See also chick peas; lentils.
A member of the legume family, some peas are grown to be shelled, while others are meant to be dried or eaten entirely in the pod. Whatever the variety, peas offer "springtime" flavor and wonderful texture that can be enjoyed either raw or cooked. They're especially great for salads, pea soups, side dishes and Asian specialties like stir-fry.
It's said that England's King John so loved peas that he died after eating seven bowls of them.
Peas are classified as fresh (shelled), pod or field (dried). Well-known varieties include:
English Peas—Also known as common garden peas or green peas. They are grown to be eaten fresh, removed from their pods. The French are famous for their tiny, young green peas called petits pois.
Snow Peas—Also called Chinese snow pea, these pod peas are entirely edible. The almost translucent green pod is thin and crisp and the tiny peas inside are tender and sweet. They essential in Chinese cooking and may also be used raw in salads.
Sugar Snap Peas—Also called sugar peas, these pods are a cross between English peas and snow peas. Entirely edible and very sweet, sugar snaps are usually served raw or cooked only briefly to retain their crisp texture.
Field Peas—These yellow or green peas are grown specifically for drying. Once dried, they are usually split along the natural seam, in which case they're called split peas. Starchy and hearty, dried peas are a good choice when fresh peas are not available.
Note: Despite their name, black-eyed peas are more closely related to beans than peas.
The peak months for fresh English green peas are March to May and August to November. Snow and sugar snap peas also peak in spring and fall. While these varieties are available at most supermarkets, tiny, young French petits pois are usually found only at specialty produce markets.
When buying fresh peas, choose bright green pods that are firm and unblemished. The peas inside should be glossy and crunchy. Avoid pods that are limp or broken.
Peas are also available canned or frozen. Frozen peas are preferable as they retain their flavor and texture and have a lower sodium content.
Dried peas (whole or split) are available in packages at supermarkets or in bulk at natural food stores.
Fresh: Refrigerate, unwashed, in a plastic bag for no more than two or three days.
Dried: Store airtight in a cool, dry place for up to one year. Freeze indefinitely.
Fresh: Shell green peas just before using. Snap off the stem end and then open the pod by pulling on the string. Pop the seam and run your finger under the peas to free them. For pod peas, wash, then snap off the stem ends and pull of