Several types of fresh peas are available in Seattle farmers markets, including green shelling peas, sugar snap peas, and snow pea pods. Since peas thrive in cool, moist weather, they are a natural vegetable in the Pacific Northwest. Green shelling or English garden peas have a tough, stringy pod, only the interior fresh green pea (actually a seed) is eaten. Snow pea pods are eaten whole and there is little or no interior pea. As you might guess, sugar snap peas are a cross between shelling and snow peas, and both the tender pod and interior pea are eaten. As the name indicates, snap peas are very sweet and crisp.
What is it related to? Peas (Pisum sativum) are vegetables in pea or legume family, Fabaceae (also known as Leguminosae). Sugar snap peas are a cross between the green shelling pea and the flat snow pea pod; in sugar peas, both the pod and interior pea are eaten. Hundreds of varieties of peas are grown throughout the world for their edible seeds. Peas are related to soybeans, black-eyed peas, adzuki beans, mung beans, lentils, peanuts, and alfalfa, and other familiar foods. Snow peas and sugar peas (Pisum sativum L. var. macrocarpon Ser.) and shelling peas (P. sativum var. sativum L) are all closely related. It is believed that the cultivated garden pea originated in either China or Egypt.
When is it available? The peak season for fresh peas of all types in Seattle farmers markets is June and July.
What does it look like? Green peas and sugar snap peas are nearly identical and look like short, fat green beans. The biggest clue to tell them apart is to simply eat a pod. Their difference is immediately apparent; green pea pods are tough and stringy while sugar snap peas are easy to eat whole, being tender and sweet throughout both pod and pea. Snow peas are distinguished by their flat shape, looking perhaps like a green bean left on a railroad track.
What portions do I eat? The edible portion is for shelling peas is the interior round green pea, the pod is discarded. For sugar snap and snow pea pods, the entire pod is eaten along with any interior peas—sugar snap peas often contain small peas while snow peas are mostly pod with little or no inner pea.
What does it taste like? The flavor of all peas is sweet and mild, like Bibb lettuce, raw green beans or raw asparagus. Sugar snap peas are very sweet and very crisp, even when lightly cooked. Snow pea pods are less sweet than snap peas; raw snow pea pods are crisp and the flavor becomes earthy if cooked (or overcooked). Green peas are also less sweet than snap peas and are tender rather than crisp whether raw or cooked.
What’s the best way to store it? Store fresh peas of all varieties wrapped in towels or paper in the vegetable bin or in plastic bags, in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Preferably, prepare or preserve fresh peas the day they are purchased. The flavor of young, sweet fresh peas starts to change within 2 hours of harvest, as the sugars change to starch. Fresh green peas and snow pea pods may be preserved by blanching and freezing. Green peas (especially larger, mature peas) may also be blanched and dried and will keep almost indefinitely. Sugar snap peas may be pickled.
How is it prepared? Wash all pea pods. Prepare green peas by pressing the pod seam and pulling it apart to open it and remove the peas; discard the outer pod. Snow peas and sugar snap peas need no preparation other than washing the pods are eaten whole.
How is it served?Serve shelled peas or either type of pea pod raw as an addition to salads. Serve either type of pea pod raw, as a crunchy accompaniment to dips. Any type of fresh pea or pea pod may be cooked by steaming lightly (3-6 minutes), stir-frying, or sautéeing. Use peas in soups, stews, and side dishes; toss peas with pasta or rice.
What are some substitutes for it? Recipes calling for green beans or asparagus can be usually used interchangeably with any type of pea.
Recipes to get you started:
Fresh Pea Hummus from Epicurious
Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese from Epicurious
Asian Chicken-Noodle Salad with Snap Peas from Epicurious
Fresh Pea Soup from allrecipes.com
Agnolotti with Sweet Peas and Goat Cheese from Epicurious
Asian Beef with Snow Peas from allrecipes.com
Pork Chops and Sugar Snap Peas with Mint Julep Glaze from Epicurious
Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze, Sugar Snap Peas, and Pea Tendrils from Epicurious
Stir-Fried Shrimp with Snow Peas and Ginger from allrecipes.com
Israeli Couscous with Asparagus, Peas, and Sugar Snaps from Epicurious
Stir Fried Snow Peas and Mushrooms from allrecipes.com
Sugar Snap Peas sautéed with shallots and thyme from allrecipes.com
Sugar Snap Peas with Radishes from icedjamb.com