Garden, Sugar Snap or Snow Peas?

Which Pea to Pick?

Peas are one of the earliest crops to mature in the springtime, and they can be used in all kinds of dishes.  In fact, you can eat some of them right off the vine!  Usually, the biggest decision is just what type of pea to use: garden peas, sugar snap peas or snow peas? Let’s take a look at each…

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Fresh garden peas on the vine

When most people think of peas, they think of those pictures here—garden peas.  Note that they are also called English peas, shelling peas, standard peas or common peas—sheesh!  But there are two things that definitely separate them from the other two types.  First of all, garden peas do not have an edible pod, and that is why we shell them. And secondly, we wait until the seeds, or the actual peas, are fully plumped up and mature before we eat them.  Garden peas add color, texture and valuable fiber to meals.  Just pop them out of the pods and cook in a little salted boiling water until tender—about 3-4 minutes.  But one must remember that garden peas vary enormously in size and the time they take to cook—so, large, older peas may take 10-20 minutes to cook!  In any case, these small green balls make a delicious accompaniment to any spring meal, not to mention, a lovely, delicate soup (my recipe follows) which really lets the flavor of the peas sing out.

Fresh sugar snap peas

At first glance, sugar snap peas look like garden peas. However, the pods of sugar snap peas are more curved than garden peas and a bit glossier in color.  Like garden peas, the seeds are allowed to plump a bit, but the pods are crisp and edible.  Sugar snap peas are actually a cross between the garden pea and the snow pea.  Sugar snaps as they are often called, add lots of fiber to the diet and are wonderful steamed, added to stir-fries or roasted with just a light coating of olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper.

Snow peas on the vine

The easiest way to recognize snow peas? Their pods are almost flat.  When hanging from the vine, ripe snow peas are nearly translucent and you can see the peas inside.  The peas themselves are not allowed to mature and these peas are grown solely for their whole pods. Sweet and delicate, snow peas take maybe a minute to steam—just until tender-crisp.  Added at the very end of cooking, snow peas add a beautiful splash of color and fiber to any dish.

It is almost mid-June here in Pennsylvania where I live, and within another week or so, garden peas will hit the farmer’s markets.  I am including my recipe for fresh pea soup, featuring garden, or English peas.  Along with a handful of fresh spinach and fresh herbs like mint, basil or tarragon, this soup is sure to become part of your repertoire —it is creamless and vegan.  However, a splash of heavy cream can be stirred into each bowl upon serving, and feel free to substitute chicken stock for the vegetable stock in the cooking process—what I want is for you to be inspired.  Follow all or just some of my recipe—and remember, you are only as limited as your imagination! 

The days are getting hotter now, and a nice chilled soup makes a wonderful first course or light lunch, especially when served with fresh fruit on the side.

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD:  Chilled English Pea Soup

Chilled English Pea Soup
Makes 4-6 servings

This is a very light and delicate soup which lets the flavor of the fresh peas sing out.  And although it is wonderful cold, this soup is also very good hot.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped or 6 chopped spring onions, including some of the greens
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
4 cups shucked English peas
6 leaves each:  fresh mint and basil
1 cup fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
2 slices bread French or Italian bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra basil and mint for serving

In a deep saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic; gently saute just until the vegetables start to sweat, about 3 minutes; add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. 

Stir in the peas, basil and mint leaves, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer  about 4 minutes, or just until the peas are tender.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the spinach and pieces of bread.  Carefully ladle the soup into a blender or food processor and pulse just until smooth, or if you like, leave it a bit chunky; check the seasonings, and add salt and black pepper to taste. 

Pour the soup into a large bowl and refrigerate at least 4 hours.  Serve portions chilled garnished with sprigs of fresh mint or basil—or both!


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