After a few false starts, it appears that spring may actually have arrived in Michigan! I say that as today’s temperature hovers around the 40 degree mark and it appears that the rain has no intention of ever letting up! My optimism stems, however, not only from the slowly rising temperatures, but also from the steadily increasing flow of fresh produce into local markets. A trip up the produce aisle now showcases a delightful spring bounty… asparagus, artichokes, heirloom lettuces…and peas, peas, and more peas, showing off their brilliant greens and falling prices!
Peas, including green peas that require shelling and edible-pod peas, like sugar snap and snow peas, are literally packed with nutrients that make them a valuable addition to a healthy eating plan. The nutrients in peas appear to help reduce the risk of certain cancers, depression, high cholesterol, and macular degeneration, just to name a few! So just what’s zipped inside those cute little pods?
Plant-based protein and plant-derived iron, especially important forÂ vegetarians.
B vitamins in abundance (B1, B2, B3, B6), essential for properÂ metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
Folate, an additional B vitamin thought to decrease the incidence of neural-tube birth defects, certain cancers, heart disease, and depression.
Carotenoid antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin which protect againstÂ free radical damage to cell structures and appear to play a role in preventionÂ of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Lysine, an essential amino acid (meaning the body cannot produce it; itÂ must come from food sources) that is a critical building block for proteinÂ and necessary for collagen synthesis and tissue repair.
Saponins, phytochemicals that may lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol.Â Saponins appear to bind to cholesterol in the digestive tract before it canÂ enter the bloodstream.
Vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps to protect against free radical damage.
If that’s not enough to convince you to dig in, how about the taste? In season, English peas, sugar snap peas, and snow peas are all incredibly sweet and crisp, with a flavor unlike any other vegetable (peas are actually legumes, but they are considered vegetables when sold fresh!). Not a big fan of the whole shelling concept? The good news is that frozen peas are often sweeter and finer in texture than fresh, since they are captured at the height of ripeness. Whether you choose fresh or frozen, remember that the Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and folate packed into peas is best preserved with quick steaming, stir frying, or microwaving. Frozen peas are best added to recipes without defrosting, since additional Vitamin C appears to be lost in the defrosting process. Check out the following recipes and see just how amazing peas can be!
Spring Minestrone (adapted from www.101cookbooks.com)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
Â¾ cup brown basmati rice, rinsed
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup sugar snap or snow peas, trimmed and up in half diagonally
8 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Â½ cup green peas, fresh or frozen
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, until soft. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer until rice is tender, about 35 minutes. Add snap peas, asparagus, and green peas, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for additional 2-3 minutes and serve immediately to preserve crispness of vegetables. Serves 4.
Or, in case you’re craving a creamier soup:
Fresh Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2010)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 2/3 cups chopped shallots (6 very large)
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups shelled fresh peas, or two 16-ounce bags frozen baby peas, unthawed
5 Â½ cups organic low-sodium chicken broth
Â¼ cup chopped fresh mint
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Saute until tender, about 7 minutes. Add peas and stir 1 minute. Add chicken broth and bring to simmer. Cook until peas are very tender, about 8 minutes. Cool about 15 minutes, add mint, and puree, either in batches in blender, or with immersion blender in pot. Thin with extra broth as desired. Can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Rewarm over medium-low heat, adding salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with additional mint. Serves 10.
If you’ve never shelled fresh peas before and want to give it a try, here’s a tip:
Cut off each end of the pod, pull the string if there is one, open the pod, and release the peas…it’s that simple! Not to mention kind of relaxing!
Fresh Pea Hummus (adapted from www.epicurious.com)
2 cups shelled fresh peas
Â¾ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and cooled
Â½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
1-2 cloves garlic
Â¼ cup well-stirred tahini
Â½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Â¼ teaspoon black pepper
Cook peas in saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 6 minutes or so. Drain and cool. Coarsely grind toasted cumin seeds in electric coffee/spice grinder or with mortar and pestle. Transfer to food processor. Add cilantro and garlic and finely chop. Add peas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and puree.
Serve with baked pita triangles or sugar snap peas for dipping.
1 cup fine or medium bulgur
8 asparagus spears, cut into 1/2 —inch segments
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with 2 big pinches or salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Chopped chives to taste
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (or 1 egg and 1 egg white)
Fill medium saucepan with water and bring to boil. Put bulgur in medium bowl, and add enough boiling water to reach the surface of the grains. Let stand for 15 minutes. Drain bulgur and press out any excess water. Toss with salt and set aside. Â Return saucepan to heat and bring remainder of water back to boil. Salt the water and cook asparagus and peas for about 20 seconds, just to brighten. Drain and run vegetables under cold water to stop from cooking further. Add vegetables to bulgur. For dressing, whisk garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil together and add salt if needed. Add chives and walnuts to bulgur mixture. Add dressing a bit at a time and adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish with chopped egg and serve. Serves 4-6.
