A Passion for Peas


Spring is pea season, when grocery stores and farmers markets sell seasonal sugar snap, snow, and English peas. Sweet and mild, it's hard to imagine anyone not loving peas. But in the 1950s, when canned peas regularly showed up at lunch and dinner, the little green orbs got a bad rap. The faded, starchy canned peas bore little resemblance to the sweet garden peas gardeners and cooks love. Canned peas were once so common, many people grew up with no memory of fresh peas.

Fresh peas have been popular for decades. With ancient origins, the earliest evidence of peas comes from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dried peas were also found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Dried peas were the only type eaten until the 16th century, when the sweeter pea was introduced. Fresh peas quickly became popular. Early explorers brought peas to the New World and fresh peas' popularity has not diminished today.

Frozen peas can stand in for fresh in the off-season. Use fresh peas or cooked, though snow peas are improved with blanching. Peas also make great freezer staples.


When selecting peas, choose crisp, green pods and tender young vines for pea shoots or vines. Peas lose sweetness quickly, so use all varieties of fresh peas within a day or two of purchase. For sugar snap or English peas, look for thick, medium-sized pods. Oversized fresh pea pods with large peas could be old with starchy peas inside.

Look for bright green specimens. Stay away from cracked, wilted or yellowish pods as these indicate old age. Remove tips and strings from sugar snap and snow peas and shuck or remove the pods for English peas.

When peas meet with acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon, or salt, they can lose color. Keep cooking to a minimum and enjoy fresh peas.


Featured in Asian cuisines, pea shoots are also called vines. Thin, tender stems that include the leafy tips, pea vines grow close to pea pods. Look for shoots early in the spring. Make sure the stems are young and thin. Trim the stem end 1 - 2 inches. When vines age, the stems toughen, so test them before using them.

To prepare pea shoots, blanch them first (especially if they are tough): Drop in a pot of boiling water and cook for one minute. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. When cooking pea shoots, cook them quickly, like spinach.


Also known as garden or shell peas, English peas are picked when the pods are slightly immature, and so the peas inside are sweet. Fresh is best, so getting them from the garden or farmers market is the best option because as peas age, their sweetness fades. Frozen peas have been picked and frozen at the peak of ripening and still retain a hint of sweetness. Cook English peas for just a minute or two. Fresh peas take a little longer.


The almost flat members of the pea family, snow peas were enjoyed in the Mediterranean and Europe long before they were imported to China. Snow peas were cultivated as early as 1597 in Holland and are now the most common pea eaten in China. The flavor is mild, and like sugar snap peas retains a crunch when cooked. Snow peas may also be available frozen.

Snow peas can be cut into thin strips raw and used in a slaw. Blanched, snow peas look stunning when paired with carrots or red peppers. Three to five minutes is sufficient for steaming or braising.


A hybrid cross between English peas and snow peas, sugar snap peas were developed in the 1700s. Like their pea cousins, fresh is best. You can also find frozen sugar snap peas, but the texture won't be quite the same. To prepare a fresh sugar snap, pinch one end and pull the string off. If you don't, they could be tough.

Sugar snap peas make great dippers but they were made for stir-fry. These crunchy peas take between 3 - 5 minutes to cook. Do not overcook sugar snap peas. Stir-fry is the fastest cooking method. Blanching in a large pot of boiling water takes between 60 to 90 seconds.

Peas might not change your life, but sweet garden peas bring life to menus everywhere in the spring.

Braised Pea Shoots

(Serves 4)

With the subtle flavor of peas, this easy side dish goes well with whole grains, tacos, tostadas, potato dishes, and casseroles. The secret to great braised pea shoots is to use young pea vines.

  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 bunch pea shoots, washed, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 - 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • Lite soy sauce or tamari and reshly ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a skillet; add garlic. Stir and cook until garlic is lightly browned, then add pea shoots and water. Cover and cook on low until shoots wilt. Stir in lemon juice. Add soy sauce or tamari. Sprinkle with fresh pepper.

Total calories per serving: 66 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 1 milligram Fiber: 2 grams

Pea Shoots and Quinoa

(Serves 4-6)

This dish is best eaten the first day because the peas fade. It can be a full meal. Serve with a salad and corn tortillas.

  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • ½ cup corn, fresh or frozen and thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped shallots or onions
  • 3 cups pea shoots, washed and roughly cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add salt to 1 ¾ cups water and bring to a boil. Add garlic powder, quinoa, and corn; reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the quinoa absorbs the water. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add oil and shallots or onions. Stir and cook until the shallots or onions begin to brown. Reduce heat and add pea shoots, stir and add balsamic vinegar and 1 Tablespoon water. Cover and simmer for a few minutes. Stir in the quinoa and corn. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 301 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 52 grams Protein: 9 grams
Sodium: 165 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Minted Sugar Snap Peas with Peppers and Leeks

(Serves 4)

This easy recipe makes a perfect complement to a whole grain pilaf or veggie burgers, or serve rolled into tortillas.

