Peas in a Pod

I was making a delightful pea salad the other day that contained three types of peas along with arugula. I also added some of my husband’s micro pea greens, which made it even better. With spring coming and the memory of this salad, I thought the subject of peas might make an interesting Cooking Tip.

A pea pod is actually a fruit and the peas inside are seeds. Some of the pods are edible, while others aren’t due to the fibrous and tough nature. There are three types of peas that you are most likely to find in your supermarket: English peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas.

When you say peas, most people will think of English or garden peas. These are the ones we find in the freezer section. Supermarkets rarely carry the whole, fresh pods as customers really do not want to shell them. They would rather have someone else do that for them. They must be shelled as the pods are too tough to digest.

If you are a gardener, there are many varieties (or cultivars) of garden peas that you can plant. In the store, though, the particular variety will not be listed.

Snow peas are also known as Chinese pea pods. They are flat and the pods are edible. The seeds inside are not allowed to plump out before harvesting. They can be eaten raw or briefly cooked. Just as with garden peas, there are a number of cultivars that can be grown.

Sugar snap peas are a cross between English peas and snow peas. Once you remove the strings, the entire pod is edible either raw or after blanching. The pods are sweeter and rounder than snow pea pods

Another word you will see on some packages of peas is “petite” or in the French, petit pois. As the name implies, they are smaller but they are also more tender and sweeter in flavor. This is my preferred variety.

In my local supermarket right now, I can buy fresh snow peas and fresh sugar snap peas. The only garden peas to be found are frozen. This is not a bad thing, though, as frozen vegetables are picked at the height of ripeness and quickly frozen to preserve their flavor and nutrient level. I think frozen vegetables are a great item to keep on hand and are not necessarily inferior to fresh varieties, especially out of season.

Peas are very easy to prepare. They can be boiled, steamed, stir fried, or microwaved. They can be added to foods such as salads, omelets, quiches and savory pies. They only require a brief cooking time and can even be eaten raw. Try not to over-cook them. One exception might be if you are making the very British dish – Mushy Peas. Although you can make mushy peas from garden peas, they are traditionally made from a variety called marrowfat peas, a large, starchy and mature pea that is left to dry outside in the field.

Are you a lover or hater of peas? If the latter, could it be you have only had inferior and over-cooked peas? I encourage to try some wonderful and tasty peas cooked to perfection. They are one of my favorite side dishes and are especially nice when the different varieties are combined in the same dish. Spring is coming. Enjoy the produce!