Native to southwest Asia, peas were first gathered wild in the spring when fresh and tender, as well as later in the year once they had dried on the vine. In much the same way today, we eat plump, round garden peas both dried in soups and stews, and fresh in preparations from salads to pastas. Early spring garden peas are sweetest just-picked. These peas are hulled from their fibrous shells before eating. Snap peas and snow peas, which comprise a category called "sugar peas," are eaten shell and all. Snap peas come in crisp, curved pods that are low in fiber and high in natural sugars. Snow peas' flat, tender pods are harvested before the peas within have had time to mature. Though both varieties can eaten raw, cooking them briefly brings out their sweetness. Other parts of the pea plant are edible, too. The young vines of pea plants, called pea greens or pea shoots, have a sweet, grassy flavor that makes them terrific as a garnish. Pea sprouts (shown), the first shoots sent out by pea seeds, add vegetal crunch to sandwiches and salads.
HOW TO BUY
Look for firm, green pods avoiding any that are discolored or wilting. Go for medium pods rather than large, thick-skinned ones, which are more mature and contain larger, tougher peas. Pea shoots are available for a short window in early spring, so grab them when you see them.
HOW TO STORE
Once picked, peas’ high sugar content starts to decline, causing them to lose much of their sweetness and become starchy and dull, so it’s best to eat them within a couple of days of purchase. In the meantime, store pods and shoots separately in a perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer.
HOW TO PREPARE
Snap the stem end, then pull along the length of the pod to open the seam, remove the peas, and discard the pod. Snow peas and sugar snap peas can be eaten raw, shells and all. Fresh shelled peas only need to be cooked briefly—just 1–2 minutes.