Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) was an Austrian monk famous for his seminal work in genetics. He uncovered a series of laws that govern how genes are transmitted. Mendel made these discoveries with the assistance of the common garden pea. He repeatedly crossed varieties of pea plants in an effort to observe how specific genetic traits, e.g., height, color, seed shape, etc., were imparted to ensuing generations. Out of these observations arose the laws that became the basis of modern hereditary theory.
Peas are legumes, i.e., plants with seed pods. Originating in Asia they have been part of man's diet for thousands of years. The most common pea is the garden pea, also known as the English pea. They must be removed from their pods before consumption. Snow peas and sugar snap peas however, are eaten pod and all.
Ninety-five percent of all garden peas are sold canned or frozen. April, May and June are usually the only months that they are available fresh. Make every effort to find them. If you've never had fresh peas, straight from the pod, you're in for a treat. They're sweet and delicious and I think taste best uncooked. Raw fresh peas make a great addition to salads as well as being a nutritious, low-fat, snack. When fresh peas are not available go with the frozen but never the canned. Canned peas taste dreadful and it boggles my mind that there are so many people willing to eat them.
Choose peas with firm, bright green pods free of blemishes or yellow hues. Use them as soon as possible and if not, refrigerate them immediately. The natural sugar in peas deteriorates quickly. Do not shell or wash them until you are ready to use them. Trim the ends of snow pea pods and remove the string along the edge of sugar snap pea pods before use. Peas are a good source of potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B, and C.
Peas cook quickly and overcooking will result in loss of flavor. Garden peas are best sautéed in some butter with salt and pepper. They work well in rice pilafs, pasta dishes, soups and stews. Add them toward the end of cooking. Snow peas work best in stir fries and Asian dishes. Sugar snap peas are great raw but can also be sautéed in butter.
One of my favorite things to do with garden peas is to make a pea purée. Think of mashed potatoes only with peas instead.
1 lb. of shelled fresh peas or 1 lb. frozen peas
1 cup chicken stock
salt and white pepper to taste
1 heaping tablespoon honey
Boil the peas in the chicken stock with some salt and pepper. If the peas are frozen boil them according to the package instructions. If they are fresh they will take anywhere from one to five minutes depending on their maturity. I would sample them every minute until they are soft but not overcooked. With a slotted spoon, transfer the peas from the pot to a blender with very little of the chicken stock. You want just enough fluid to get the blender going and no more or the purée will turn out watery. Add the honey and begin pureeing the peas in the blender. Add spoonfuls of the stock if more fluid is needed. If it ends up watery you can cook the purée over low heat to evaporate the excess fluid. Stop the blender periodically and taste for additional salt or pepper.
Pea purée can serve as a garnish, a side dish, or as a spread on crackers or vegetable sticks. Use it as a bed upon which the main item in your entrée can rest. For example, sauté some scallops and place them on a pool of the pea purée.
ASIAN STYLE SNOW PEAS
1 lb. snow peas, trimmed.
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 yellow pepper, julienned
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
Pepper to taste
Boil the snow peas in salted water for 15 seconds and then immediately submerge them in ice water. Toast the sesame seeds in a skillet over medium heat just for a minute or so until they brown and give off a nutty essence. Mix the peas, peppers, scallions, sesame seeds and soy sauce in a large bowl. Sauté the vegetable mixture in the sesame oil for 2-3 minutes or until the peppers are soft. Season with pepper and additional soy sauce if need be.