Friday, July 3, 2015

Peas 101

The pea is the small round seed or sea-pod fruit called by the Latin name Pisum Sativum. Known as garden peas, shelling peas, snap peas, sugar peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas and edible pod peas to name a few; they are part of the legume family (Leguminosae). This family includes legumes, peas and beans. The pods contain several peas and are considered a fruit. The immature peas such as snow peas and their tender pod are used as vegetables. Peas are commonly green but occasionally yellow or purple. The pea plant is an annual with a one year life cycle. It is a cool season crop that does not thrive in the summer heat and is grown in many parts of the world. The top 5 pea producing countries are China, India, United States, France and Egypt. There are both low growing and vining pea cultivars. A traditional method of supporting vining peas is to thrust pruned branches into the ground upright providing a lattice for peas to climb. This is referred to as a “pea brush.” To learn how to make your own pea brush check out this video by Martha Stewart.

There are several varieties of peas and for a great reference on some of the more common varietals go here and for heirloom varieties check out Mother Earth News. Confused about the differences in Sugar Snap Peas, Snow Peas and Shelled Garden Peas? Check out this quick reference page by Husk. Did you know peas were graded? This involves sorting peas by size in which the smallest peas are the highest in quality for their tenderness. Brines are often used in which the peas will float. This helps to determine their density. Peas season is July, August and September.

The earliest archaeological presence of peas dates back to the late neolithic period in what is today current Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. The oldest peas were believed to have been found in a cave in Burma which date back 9750 years. In early times peas were grown for their seeds and were from plants growing wild in the Mediterranean. Dried peas were an essential dietary staple as they could be stored for long periods and were a source of protein during famines and winters. The Romans were most likely the ones who introduced peas to Britain. Their popularity there did not take off until the 16th Century. Green garden peas, eaten immature and fresh were a luxury in early modern Europe. New cultivars of peas were developed by the English which became know as English Garden Peas. The French developed a taste for sugar peas (called Mange-Tout) which were grown for market in Holland. Soon popularity spread in North America. Thomas Jefferson grew approximately 30 cultivars at his estate Monticello. With the invention of canning and freezing, peas became available year round. For more information about peas go here.

Did you know the pea is only green in color when picked immaturely? A ripe pea is a more yellow in color. Also, less than 1% of peas grown go to market fresh as most are designated for processing and are harvested via machine. Only 5% of peas eaten are eaten fresh; the rest are canned or frozen. Peas were among one of the first vegetables frozen by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920’s. The proper etiquette for eating peas is to smash them on the back of your fork. The most famous written reference to peas is “The Princess and the Pea” written by Hans Christian Anderson. For more fun facts about peas go here and here.

To Store

Peas are the freshest and tastiest right after harvest. The longer they are stored the faster they will lose their sweetness.

Unshelled Peas like Sugar Snaps and Snow Peas should be stored dry (unwashed) in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator for 1 week to 10 days. Here is a guide to freezing pod peas from The Farmers Almanac.

For Shelled Peas below is some vital information from Fine Cooking Magazine.

"Use them quickly or freeze them. Peas don’t have much of a shelf life. It is not recommended to store them —in their pods or shelled—for very long. Store pods in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and use them within a couple of days. Once they’re shelled, the best way to store peas is to freeze them. First blanch them for a minute or two in boiling salted water and then shock them in an ice-water bath until cool, to help maintain their bright color. Drain and freeze them in zip-top bags. They will keep for five to six months."

To Nourish

High in Vitamins K, B1, Vitamin C, Manganese, Copper, Fiber legumes are widely recognized by the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society as a key food group in the prevention disease and to optimize health. Peas are known to be an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory characteristics. They support sugar regulation, promote heart health and protect from stomach cancer. For health benefit information go here.

To Prepare

Peas are great eaten raw or cooked. Cooking peas does sweeten them slightly. They can be eaten on their own as a side dish or added to another vegetable dish like the classic “peas and carrots.” Peas can be used in salads, stir fries, savory dishes, soups and stews. They make a great substitution if you do not have green beans on hand. For more information on how to process your peas check out this article from Recipe Tips. Huffington Post considers these the best peas ever! Here are ten things to do with fresh frozen peas from Bon Appetit. “What to Cook Now” from Epicurious features an article on peas.

To Try

Pickled Peas
Classic Indian Samosas
Spring Pea Hummus
Burrata with Speck, Peas and Mint
Shell Pea, Carrot and Arugula Salad with Feta
Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Green Garlic
Grilled English Peas
Wood Grilled Snap Peas with Smoky Aioli
Steamed Sugar Snap Peas with Black Sesame
Frittata with Peas, Herbs, Feta or Parmesan
Pea Consommé with Mint
Chicken and Spring Vegetable Soup
Fresh Pea Soup
Possibly the Best Pea Soup
Spring Pea Soup with Ham and Cheese Sandwich
Pea Porridge with Fresh Cheese and Ham
English Pea and Ricotta Tart
Peas and Pea Shoots with Spring Onion and Mint
Spring Peas with Mint
Spring Vegetable Stir Fry
New Potatoes with Spring Peas
Sweet Peas with Prosciutto, Piselli and Mint
Vegetarian Sugar Snap and Snow Pea Stir Fry
Sugar Snap Peas with Soffrito, Hot Pepper and Mint
Lemon Herb Quinoa with Hemp Seeds, Spring Peas and Basil
Three Peas with Barley, Chili and Garlic
Farro with Fresh Corn and Sugar Snap Peas
Risi e Bisi
Spring Pad Thai with Green Garlic, Asparagus and Peas
Fettuccine with Peas, Asparagus and Pancetta
Pasta with English Peas and Morels
Tagliatelle with Leeks and Peas
Pasta with Prosciutto, Snap Peas, Mint and Cream
Shellfish and Chicken Paella with Saffron Rice and Fresh Green Peas
Sautéed Cod and Pea Cream
Stir Fried Shrimp with Sugar Snap Peas and Mushrooms
Stir Fried Chicken with Sugar Snap Peas and Lemon
Parchment Baked Chicken with New Potatoes, Peas and Tarragon
Veal Stir Fry with Snow Peas and Snow Pea Shoots

To Use

Every detail of this Hammered Round-Bottom

Wok is faithful to its traditional Chinese origins, from its carbon steel construction to its hand-hammered design. Its fast-heating cooking surface is great for stir frying, deep frying, steaming and more. Each one is hammered by hand—no two are exactly alike. Traditional carbon steel construction disperses heat evenly and quickly. Gradually sloping sides ensure food stays directly over heat source and facilitates tossing. Wooden stick handle stays cool to the touch. Includes a ring for use on conventional stovetops. (Williams-Sonoma, $34.95)