Probably the first vegetable to be cultivated by man, ancient peas and beans have been found in settlements from the late Stone Age onwards (nearly 8,000 years ago). They are a highly nutritious vegetable, containing essential carbohydrates and proteins, as well as useful supplies of vitamins and minerals. They were particularly valuable to ancient man as they could be dried and stored, which meant that food was available throughout the year.
Garden Peas: These are one of the delights of summer, although they are one of those vegetables that are best when absolutely fresh. Pick your own (if you don’t grow them yourself) is the best way to enjoy peas at their best. There are many varieties of peas, some of which can be eaten whole, including the pod. Peas are one of the few vegetables that taste almost as good when frozen. Because freezing takes place soon after picking, frozen peas often have a higher nutritional content than fresh, and are available all year round.
Mangetouts: These are eaten whole and are valued for their pods, rather than the peas, which never mature. Mangetouts have a delicate, sweet flavor. To prepare, young, freshly picked mangetouts simply need to be topped, tailed, and washed. They should be cooked only briefly to retain their delicate, mild flavor and crisp bite. They can be blanched or stir-fried and are also good served raw in salads.
Petits Pois: These are not, as you might expect, immature peas, but are a dwarf variety. They are wonderfully tender and have a sweet, delicate flavor. Gardeners grow their own, but petits pois are not widely available fresh in the shops as they are mainly grown commercially for canning or for freezing.
Snow Peas/Sugar Peas/Sugar Snap Peas: These have the distinct fresh flavor of raw peas and are plumper and have more “snap” than mangetouts. They are delicious added raw to salads. They are also good steamed or boiled, but should only be cooked for about 1 minute or they will lose their wonderful flavor and texture.
Buying And Storing: Only buy really fresh peas. If they are old they are bound to be disappointing. In top condition, the pods are bright green and lively looking. The more withered the pod, the longer ago they were picked. Use fresh peas as soon a possible.
“Work With What You Got!”
© Victoria Hart Glavin Tiny New York Kitchen © 2017 All Rights Reserved
There are several types of fresh peas, all of which are available nearly year round these days, but they are at their peak during the spring and early summer months. Like corn, the natural sugar in peas converts quickly to starch, so make sure to buy peas fresh, store them in the refrigerator, and use them within a day or two.
English shell peas are the familiar round green pea. Frozen tiny tender green peas, while enjoyable and convenient throughout the winter months, bear little resemblance to the texture and bright flavor of fresh peas. The springtime ritual of shelling peas is just as satisfying as shucking summer corn, and their flavor and texture are worth every minute.
When shopping for English peas, look for bright green smooth, succulent pods filled with evenly plump, round seeds. The freshness of the pods is an indication of the freshness of the peas. For the most reliable test, pop open a pod and taste a pea. Fresh peas should taste sweet and grassy. A pound of English shell peas in their pods yields about 2 cups of shelled peas, which translates into 2 to 3 servings.
Both sugar snaps and snow peas are edible pod peas. There is no shelling required. As their name implies, sugar snaps are delightfully sweet. Sugar snaps are delicious raw, but their flavor is enhanced with a brief cooking. As with all other peas, look for bright, smooth, succulent, tender green pods with fresh looking stems.
“Work With What You Got!”
© Victoria Hart Glavin Tiny New York Kitchen