  • 16 ounces fresh sugar snap peas, washed and strings removed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 leek, washed and sliced
  • ½ red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider or water
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add sugar snap peas. Blanch for 1 ½ minutes. Do not overcook. Drain, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Place oil in a heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add leeks, red pepper, and apple cider or water. Stir and cook until leeks begin to caramelize and peppers soften.

Add blanched sugar snap peas and stir until the peas cook to desired texture, 2 - 3 minutes. Stir in fresh mint and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 100 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 10 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

English Pea Guacamole

(Makes about 1 cup; serves 6)

Serve this unique dip with tortilla chips or vegetable sticks, including sugar snap peas. You can also put a dollop of this guacamole on tacos or veggie tostadas.

  • 1 ½ cups English peas, fresh (steamed lightly), or frozen (thawed)
  • 2 - 3 garlic cloves, pressed, or ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoons salsa
  • ½ teaspoon lime zest (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped avocado
  • ½ cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • Pepper and salt to taste
  • Water, as needed to thin

Combine peas, garlic, lime juice, salsa, lime zest, avocado, and cilantro (reserve a few leaves of cilantro for garnish) in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add pepper and salt to taste and thin to desired consistency with water. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Total calories per serving: 54 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 37 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Sesame-Ginger Snow Peas

(Serves 4)

Ginger and toasted sesame oil complement the peas in this recipe. Blanch the peas a day ahead for a shorter route to dinner. Lemon, salt, and pepper balance the flavors. Try serving this with sautéed tofu and rice.

  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • 2 cups snow peas, tips and strings removed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup green or spring onions, sliced or diced
  • 1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toast sesame seeds by first rinsing the raw seeds under cool water. Drain, and dry roast in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 7 minutes, or until they smell fragrant. Set aside for garnish.

Wash and string snow peas. Gently steam or blanch and set aside. Heat a skillet over medium heat, and when hot, add olive oil and onions. Cook until translucent. Add ginger, sesame oil, and lemon juice, and then mix in salt and pepper to taste. Add blanched snow peas. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Total calories per serving: 52 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 4 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 2 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Snow Pea Slaw with Red Peppers

(Serves 4-6)

Snow peas add color, texture, and variety to this coleslaw. Serve this versatile salad at picnics with veggie burgers or with pasta dinners.

  • 2 cups snow peas (tops and strings removed)
  • 3 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons ketchup
  • 3 - 4 Tablespoons rice or berry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • ½ red pepper, seeds removed and thinly sliced

Blanch the snow peas for about 2 minutes. They will be bright green and slightly crunchy. Rinse with cold water, then slice into thin strips and set aside.

Combine the dressing ingredients: vegan mayonnaise, ketchup, vinegar, and dill. Blend well. If desired, add salt and pepper to taste.

Combine snow peas, cabbage and red pepper in a salad bowl. Gently toss the dressing with the vegetables, blending well, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 66 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 6 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 123 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Mac and Peas

(Serves 4)

Cashew butter and cauliflower pair up in an amazing way for a savory Parmesan cheese flavor. This recipe is also good with chopped spinach, shredded carrots, or marinated tofu, stirred in right before serving.

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted cashew butter
  • 1 cup cooked cauliflower, plus liquid as needed
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ Tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper or cayenne
  • 1 ½ cups dry macaroni or shell pasta
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 cup diced onions or shallots
  • 1 cup diced green or red pepper
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen garden peas

Combine cashew butter, cauliflower, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, turmeric, garlic powder, salt, and pepper or cayenne in a food processor or mixer and blend until smooth and creamy. (A small processor works best for this.) If the mixture is on the thick side, add water to thin a little, to the consistency of thick dressing. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat a skillet over medium heat and add oil, onions or shallots, and peppers. Stir and cook until onions or shallots are soft and peppers are tender. Add the peas and cook a few minutes or just until tender.

When pasta is done, drain, and blend with the sauce and vegetables and serve.

Total calories per serving: 291 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 158 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Penne Pasta, Sugar Snap Peas, and Tomatoes

(Serves 6)

This can be served warm or cold. Remember to remove the strings on the peas before cooking. The shiitake mushrooms are dry-fried to add a meaty texture. (See photo on front cover of this issue.)

  • 2 cups penne pasta
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed
  • 1 large red pepper, stem removed, seeded and diced
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas, strings removed
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup sliced green onions
  • ¼ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Prepare the vegetables while the water boils.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and dry-fry, stirring until mushrooms become soft. Add red pepper and canola oil. Stir and cook until peppers soften. Add sugar snap peas, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until peas are tender. Stir in garlic powder, green onions, and Kalamata olives. Toss with pasta.

Transfer to a serving bowl and gently blend in tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Total calories per serving: 213 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 60 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Debra Daniels-Zeller is a regular contributor to Vegetarian Journal. She also writes a blog at http://foodconnections.blogspot.com/