Pea Soup, Pea Salad and Other Ways to Use Peas and Pea Shoots
Peas are sweet and spunky, and you can eat every part of the plant, tasting that essential pea flavor in everything from the sprouts to the flowers. Whole plant harvesting is also good news for farmers, who can bring the shoots, tendrils and fully-grown pea pods to market to make the most from their crop. You can make like a farmer and take advantage of all of the parts of the pea plant, too. Here’s how to do it:
Shopping for Pea Sprouts, Tendrils and Peas in the Pod
The first stage of the pea’s growth cycle is the sprout; after soaking the seeds for two to three days, short roots will “sprout.” Pea sprouts are grown year-round, often in greenhouses, which means you can enjoy the bright crunch of pea flavor year-round. It’s easy to sprout dried peas at home; when shopping for sprouted peas look for vivid green color and smooth leaves.
After two to four weeks (mid Spring in most areas), the pea’s leaves and their curly tendrils are harvested. You’ll most likely see pea tendrils at farmers’ markets, Chinese markets or specialty grocers; look for bright green, lush leaves and pass on wilted greens. If you plan to eat them raw, choose younger tendrils (or harvest them young and tender). Older, more mature tendrils will have thicker stems and larger leaves and are better suited for sautéing or braising.
(JSYK: the term pea “shoot” is confusingly often used for both sprouts and tendrils. However, sprouts are much younger and smaller, while tendrils and longer and more flowery. Occasionally, you’ll see an option in between this size, sold as shoots.)
Depending on your location, peas in the pod (also called English peas or garden peas), snow peas and sugar snap peas will show up at markets in May. The pods should be firm, vibrant green and free of any brown or wilted spots. Choose medium-size pods over large, thick-skinned ones.
Be aware that both frozen peas and snap peas rank high on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce because most conventionally farmed peas are grown with a large amount of pesticides. Purchasing fresh peas in the pod, sugar snap peas or snow peas from a local farmer who can explain their growing practices is your best bet if pesticides are a concern.
Pea sprouts are very delicate and it’s best to use them as soon as possible. Keep them in the container they came in — often a plastic tray with an absorbent pad — and use within one to two days. Pea tendrils are also quite delicate; wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel, store in an open bag, refrigerated, and use within a few days.
Pea pods are a bit hardier, and can last about five days, stored in a brown paper bag in the crisper drawer. If they start to wilt, perk up snow peas and sugar snap peas with a quick blanch and ice bath.
Uses for Pea Sprouts
There was a time that the avocado-bean sprout sandwich was synonymous with unpopular “hippie” food, but these days, sprouts (and most of the classic “hippie” foods) are all the rage. Pea sprouts have a nice crisp crunch and the slightly sweet flavor of peas. Because of their small size, they are great mixed into salsas or chunky dips, can be stirred into veggie patties or chicken/tuna/potato salads and make an excellent addition to wraps and spring rolls.
Keep in mind that pea sprouts have a super short shelf life — use within one to two days please! They can be pickled or turned into pesto (which can then be kept in the freezer) to help keep them out of the trash.
Uses for Pea Tendrils
Snow peas, sugar snap peas, and English peas all send up climbing vines that are as tasty as the peas themselves. Pea tendrils are hugely popular in Asian cuisine and the UK, where the temperate climate lends itself to copious pea production. They are so delicious that home gardeners often plant a separate crop just for the tendrils. Apartment dwellers take heart; peas make easy container crops and can even be grown indoors for a near constant supply of greens.
Pea greens have a slightly sweet, bright green flavor that is great for an array of recipes. Their delicate, crisp texture works well as an addition to salads, as a sandwich topper and as a pretty garnish for just about any dish. They can be used interchangeably in recipes calling for baby spinach or watercress, including stir fries, pasta and simple sides. If you don’t manage to use pea tendrils quickly enough — they do wilt fast! — you can mix them into veggie patties, toss them in the food processor for pesto or puree them into soup, as long as they aren’t too brown. Pea tendrils that have turned brown and very limp should head to the compost bin, unfortunately.
Uses for Pea Flowers
Added bonus: you can also eat pea flowers, also called pea blossoms. They look so pretty in salads, add a lovely garnish to baked goods and can be frozen in ice cubes for a floral touch to cold drinks (also a great way to preserve them). One downside? Snipping the flowers will reduce your pod harvest, so plant extra to accommodate for your blossom pinching ways. If you’re not growing your own, you can find them at the farmers’ market, where they are sometimes sold still attached to the tendril, or separately as well.
Uses for Peas in the Pod, Sugar Snap Peas and Snow Peas
The great thing about all three types of whole peas is that they can be eaten raw, which makes using them quickly even easier. Thinly sliced or chopped sugar snap peas and snow peas, along with shelled fresh green peas, all make great additions to the salad, pasta or grain bowl. Cooked, sugar snap peas and snow peas are commonly used in stir-fry and for quick vegetable roasts, thanks to their fast cooking time. Shelled green peas are iconic in pea soup; perfect with butter, leeks and mint; and star in a classic potluck salad.
If you can’t use your peas in a few days time, the easiest way to extend their life is by freezing them. Blanch shelled peas or whole sugar snap peas or snow peas, chill in an ice bath and freeze. You can also pickle or dehydrate them — both make perfect salad toppings or snacks! Uses for Pea Pods
When we say the entire vegetable is edible, we mean it, pods included! Just like you can snack on whole snow peas and sugar snap peas, garden pea pods, particularly the young, tender pods, can also be eaten. But they do take a little extra prep: not only do you need to remove the string along the seam of the pod (which is necessary to shell the peas) but you’ll also need to use a pairing knife to strip out the white fibrous inner pod lining (which is tough to chew). Enjoy the fruit of that hard work by tossing them raw in salads, stuffing them with flavored cream cheese for a cocktail nibble or sautéing them with garlic and olive oil.
Too much trouble? You still don’t have to pitch your garden pea pods. Instead, blanch and blend the pods into pea puree, which you can use to make soup, add flavor to sauce or pasta or for a nifty spring cocktail.
Recipe: Creamy Peas with Bacon and Lemon
Sherri Brooks Vinton
You can use this recipe whether you are cooking up the tendrils and shoots, pea-filled pods of sugar snaps or snow peas or prepped pods of English peas. It has a balance of rich and bright flavors that I think works perfectly with the sunnier but often chilly days of the season. The bacon brings the bass note but if you don’t dig the pig, you can leave it out and just add a little butter or neutral oil to the pan to get yourself going. Lemon keeps it zippy and the cream ties the two together. It’s pea-rfect (sorry, couldn’t resist)!
4 strips bacon (about 4 ounces)
1 small onion, diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sugar snap peas or snow peas, trimmed, strings removed and halved crosswise (about 3 cups); or pods from 1 pound young garden peas, inner lining removed, blanched and diced (about 3 cups); or 2 cups shelled garden peas; or 4 cups pea tendrils, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
- In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp, turning occasionally, 10-12 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels, reserving bacon fat in pan. Let bacon cool, then crumble.
- Reheat skillet over medium. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until translucent, 3-5 minutes.
- Add pea parts and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes for sugar snap peas, snow peas or garden pea pods; about 3 minutes for shelled peas; and 1-2 minutes for shoots and tendrils. Transfer to plate with bacon crumbles.
- Pour wine into hot skillet and cook over medium until reduced to a syrup, about 3 minutes. Whisk in cream, lemon juice and zest and cook over medium until slightly reduced and thickened, 2-3 minutes.
- Return bacon and peas to skillet. Toss to combine and warm through. Serve immediately.