April 16, 2014

A meditation on the perfection of peas

Fresh peas — a spring treat.

Natural foods are so perfect, peas in particular. Many cooks, including myself, anticipate the first crop of garden fresh peas with great longing.

Sugar Snap peas are a true marvel, no shelling needed, the edible pods providing a most satisfying sweet crunch. A big bowl of raw Sugar Snaps is a perfect meal in itself, or presented alongside a bit of herb dip, are a most pleasant hors d’oeuvre.

Shell peas, or English peas, are just as delectable, while requiring a slight bit of preparatory effort. The floss-thin pod string must be zipped off, and a little thumb pressure applied to pop open the pod, revealing a gleaming row of bright green pearls of perfection.

Snow peas are much flatter, with only a teeny bit of pea formation to be found within their pod. Just as delicious, snow peas lend color and crispness to salads, stir fries and side dishes galore.

I wonder if peas have ever really received full recognition for being powerful purveyors of nutrition, or for their vast culinary capability. Peas should be celebrated for all their glorious goodness, both on the plate and in the body. An excellent low fat food choice, peas offer plenty of fiber (to prevent constipation and improve bowel health), protein and superb antioxidant protection, which strengthens the immune system, supplies high-quality energy and provides anti-aging benefits.

Peas contain anti-inflammatory properties, including vitamins C and E, and zinc, which may also offer protection from aging, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. The vitamin K content in peas helps anchor calcium in the bones, while the niacin levels may help reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Unfortunately those who suffer from gout or kidney disorders should avoid peas and the purine they contain.

Far from just a sidekick for mashed potatoes, peas are a vivacious, versatile ingredient that lends sweetness and perky color to so many recipes. From a spring pea soup, enlivened with fresh mint and crowned with crème fraîche, to blini-like pea pancakes topped with pale pink smoked salmon, or tasty tortellini tossed with fresh peas, asparagus and creamy goat cheese, or a big bowlful of lightly steamed peas tossed with butter and minced fresh herbs,  the possibilities for peas are limitless.

For the most spectacular flavor, purchase fresh peas from your local farmer’s market. This is the best way to enjoy the stunning simplicity of natural goodness. Select peas that feel firm with lively, consistent color. Wash gently and enjoy the same day for maximum pleasure. If you have no farmer’s market or good quality source of fresh peas, frozen petite peas can be an acceptable substitution for most recipes.

Enjoy the perfection of peas as you prepare a delicious life.

 

Herb Dip and Fresh Peas

2 big handfuls of fresh Sugar Snap Peas (only fresh will do for this treatment)

1 8-oz. block of low-fat cream cheese

1/2 cup goat cheese

grated zest of 1 small organic lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup chopped herbs (use any you like — parsley, tarragon, chives, cilantro, for example)

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Let cream cheese and goat cheese come to room temperature in a bowl, then combine  with lemon zest, herbs and lemon juice until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let rest for an hour. Serve with sugar snap peas for dipping.

 

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP is certified in holistic health counseling by The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. As The Conscious Cook, Robin specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes to students of all ages, utilizing healthy, natural ingredients and simple recipes. For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net.