Bushels of peas in the pod —whether English peas or sugar snaps—crowd farmers market tables right now. Sugar snap peas have been so popular that there was a time when I worried that the old-fashioned English pea, or shelling pea, would become harder to find. But judging by the piles of English peas I had to choose from this weekend, there’s no danger of that. In fact, I think they’re enjoying a bit of an upswing in favor.
When shopping for English peas, organic farmer Zaid Kurdieh, of Norwich Meadows Farm in Norwich, New York, advised me, “You want pods that are shiny and dark green.” When the pods are dull and starting to get white, the peas will be starchy. The pod should be plump, but not too full. “When there’s a little give to the pod,” he said as he gently squeezed it before opening it, “the peas will be a little smaller, but sweeter.”
Here are five great ways to enjoy English peas. None involve puréeing or mashing. Why do that to a pea you just took the time to shell? Factor about 1 to 1½ lbs for every cup of shelled peas. If you don’t find dark shiny pods, then go with frozen peas. They’re the best of the frozen vegetables.
Raw Shell Peas: My favorite way to eat English peas, other than standing in a garden eating them fresh off the vine!
Put a bowl of the pods on the table and another empty bowl next to it for the shells. Let everyone shell their own and pop the fresh peas in their mouths. Serve it as a snack for kids or as a great conversation starter with cocktails.
Buttered Peas: Straightforward simplicity.
Cook ½ cup finely chopped onion in 1 tablespoon butter with ¼ teaspoon salt in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/3 cup water, 2 cups raw or frozen peas and 1/4 teaspoon sugar and simmer, covered, until peas are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon more butter until melted and season with salt and pepper.
Peas with Lettuce: A French classic.
Cook ½ cup finely chopped onion in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with ¼ teaspoon salt in a heavy medium saucepan, over medium-low heat, covered, until tender. Add 3 cups chopped soft-leafed lettuce and cook, covered, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups raw or frozen peas with 1/4 cup water and simmer, covered, until peas are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Peas with Mint: A perfect marriage.
Follow directions for buttered peas above, adding ¼ cup thin slivers of fresh mint leaves (scissors are great for this) when peas are just cooked and still hot.
Cover 2 cups fresh or frozen peas with water in a medium saucepan and simmer, uncovered, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Toss in a bowl with 2 scallions, finely chopped, ¼ cup each finely chopped radish and celery, 2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon or chives, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon each grated lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Serve salad in Bibb lettuce cups for easy eating!