Spring peas offer a natural ‘fast food’

BLACKSBURG—Spring pea varieties—garden, snow or sugar snap—are packing pods of nutrients.

“Peas are one of the best ‘fast foods,’ naturally packaged in a little green pod,” said Dr. Elena Serrano, associate professor and a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist in human nutrition, foods and exercise at Virginia Tech. “Peas are one of those foods that taste best in season and make spring eating that much better.”

Garden peas need to be shelled before eating, but snow and snap peas have edible pods. One cup of cooked green peas has about 130 calories, contains 51 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K, almost 38 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin C and 27 percent of the daily amount of vitamin B1.

Garden peas are available from spring through the beginning of winter, while sugar snap peas have limited availability from late spring through early summer.

“Sugar snap peas can really jazz up salads and stir-fry dishes. Additionally, they are great to serve with low-fat dips as a healthy appetizer or tailgate food,” Serrano said.

All varieties are sold both fresh and frozen. A 10-ounce package of frozen peas equals 1½ pounds of fresh peas in the pod.

To retain their nutritional value, rinse fresh peas but don’t soak them, Serrano said. They can be steamed, boiled or sautéed. Peas lose their flavor if they’re overcooked, so cook them just long enough to soften them—usually just a couple of minutes.

“I like to add peas to pasta and rice dishes for color and added nutrients,” Serrano said. 
The following recipe from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources features fresh peas as its main ingredient.

Minted Spring Pea Salad

2½ cups fresh green peas, shelled
1 small shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small leek, cleaned and thinly sliced (white part only)
½ cup shredded fresh mint leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour the peas into the water, and cook for no more than 2 minutes. Drain, and immediately plunge the peas into a bowl of ice water. Drain and pat dry with a towel. Puree ½ cup of the peas in a blender or food processor.
Place the whole cooked peas, pea puree, shallot and leek in a medium, nonreactive bowl, and toss gently to combine.
Add the lemon zest and juice, olive oil and mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss gently until the vegetables are coated.

Contact Kathy Dixon, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1137.

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