Perfectly cooked peas are hardly cooked at all. We all know how delicious raw peas can be, especially sweet, crunchy snow peas and sugar snaps, the ones you eat pods and all. But the flavor, color and texture are greatly improved with a kiss of heat. Careful, not too much!
Most recipes recommend that old blanch and shock method where the peas are dropped into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, drained and turned into a bowl of ice water to shock and stop the cooking.
But I’ve found it’s far easier, and as successful, to poach them for a few minutes in a saucepan. Bring 1/4 inch of water to a boil in a skillet; add the peas; count to 10, drain and serve right away. Toss with a pat of butter, a touch of salt, but they’re amazingly sweet and delicious on their own.
If they’re to be an ingredient in a dish (not served by themselves) then it’s best and easiest to add the peas just before the end of cooking. Toss them into a stir-fry, fold them into pasta, stir them into rice, or scatter them over pizza about 5 minutes before serving. This way they’ll be gently cooked with the radiant heat.
While the most delicious peas come from your own garden (or that of a friend), the farmers markets are a great source. Snow, snap and garden peas are all members of the same family, but they’re slightly different in texture and taste.
Snow peas are flat with small peas inside an edible pod. To remove the tough strings, hold the pea at the head, and snap and pull the strings down and off.
Snap peas are a hybrid variety of snow peas and those English peas that must first be shelled. Like snow peas, sugar snaps should also be “strung.” I use the snow and sugar snap varieties interchangeably because their pods are edible and they’re so easy and quick. But shelled English peas will work in these recipes, too. Once shelled, those peas cook in even less time. The only rule when cooking peas is, do not overcook!
Look for bright, firm pods without nicks or bruises. Get them home and store in plastic bags in the refrigerator’s crisper until ready to use. But do use them ASAP because they don’t last long. Lacking very fresh peas, you’re better off using frozen.
Curried Peas and Coconut Rice
Note: Curry and peas seem natural partners to snow peas and sugar snaps. The spice’s sunny color and mellow heat brightens the vibrant green and sweet flavors of those fresh peas and makes a gorgeous side dish. Add cooked chicken or shrimp for a winning summer meal. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/4 c. coconut flakes
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 medium shallot, chopped
• 2 tbsp. curry powder
• 1 3/4 c. water
• 1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
• 1 c. long-grain basmati or jasmine rice
• 1 c. sliced snow peas, snap peas, or shelled English peas
• 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice, or more to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper
To toast coconut flakes: Spread out the coconut on a baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool.
Film a heavy saucepan with the oil and set over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until it softens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, add 1 3/4 cups water and salt and bring to a boil, uncovered.
Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the rice is tender, about 13 to 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, toss in the peas and lime juice, and fluff the rice. Cover and allow to stand about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with the toasted coconut.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 250 Fat 7 g Sodium 600 mg Saturated fat 3 g
Carbohydrates 43 g Total sugars 2 g
Protein 5 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 4 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 starch, 1 carb, 1½ fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.