in that they have slightly starchy, very sweet flavor. Peas have a lot of natural sugars, and the earlier and younger they are, the sweeter the taste.

Why are they good for me?

Due to their starchy nature, pea popularity took a bit of a hit during the low-carb craze, but the truth is, peas are nutritional superstars! All pea varieties are packed with dietary fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals. But snow and snap pea varieties provide the most thanks to their edible fibrous pods. 1 cup of peas contains 63% of your daily intake of vitamin C and 20% of vitamin K. Peas have a unique blend of phytonutrients that may help prevent stomach cancer and lower your risk of diabetes.

When and where do I get it?

For the majority of the U.S., peas are in season starting in April and can be found in all three forms at the farmer’s market. The fresher the pea, the sweeter it is, so try to find them at their peak from a local provider. Hint: if you can’t smell it, you won’t taste it.

If your local farmer’s market isn’t selling peas, most major supermarkets will carry snap and snow peas in the fresh produce aisle (less so the shell variety). If you’re looking for shell peas in the supermarket, your best bet is to look for frozen ones. They are frozen at the peak of freshness and retain most of the color, nutrients and flavor of a fresh pea. This means you can get spring-like peas year-round!

How do I prepare peas?

If you’re using shell peas and the shell is still on, simply pop open the pod and drop the peas into bowl and toss the pod into your compost bin. If you’re using snap or snow peas, they’re all ready to go (just make sure to rinse them first)! Snap peas are perfect for raw eating, and both shell peas and snow peas work well with just a small amount of cooking. Steam, boil or saute them for just a few minutes—or until they are bright green and just slightly tender.

What are some good recipes?

If you get truly fresh peas, make sure to enjoy some naked as a side dish—I promise you will not be disappointed! If naked peas are a little to simplistic for you, a touch of lemon juice, salt and pepper can go a long way to make peas shine. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, try out some of the pea-spotlighting recipes:

Healthy Chicken Pot Pie
Potato and Pea Burgers
Lighter Spring Risotto
Peas on Toast
Peas, Chard and Gruyere Pie
Minty Pea and Avocado Spread

What is your favorite way to use peas?

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Cassie Johnston is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer living and working in Southern Indiana. Her work has been feature in national publications such as Gourmet Magazine and The Huffington Post. Cassie’s a big fan of strenuous hikes, cheese, watching sports, Brussels sprouts, and craft beer, and she’ll talk your ear off about her love of local food and seasonal eating. She’s obsessed with social media and loves connecting with new friends!