Eat Local! Peas
April 1, 2018
With spring just around the corner and flowers starting to bloom, spring peas are the perfect addition to your cooking and dining repertoire. Sweet and bright, peas provide fiber and a cheap source of protein. 1 cup of raw green peas contains approximately 100 calories, 6-8 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of protein. Furthermore, peas are a member of the legume family, heralded as a low environmental impact food crop. Adapted to dry and harsh climates, peas have a low water footprint and improve soil health by increasing organic matter and aeration in the soil. Furthermore, peas, among other legumes, have the ability to “fix” nitrogen in the soil by incorporating nitrous oxide from the atmosphere (a powerful greenhouse gas) into the soil and thus requiring less use of chemical fertilizers.
Peas have been around since the birth of civilization; in fact, historians believe that peas were one of the earliest food crops cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, or what is now part of the Middle East. According to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Greeks and Romans were widely cultivating dried peas by the 5th century B.C. and selling hot pea soup on the streets of Athens. In the middle Ages, dried peas could be stored for months and provided protein and a filling meal during the harsh winter months for the poor. By the 1600s, peas had made their way to Canada by French explorers, where French Canadian pea soup was popularized. It wasn’t until the 1700s that fresh garden peas became more available and commonly consumed.
There are many different varieties of peas, but the ones you may be most familiar with are garden peas, also known as English peas. Garden peas feature a slightly rounded, firm pod and contain plump, sweet peas inside. The peas must be shelled prior to eating as the pod is inedible (unless you want to purchase frozen shelled peas). Garden peas, although sometimes informally referred to as “sweet” peas, are not synonymous with sweet peas, as the latter is a popular fragrant flowering plant that is not suitable for human consumption. Snow peas are flat pea pods often featured in Asian cuisine such as stir fries, and can be eaten whole. Sugar snap peas are also very popular as a snack or tossed in salads for their sweet flavor and crunchy texture, and are somewhat of a cross between English/garden peas and snow peas.
Dried peas are great for soups, but fresh peas are incredibly versatile and can be added to salads with radishes and leafy greens, pasta dishes with lemon and white sauces, potato salad or chicken salad, and are a nice accompaniment to pork dishes and bacon.
Try this light and simple salad recipe from Cooking Light Magazine: (Note: This simple salad boasts plenty of early summer flavor. You can substitute crumbled feta cheese for the pecorino. If you can’t find fresh peas, use frozen thawed petite green peas.)
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup shelled green peas (about 1 pound unshelled)
- 6 cups trimmed arugula
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved fresh pecorino Romano cheese
Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add peas; cook 1 minute. Drain and plunge peas into ice water; drain.
Combine peas, arugula, and mint in a large bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss well. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.
Article by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Registered Dietitian and freelance nutrition writer based in Coeur d’Alene, ID. She maintains a health blog at www.plantasticeating.com