Legume-licious, or, Give Peas a Chance
The legume family is large, including all beans, and peas. Legumes are a very nutritious group both for eating and for farming; as nitrogen “fixers”, the plants roots host specialized bacteria that actually extract nitrogen from air between soil particles. Many legumes are used as ground cover crops to be dug in to fortify soil. In this article we are focusing on all things pea, plus Fava. Peas and Favas grow best in Spring, preferring cooler weather. Once picked, their natural sugars convert fairly quickly to sugar, so buy them fresh and serve them soon!
Peas: Probably the best known 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 they may be dry, or starchy. Timing is everything. They are fun to pick and shuck, so if you don’t have them in your own garden, maybe there’s a “u-pick” farm in your area to drag some children to. Even if you’re picking them up at a Farmer’s Market or the produce section, shucking peas is a satisfying and relaxing activity. If you get a good price on a bushel, simply freeze the extra. This vegetable freezes beautifully.
Snow Peas: These are the flat, fully edible pods we see often in Asian cooking. 100% 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: Also know as Broad Beans, Fava 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 we’ll see are the full sized pods. At this stage they need to be both shucked and then the tough outer layer must be peeled away from the bean. They do take a bit or time to prepare, but they have a unique and delicious flavor.
All of these legume family members are delicate and tender, needing only a touch of cooking. Butter, salt, and pepper- perfect! They pair beautifully with any combination of onion, pepper, carrot and mushroom.
Peas and Fava Leaves: As these plants mature, their tangled, tendrilled vines are delicious when picked young and tender. Many chefs will chop them up roughly, and simply sauté in vegetable oil over medium high heat briefly until wilted, and serve them as a fresh vegetable. Finish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. If you’re not growing any, you might see them in you local farmer’s market, or ask a Pea or Fava Farmer if they might bring you a pound or two next week. It is important to not confuse 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!