If you grow peas in your garden, you get a double bonus of pea greens. Sometimes called pea shoots or tendrils, their pale leaves wave as they climb the vines in advance of luscious sweet peas. A tangle of tender greens is deliciously crunchy, slightly grassy and pea-sweet.
My tiny garden doesn’t yield many peas. That’s where the farmers markets fill in. Right now find bundles of fresh pea greens along with early snap peas, all piled high. Choose pea shoots that are a vibrant pale green, free from bruised, wilted or discolored leaves. When you get them home, wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel or dish towel and store in an opened plastic bag in the refrigerator. They won’t last more than two or three days.
Handle pea shoots lightly so as not to crush the delicate crunch or fresh bright flavor. Served fresh, they make a snappy addition to salads and sandwiches and a wonderful garnish to soups and poached or fried eggs. Fold them into omelets, toss into stir-fries, sautés and on top of pizzas and flatbreads.
To prepare, simply rinse and pat them dry, then cut off any tough stems. The season for pea greens and fresh peas is short, so don’t wait. Pick up a bundle and enjoy them as fast as you can in a variety of ways, such as these:
Pea shoot mint pesto: In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, whirl together 2 cups pea shoots, ¼ cup fresh mint, ¼ cup almonds or walnuts, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil or more if needed, salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Asian sauté: Film a skillet with sesame oil, set over medium-high heat and sauté 2 smashed garlic cloves, a generous pinch of red pepper flakes and toss in 2 cups of pea shoots. Cook, stirring, until the shoots are wilted, about 1 minute. Remove and toss with rice wine vinegar and a dash of soy sauce to taste. Serve right away.
Pea shoot spread: Whisk together ½ cup whole milk ricotta, ¼ cup finely minced green onions or shallots, ½ cup finely minced pea shoots, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Set out as a spread for crackers, sandwiches or to top grilled mushrooms.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.