Ingredient of the Week: Peas
Peas, or to be more specific, green peas, are part of the legume family of vegetables, as the plants produce pods which encase the seeds or peas. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are all part of the same legume family. Most legumes are more commonly available in dried form, but green peas are an exception to this. They are available in supermarkets as either still in their pods, already shelled, tinned, dried or frozen. Pea pods tend to be bright green in colour, they have a curved rounded shape with a smooth texture. The peas encased in the pod are also green and are round with a slightly sweet taste and starchy texture.
I personally find peas to be one of the least inspiring vegetables. They are a nightmare to eat on their own as they just roll around all over your plate and when you can’t see what you are doing properly, you just end up chasing them around with your fork and never quite catching them all. They remind me of very typically British food and I often feel get added to meals as a token green thing to put on your plate to give some form of healthy addition. Fish, chips and mushy peas, the very British speciality is a prime example of this. It is only recently that I have actually discovered I like mushy peas, after ordering them in desperation to get some vegetables in to my meal at a very good, if unhealthy fish and chip shop myself and Neil tried up in Yorkshire. I realised they actually do taste quite nice and are easier to eat than normal peas, and so maybe I’ve been missing out.
Why are they good for me?
Peas are yet another vegetable high in fibre, like green beans, baby corn and parsnip. I explain more about the importance of fibre in my Ingredient of the Week feature on quinoa, but it basically makes you feel fuller for longer and helps to control your blood sugar levels, so you don’t keep craving food, which can aid weight loss by reducing calorie intake. It also keeps your gut working smoothly, preventing blockages and keeping you regular.
They are also another good vegetable for maintaining healthy eyes. They are both high in vitamin A and Lutein. Vitamin A takes care of the surface of your eyes as well as helping to maintain healthy skin and hair. Lutein helps to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration from developing.
Furthermore, There is new evidence being discovered to suggest that peas can be very beneficial in fighting stomach cancer. This is believed to be as a result of the high levels of an antioxidant plant polyphenol called coumestrol that is found specifically in green peas. However there are several other phytonutrients contained in green peas that also demonstrate antioxidant and antiinflamatory benefits.
How do I prepare them?
If using fresh peas, it is likely that you will have to remove them from their pods first. I find this action extremely therapeutic. There is nothing more satisfying than squeezing the end of a pod until it pops and releasing the peas and hearing them drop in to the bowl. As a child, whenever my mum bought them still in their pods, I would anxiously wait to be able to help her by doing this task. It was one of the rare occasions as a child that I would look forward to having my Sunday roast, as it would usually be then that she would use them. To be honest though, I mainly now only ever use frozen peas as they are far cheaper, easier to store and require no preparation. Having a bag of frozen peas in your freezer is brilliant, not only for when you want to add extra vegetables to your meal, but they also make a fantastic ice pack for if you have a muscular injury to treat, or more likely in my case, have a lump on your head from walking in to something. Although its not recommended to use the same bag of peas for both eating and as an ice pack.
How do I cook them?
Peas can be boiled, steamed, microwaved, added to a stir-fry or pilaf. Even when being cooked from frozen, they only need a couple of minutes cooking time, so are best added to any meal in the final few minutes. Try this asparagus, pea and avocado salad recipe for something a little different or add them to a stir-fry like this prawn and pineapple rice one. Incorporate them in to a pasta like this smoked salmon pasta primavera or in a risotto like this chicken and spring vegetable one.
Earlier I suggested that the green pea was a very British vegetable, but actually it is most commonly found in Indian cuisine. Try this paneer and pea curry recipe, which possibly just happens to be my favourite pea recipe i’ve made so far. Want to keep it more British? Then serve them on the side with a pie, mash and gravy. You can’t get more British than that.
I hope reading this has helped you appreciate the nutritional value of green peas. I know writing it has certainly taught me they are far more than a token green thing on my plate. If you have any favourite recipes that include peas, then please feel free to share in the comments below.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.