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Seasonal Eats: Snap Into Spring Peas

Sugar Snap Peas at the Hollywood Farmers' Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)
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In the final weeks of spring, we'll enjoy some delicious seasonal transitions between spring and summer fare. This week, we're looking at peas, cool-weather annuals with longstanding traditions in Mediterranean cooking. While there are many delicious things to do with dried & frozen peas, to keep with our seasonal theme, we'll just be looking at fresh peas, so you can enjoy them now with all their seasonal pairings.

I grew up only eating frozen peas, never knowing anything of fresh pea pods or pea tendrils, but one of the great things about peas is that in varieties like snow and sugar snaps, nearly the whole plant is edible. In other varieties, peas are shelled by popping open the pod and sliding out the peas, which are attached by a thin stem. Raw podded peas are a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium, Phosphorous and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Folate, Iron, and Manganese. They have a glycemic load of 3 and have mildly anti-inflammatory properties.

Starting with fresh and raw fare, snow peas and sugar snaps are fantastic on their own as a crunchy, refreshing snack. Since their flavor is light and mildly sweet, they and go great as a veggie to dip in the dressing or sauce of your choice. To enjoy them as a side dish, toss the whole or cut pods with tendrils in a simple lemon dressing, or try a mix of shelled and sugar snaps with sesame dressing. Pea tendrils are often sold separately from pea pods, so ask your sellers what they have if you want both.

There are some really simple and tasty side dishes for fresh peas. Roast them in flavored oil of your choice, like these sesame roasted snap peas. Blanch them and then toss with this Meyer lemon and mint dressing (try Eureka lemons if it's too late for Meyers). Create all manner of textured salads with the addition of peas, such as chicken and rice salad with mint pesto and peas. Mix up your shelled and pod peas with three pea stir fry with Asian flavors, or try out a sauteed snow peas, sugar snap peas, and pea shoots to enjoy the whole plant in one dish.

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If you want to take a "toss them in" attitude, there are plenty of dishes that can be embellished with peas. If you're making a seasonal stir fry or sautée, throw them into the mix. If you're showcasing another vegetable, add peas to your bed of fresh or roasted veggies on the plate, as in zucchini blossoms with vegetables. Grilling or baking fish? Peas make a great addition, as in scallops with asparagus and sugar snap peas or salmon with sweet chili glaze, sugar snap peas and pea tendrils. If you're making a seasonal pasta, toss them into this orecchiette with vegetables. Throw some into your tortillas, scrambles and fritattas.

For some of that traditional Mediterranean fare, try a spring sautée of asparagus, peas and basil. Maybe an antipasto of crushed peas with feta and scallions, or a salad of shaved asparagus, pea and prosciutto? Make up a fresh pea hummus to go with your veggies and pitas. Add peas to your early summer minestrone, or showcase them in fresh pea and mint soup. Go for the classic Italian spaghetti carbonara with pork belly and fresh peas, or get down with the international staple of saffron rice with peas and cashews.

There are plenty of Indian dishes that call for peas, so make them with fresh peas while they're available. Pick from one of these mattar paneer recipes: Paneer curry with peas or mattar paneer. How about cauliflower, with aloo mattar. Or go back to basics with basmati rice with raisins, nuts and peas.

For my own dish this week, I went with a scaffata which turned out to have such a hearty flavor, you'd swear there were potatoes in it. For all the shelling you'll be doing, you might want to grab your dinner partner, serve them an apéritif, and share the work.

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Late Spring Scaffata (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Late Spring Scaffata, serves 2


3 tb olive oil
1 tb white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
6 fresh onions, bulbs & white parts, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2.5 lbs fresh peas in the pod, shelled
1.5 lbs fresh fava beans in the pod, shelled, blanched & peeled
1 cup diced zucchini
1 teaspoon italian red pepper flakes
2 cups romaine leaves, cut to thin ribbons
1 tb shredded mint leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Sautée sliced onions in olive oil over medium-high heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the fava beans, peas, zucchini, garlic, vinegar and red pepper, toss to coat, turn the heat down to low, cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the romaine, and mint, toss to mix and cover for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding 1-2 tablespoons water as needed to prevent sticking. uncover and cook down any remaining liquid, allowing the vegetables to brown slightly. Season to taste and serve.