Though they may look unassuming, there’s nothing humble about tender, succulent peas plucked from the garden. Cloaked in deceptively ordinary looking pods, peas are bursting with sweet flavor and pack a snappy punch of vitamins and minerals. In fact, fresh peas are a nutrient-rich superfood considered to be beneficial for health and well-being. This year, consider starting a tradition of springtime “foraging” for new peas at your farmers market or a supermarket that carries a variety of local, seasonal produce.
Not Your School Lunch Lady’s Peas
Don’t let the mealy, overcooked peas doled out in the cafeteria deter you from trying emerald green garden peas. Always cook them gently to retain their color, nutrients, and delicate texture. Steaming ensures the maximum amount of nutrition. Bring an inch of water to boil in a saucepan and lower in a steaming basket. Carefully add fresh peas to the steamer basket and cover tightly with a lid. Fresh peas will steam in about two minutes.
Peas in History
The pea is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. They were found in excavations in Switzerland dating to the Bronze Age, and even in an Egyptian tomb at Thebes.
Originally grown for their dry seeds, for centuries people thought “green” peas were poisonous! Fresh-shelled green peas are not mentioned in history until after the Norman Conquest of England.
In 1602, the Mayflower Colony logbook notes that peas planted by Captain Gosnold produced respectable yields on the island of Cuttyhunk. Captain John Smith wrote of the abundant crop of peas the Jamestown colonists enjoyed in 1614.
Fresh Peas with Butter Lettuce and Green Garlic
Bring the essence of spring to your table! Serves four.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 5 small stalks green garlic, thinly sliced, or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (Green garlic is a culinary treat that can usually be found in farmers markets, March through May. Use baby leeks as a substitute.)
- Sea salt, to taste
- 1½ cups fresh green peas
- 2 small heads butter lettuce (about 6 ounces), washed, cored, and torn into large pieces
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat two tbsp. butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat; add garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about three minutes. Add peas and cook until bright green and tender, about three to four minutes. Stir in remaining butter, along with lettuce and one tbsp. water, season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Stir until lettuce is just wilted, about one minute.