The following recipe is my go to recipe for last minute guests or a quick spring dinner. I try to always have pesto frozen in small containers (homemade or store bought) that can be popped out at the last minute, defrosted and put to amazing use! Any shape of pasta will work, but shapes that hold sauce, such as penne or gemelli, are especially good.
Pasta with Pesto and Peas
1 pound whole wheat pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup frozen baby peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 cup pesto (store bought makes this recipe simple. I buy Costco brand but skim some of the oil off the top before dividing and freezing in small containers. You could also make homemade pesto and reduce the amount of oil in the recipe by a bit if you love the flavor of pesto but not all of the oil)
Â½ cup freshly grated high quality Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions (about 8-10 minutes for al dente). Drain and toss with olive oil to keep from sticking together. Mix pesto thoroughly into pasta. Gently mix in peas and pine nuts. Serve with Parmesan. Serves 10.
For a fun alternative, try this easy pea pesto:
1(10-ounce) package frozen peas
2 large cloves garlic
Â½ cup pine nuts
Â½ cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Â½ teaspoon salt
Â½ teaspoon pepper
Cook peas on stove or in microwave according to package directions. Drain well. With food processor running, drop in garlic and finely chop. Turn off and add peas, nuts, cheese, Â½ teaspoon salt, and Â½ teaspoon pepper. Process until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil, blending to incorporate. Mix into prepared pasta, with or without additional whole peas. Serve with extra Parmesan.
Chilled Soba With Tofu and Sugar Snap Peas (adapted from www.epicurious.com)
1 large dried shiitake mushroom
2 Â½ cups water
8 (1-inch) pieces kombu (dried kelp)
Â½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
Â¼ cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine…not rice vinegar!)
3 tablespoons ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 pound sugar snap peas, thinly sliced
10 ounces baby spinach
1 pound dried soba noodles
1 (14 —ounce) package silken tofu
1 cup scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
Simmer mushroom in water in small saucepan, covered, for 15 minutes. Add kombu and barely simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Strain through sieve into large glass measuring cup, pressing on and then discarding solids. Return 2 cups liquid (add water if necessary) to saucepan. Add soy sauce, mirin, ponzu, sugar, and Â¼ teaspoon salt and bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, stir in sesame oil, and cool in pan is a large bowl filled with ice. While sauce cools, blanch snap peas in unsalted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to large colander set in ice bath to stop cooking. Lift colander to drain. Transfer snap peas to bowl. Return water to boil. Blanch spinach until just wilted, about 30 seconds, then cool and drain same as snap peas. Squeeze out excess water and add to bowl with peas. Add noodles to boiling water and cook until tender. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water. Cool in ice bath until very cold. Drain well.
Carefully drain tofu and pat dry. Cut into 3/4 —inch cubes. Whisk sauce, then pour 1 Â½ cups sauce in large bowl. Add noodles, sugar snap peas, spinach, and half of scallions and toss to mix. Serve noodles in shallow bowls topped with tofu and garnished with ginger and remaining scallions. Drizzle each bowl with remaining sauce. Serves 6.
Paneer Curry with Peas (adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2010)
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1 pound paneer (mild Indian cheese), cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tablespoons usli ghee, divided (this is clarified butter, used frequently in Indian cooking. You can purchase ghee in the market or make your own)
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 serrano chile, minced with seeds (take out some or all seeds for milder dish)
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
Â½ cup water
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 Â½ cup shelled fresh or frozen peas, thawed
1 teaspoon garam masala (an Indian spice mix available in most markets)
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Place flour in medium bowl. Add paneer to bowl; toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Shake excess flour from paneer; add to skillet and cook, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside. Place onions in processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not watery. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons ghee in same skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and stir until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add chopped onion and cook until beginning to brown, stirring often. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, coriander, and minced Serrano chile. Stir 1 minute then add crushed tomatoes with liquid, Â½ cup water, and turmeric. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer until mixture thickens slightly and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add peas and cooked paneer and gently fold to incorporate evenly. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, gently folding a few times to distribute ingredients and heat through. Fold in garam masala and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice. Makes 6 servings.
Happy experimenting!! Feel free to write with any questions or comments!!