Green garden peas are legumes, plants that
produce pods enclosing fleshy seeds. Unlike dried legumes such
as chick peas, split peas and most beans that require long cooking
times, green peas are packaged and prepared like all fresh green
vegetables. Like all seeds, they are storehouses of nourishment
and provide low-fat protein, too.
Peas in their dried form have been used as
a food since ancient times, archaeologists found them in Egyptian
tombs, but it was not until the 16th century that tender varieties
were developed to be eaten fresh. In the 17th century, Louis XIV's
court discovered the delights of eating young fresh peas. In the
19th century, Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk and botanist, used
peas for his famous plant breeding and heredity experiments which
are considered the foundation of modern genetics.
Today, only about 5% of peas are fresh while
the rest of the crop is canned or frozen. Frozen green peas retain
their colour, flavour, and nutrients better than canned peas and
are much lower in sodium. If just thawed and not cooked, frozen
peas can be substituted for fresh peas in salads and other uncooked
dishes. Canned peas lack the colour and the delicate texture and
flavour. Most canned peas have added salt, sugar, and colors to
restore that lost in processing.
In store , fresh green peas should be refrigerated; if kept at
room temperature, half their sugar content will turn to starch
within a few hours. Low temperatures also help preserve the texture
and nutrient content. Look for firm, glossy pods with a slightly
velvety feel, filled almost to bursting; the peas should not rattle
loosely in the pod. Choose medium-sized pods rather than overlarge
ones. The stem, leaves, and tip should be soft and green. Reject
pods that are puffy, dull, yellowed, or heavily speckled. If possible,
crack open a pod and taste a few peas for sweetness.
It's best to serve all types of fresh peas on the day of purchase.
If you must store them, place the unwashed pods in a perforated
plastic bag and refrigerate them for no more than a day or two.
Do not shell the peas until you cook or eat them.
Rinse the green pea pods just before shelling them. Pinch off
the stem with your fingernail and pull the string down the length
of the pod. The pod will pop open, then push out the peas with
your thumb. If the pods are clean on the outside, you need not
wash the peas. When cooking the peas, you can add three or four
pods for extra flavour.
The quickest way to thaw frozen peas (for use
in salads or in dishes that require further cooking, such as casseroles)
is to place them in a strainer or colander and pour boiling water
over them. When you prepare frozen peas, according to package
directions, on the hob or in the microwave, check them after just
a minute or two as they are unlikely to require the full cooking
time suggested on the package. If overcooked, they will turn mushy
and grey, look unappetising, and lose much of their vitamin C