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Give peas a chance

May/June 2009 California Country magazine

Look for these legumes during spring.



The legume family is quite a large one and includes thousands of members such as peas, beans, lentils, peanuts and soybeans. Here we will focus on all things pea—plus fava beans.

Peas and favas grow best in spring, preferring cooler weather. Once picked, their natural sugars convert fairly quickly to starch, so buy fresh and serve soon!

  • English shelling peas: Probably the best-known peas are English shelling peas—or just plain peas. Ideally the peas inside each pod are medium sized; too small and flavor may not be fully developed, and too large and they may be dry or starchy. Timing is everything. Peas are fun to pick and shuck, so if you don’t have them in your own garden, maybe there’s a “U-pick” farm nearby to drag some children to.
  • Snow peas: These are the flat, fully edible pods we often see in Asian cooking. They are 100 percent usable and very easy to prepare.
  • Sugar snap peas: The newest addition, these are actually a cross between English shelling and snow peas. Their small, plump pods are fully edible and wonderfully sweet.
  • Fava beans: Also known as broad beans, favas have been cultivated for thousands of years. If harvested when the beans are fingernail sized, they can be eaten unpeeled and raw when shelled. Unless you’re growing them, most of what you’ll see are the full-sized pods. At this stage they need to be shucked and then the tough outer layer must be peeled away from the bean. They do take a bit of time to prepare, but their delicious and unique flavor is worth the trouble.

All of these legume family members need only a touch of cooking. Butter, salt and pepper—perfect! Also, they pair beautifully with any combination of onion, pepper, carrot and mushroom.

So c’mon. Give peas (and fava beans) a chance!

Lovin' those leaves!

As pea and fava plants mature, their tangled, tendrilled vines are delicious when picked young and tender. Many chefs serve pea leaves or fava leaves as a fresh vegetable. Here’s how: Chop roughly and sauté in vegetable oil over medium-high heat briefly until wilted. Finish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

If you’re not growing any, you might see the leaves in your local farmers market. Or ask a pea or fava farmer if they might bring you a pound or two next week.

Caution: It is important to not confuse these leaves with the sweet pea flower plant, which is not edible. If you have any question, ask an expert first. The sweet pea flowers are for the flower vase only!

Andy Powning is a produce specialist with GreenLeaf, a San Francisco-based produce company. Send questions or comments to him at ccmagazine@cfbf.com.


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