Forget about field peas – try snow, English peas

Published 7:37 pm Friday, May 15, 2009

When you mention peas in the South people usually think of field peas which thrive in our hot summers. I talked about English peas which thrive in a cooler clime a couple of weeks ago. Edible-podded peas are also a cool season vegetable. And they eliminate the task of shelling peas. The Chinese have been eating snow peas for a long time and the Chinese restaurant seems to be our introduction to edible-podded peas. I found one source, Rosalind Creasy, in Cooking from the Garden, state that in the 1800’s there was a thick-walled edible pea, called the ‘Butter Pea’; it never caught on and became extinct. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange notes that although edible-podded peas can be found in old seed catalogs; a new class of peas was developed by Dr. Calvin Lamborn of Idaho at the Gallatin Valley Seed Co. by breeding the snow pea Mammoth Melting Sugar with a chance mutant of a popular freezing pea called Dark Skinned Perfection. Snap peas more than double the amount of food produced by a crop of peas. Nowadays home gardeners seem to grow this variety more than any other.

Creasy notes the edible-podded peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) include snow peas and sugar snap peas.

Snow peas are paler, longer and flatter than sugar snaps. Snow peas can be found mostly in Chinese cooking but other edible-podded peas can be interchanged in recipes.

English peas take so well to freezing that only about 5 percent of the nation’s pea crop is sold fresh. Edible-podded peas can be frozen but I think are definitely better fresh. They are not readily found in the markets and on a recent visit to a farmer’s market as well as to the super market I found none. I have seen them at Wal-Mart but they are expensive. They are easy to grow. Plant them early and they can be planted thickly. I prefer not to grow the bush variety and even they benefit from some support. The Chinese eat the pea tendrils but they are very expensive (they are very perishable and take a lot to make a mess.) If you are growing your own peas then you might want to try the tendrils—stir fry them very quickly in a little oil and garlic with some hot pepper.

Edible-podded peas like a lot of things are great just sautéed in butter briefly or steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper. We have so many peas right now I like to try some different things.

One of my favorites is a recipe I gave you two years ago. It is a great dish to take to covered-dish gatherings. I decorate it with nasturtium blooms since I have them this time of year also. You have to reassure some diners that they are edible too. I took the dish to church last week. The rector loved it and wanted to take the leftovers home but he needed a little prodding to eat the flowers.

Rice Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Mint and Lime

6 servings

Bring to a boil in a small saucepan 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt.

Stir in 1 ½ cups rice, reduce heat to low, cover 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, fluff with fork and cool completely in a large bowl.

Cook in boiling salted water, 2 cups sugar snap peas, for one minute. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Mix into rice:

½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

½ cup chopped green onions

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons julienned peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon sugar

Cooked sugar snap peas

Salt and pepper to taste

Since I love Indian cooking I like the idea of combining sugar snaps with some Indian spices. I tried this last week and it was very good.

Sugar Snap Peas with Cumin and Thyme

Serves 4

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds

½ teaspoon whole brown or yellow mustard seeds

¼ pound fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed

¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme

Generous pinch of cayenne (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Put the oil in a large frying pan or wok and set over medium heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, a matter of seconds, remove from the heat. When the oil has cooled to medium, put the pan back on medium heat and put in the peas. Stir briskly a few times. Now quickly put in the salt, thyme, and 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer. Cover quickly, turn the heat down to low, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the peas are almost done. Uncover and add the cayenne, black pepper to taste, and lemon juice. Turn the heat to high and quickly boil away all the liquid in the pan as you stir gently to mix the seasonings. Serve immediately.

The June issue of Bon Appétit has several recipes for snow peas. This one is great to take on a picnic since it will serve a lot.

Caesar Potato Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

1 ½ pounds unpeeled assorted fingerling potatoes or baby potatoes (such as white-skinned, red-skinned, and purple), cut crosswise into ½ -inch thick slices

8 ounces trimmed sugar snap peas

1 bunch radishes, trimmed, sliced

½ small red onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, pressed

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Steam potatoes on steamer rack set in large pot over boiling water until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add sugar snap peas and steam until peas are crisp-tender and potatoes are just tender, about 1 minute longer. Transfer vegetables to large bowl. Cool slightly. Add radishes and onion.

Whisk the next 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Whisk in Parmesan. Season dressing with salt and generous amount of pepper. Add dressing to potato mixture; toss to coat.

Season with more salt and pepper if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.