Peas on Earth
They bring good nutrition to all.
For some, the mention of peas may conjure memories of boiled, buttery green mush or an accessory to a canned soup– based casserole. But if you can look past the culinary atrocities of yore, you’ll discover that there’s flavor and crispy, crunchy freshness to be found in these green legumes, the harvest of which marks the start of New Jersey’s summer. Three varieties most commonly grown here are garden (also called English or sweet) peas, snow (or sugar) peas and snap peas, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture. All three are available from mid-May to early July.
The different varieties vary in nutritional content, mainly because snow and snap peas are eaten whole, while garden peas are shelled. The pod has less nutritional content than the pea, so garden peas are richer in vitamins and minerals. A .-cup serving of garden peas has about 60 calories, four grams of protein and four grams of fiber. It also delivers 29 milligrams (33 percent of the recommended daily value, or DV) of immune-boosting vitamin C and 18 mg (22 percent DV) of vitamin K, which benefits the blood. It’s rich in B vitamins thiamin (2 mg or 13 percent DV) and folate (47 micrograms or 12 percent DV), both of which are good for heart health, and niacin (1.5 mg or 7.5 percent DV), which helps the body convert food to energy.
The same serving of podded peas (½ cup equals about 10 pods) has only 13 calories but fewer benefits: 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fat and less than 10 mg of vitamins C and K.
Many New Jersey farms allow visitors to pick their own peas, but for those on the go, all three varieties are sold at farm stands and grocery stores. Look for bright, crisp pods with no browning or wilting. Store them unshelled—peas should be refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag, according to Jersey Fresh, a state promotional and quality grading program. If you don’t plan to use them within three to five days, peas can be frozen.
When preparing, simply break off the end and drag the string-like attachment across the top for an “unzip” effect. Snow and snap peas can be consumed at this point. When working with the garden variety, pry open the pod, revealing a line of peas inside. Discard the pod and prepare.
Peas have a delicate, fresh flavor, so they are best celebrated through simplicity. Resist the urge to boil and butter them—instead, cook them to a gentle al dente and toss them with fresh herbs, such as mint, marjoram or rosemary. Serve them raw or steamed in a salad, mix them into a spring risotto or, for a little indulgence, roast them with bacon or pancetta.
DID YOU KNOW?
Your seventh-grade science teacher has peas to thank for her lesson plans. In the mid-19th century, Austrian-Czech researcher Gregor Johann Mendel experimented with growing garden peas to discover how humans inherit certain traits through recessive and dominant genes.