As a girl I'd spend hours in my grandmother's garden, zipping open pea pods with my thumb as they plinked into a metal bowl. So sweet and delectable, I'd eat them by the handful before we even got to the stove.
There are essentially three kinds of peas, one of the trickiest of vegetables to cook. (In fact, they are best hardly cooked at all.) Pod peas, known as English or shelling peas, are delicious eaten right out of the pod, blanched or flashed in a pan. Snow peas, or Chinese peas, are flat pods that make a crunchy snack and fast stir-fry. Sugar snap peas, a cross of English and snow peas, combine the best of both — crunchy and juicy, with sweet peas inside. These, too are wonderful flash-cooked and munched raw.
Peas are delicious at all stages of growth. At the farmers markets you'll also find pea shoots, the first growth of the plant for delicate garnishes. Pea tendrils come next, with a more intense flavor. Finally, as the prelude to peas, tasty pea greens make wonderful salads and stir-fries.
The fresh peas you'll find at our farmers markets should look moist and plump, not yellow or wrinkled. You can store peas in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator for a couple of days. (An airtight plastic bag traps moisture, making them limp.) But they're best enjoyed right away.
Treat peas gently. Their sweet-grassy flavors are lost to heat and easily overwhelmed by bold seasonings. With just a flash in the pan, a splash of lemon, a shower of chopped basil and mint, peas are perfect, the sweet taste of spring.
Note: This minty pea soup is as spirit-lifting as the warm sun. Easy and quick, it's made with just a few ingredients and is delicious served warm, at room temperature or chilled. In a pinch, frozen peas will work equally well. It can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator in a covered container, but taste and season before serving. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter or olive oil
• 1 medium leek, white part, chopped
• 1 lb. fresh or frozen pod peas
• 1/4 lb. sugar snap or snow peas, chopped
• 4 c. chicken stock, or more as needed
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
• 1/4 c. whole milk Greek-style yogurt
• 1 to 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste
• 2 to 3 tbsp. dried chickpeas for garnish, optional
In a large soup pot set over low heat, melt the butter and sauté the leek until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the pod peas, sugar snap peas, mint and basil. Stir in the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook until the peas are just tender, 2 to 4 minutes.
Working in batches, transfer the soup into a blender and purée until it has reached the desired consistency. Return to the pot and season to taste with the salt, pepper and sugar. Whisk in the yogurt and lemon juice. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. Garnish with the chickpeas, if desired.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
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