Peas don’t have the best reputation. There’s the punitive aspect: “Eat your peas!”. There’s the joke aspect: comedy shows and cartoons depicting people trying to eat peas by lining them up on a knife, or spearing them on a fork, with peas rolling off the plate. No one was ever shown eating peas and suddenly growing strong and invincible, like Popeye and his can of spinach. Then there’s the rather boring image of a balanced supper: a plate with a piece of meat, a pile of mashed potatoes and a pile of peas.
Ironically, peas are one of the first vegetables babies eat. What doting parent doesn’t have a photo of a smiling baby with green pea puree all over her face? Then something changes a few years later, and whole peas are on the reject list. Like other kids, I was not a fan. My mom didn’t serve them too often, but when she did, they were pushed around on the plate, uneaten. I suspect many people carry this aversion into adulthood.
Why the bad rep?
Why do peas have such a bad reputation? Overcooking? Canned or overcooked peas have a mushy texture and bland flavor. Who enjoys that? Fresh peas-in-the-pod aren’t widely available in grocery stores. Even if they were, there’s a convenience issue. You’d have to spend time shelling each pod one by one to get a serving of peas; not something most people want to do.
My childhood distaste is long gone. My preference is fresh, straight out of the pod. They’re crunchy and sweet. When I grow peas, very few of them make it into the kitchen; I just tear open the pods and eat them while poking around in the garden. A great snack. They taste good and they keep you preoccupied opening the pods. You probably have to grow your own to enjoy those benefits. Peas are a cool weather crop, so fresh pea season is over once hot weather arrives.
Peas are a member of the legume family, so fresh peas have more protein than the average green vegetable. Like other vegetables, they’re good sources of vitamin A, B vitamins and minerals. They’re also a good source of lutein/zeaxanthin. This table compares values for a few key nutrients. Note the effect of cooking/processing on the vitamin C content.
Frozen — the reasonable alternative
Unless you love raw peas like I do, frozen is a perfectly reasonable option for cooking. These days, you don’t even have to open the package. Just cook them in the microwave according to package instructions.
I rarely just cook plain peas and serve them as a side dish. They’re much more interesting when added to other foods. One of my favorite uses is in risotto. Make the risotto as usual, then add frozen peas just at the end of cooking, giving them 3 minutes or so to thaw and cook slightly right in the pot.
They’re are a great and colorful addition to soups, mac ‘n cheese, pasta salads and vegetable medleys. The key is to NOT over cook. Most microwave cooking directions call for too much cooking time, and end up ruining the texture and flavor.
I recently added defrosted frozen peas to a chopped vegetable slaw. The peas were a nice taste contrast to the other fresh vegetables.
Vegetable Slaw with Peas
It's easy to slice up vegetables thin enough for a slaw with a good knife (AKA frisée). You can use a food processor if you like, but it's not necessary. This salad is meant to be tangy and refreshing, not drenched in dressing. The amounts of dressing ingredients are minimal. Keep leftovers for a refreshing snack.
- 2 cups very thin sliced broccoli flowerets
- 2-3 radishes, halved and sliced lengthwise
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped fine
- 1-2 stalks of celery, sliced in half lengthwise and then chopped down the length of the stalks
- 1 green pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup minced red onion
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 TB cider vinegar
- 1 TB white wine vinegar
- 2 TB olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Step 1 Defrost the peas in a microwave proof bowl so they are bright green, barely warm but edible.
- Step 2 Mix together all the other prepared vegetables in a large bowl.
- Step 3 Add the defrosted peas, stir gently to avoid mashing the peas.
- Step 4 Toss with the vinegars.
- Step 5 Toss with the olive oil.
- Step 6 Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes so the flavors blend.
- Step 7 (it can help to add 2 tsp sugar or honey to balance the flavors)