It’s that time of year when the garden finally starts to come alive again: Radishes, lettuce…and peas, fresh from the vines. Whether you prefer green shell, snap or snow (the last two with edible pods), peas provide a welcome jolt of flavor and nutrition.
Like other legumes (beans, lentils, etc.)—and unlike most vegetables—peas are a good source of protein and fiber, as well as several B vitamins, minerals and vitamins A, C and K. This protein/fiber combination helps regulate carbohydrate digestion, which in turn controls blood sugar levels. Green peas also contain components that fight oxidation and inflammation, as well as a phytonutrient called coumestrol that has been linked to a reduced risk of stomach cancer. And as legumes peas are good for the ground they’re grown in, fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere and reducing the risk of pest problems when rotated with other crops.
Few vegetables top peas for all-around kitchen versatility. Flat, crunchy snow peas are a natural for stir-fries. Plump snap peas, also known as sugar snaps, are great for side dishes and out-of-hand snacking.
Green peas are a world unto themselves. The fresh variety is best from your own garden but is available in some markets; look for small, bright-green pods and use them no more than a few days after purchase. When choosing peas in stored form, pick frozen over canned for better color and texture along with less sodium (try to use them within six months, especially once you’ve opened the package). Dry peas are starchier and less sweet than fresh ones but contain a lot more protein and form a classic cold-weather soup base; they were a protein-packed staple for folks in the Middle Ages who couldn’t afford meat.
For elegance and simplicity, a plate of lightly cooked peas dressed with some sesame oil or a little organic butter can’t be beat. But peas are useful in all sorts of recipes, including salads, casseroles, pastas and rice dishes (such as the risotto shown below).
As the world turns green again, let peas bring the grace of spring to your table.
Red Beet and Pea Risotto With Mint and Feta
1 large red onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (generous) arborio rice
3 medium cooked red beets, cubed
4 cups vegetable stock (from a cube or powder)
sea salt and black pepper
1¾ cups frozen garden peas
handful fresh mint, minced
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
1. Heat a little olive oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic, and cook 4-5 minutes, or until onion is soft. Add rice and cook another minute. Add two of the beets.
2. Add the vegetable stock little by little, until the rice is soft and just tender, stirring frequently (can take up to 30 minutes). It should be fairly moist, but not too liquid. Season with salt and pepper.
3. When the rice is almost cooked, add the peas and mint and cook another 2-3 minutes.
4. Place remaining beet in a small food processor and process to a coarse purée. Add purée to the finished risotto, stir well, and serve on warmed plates. Sprinkle some feta over each one.
Serves 3. Analysis per serving: 381 calories, 9g protein, 4g fat (>1g saturated), 8g fiber, 75g carbohydrate, 413 mg sodium
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE MEDICINAL CHEF © 2013 DALE PINNOCK, STERLING PUBLISHING INC. CO. (WWW.STERLINGPUBLISHING.COM). PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARTIN POOLE.