Why Peas are Good for You

 , guardian.co.uk, recipe by Rosie Sykes  |  Updated: June 03, 2013 11:39 IST

Why Peas are Good for You

Peas are at their freshest in early summer, and there's only one way to eat this squeaky staple: freshly podded and by the handful.

Processed food companies have a well-rehearsed sales script aimed at convincing us that frozen peas are better than fresh. Nice try, but on taste grounds they can't beat the freshly grown seasonal article.

True, peas are one of the few vegetables that freeze well, making them a stalwart standby for every kitchen, but because they are blanched as a prelude to the big chill, this alters their texture. Result? Frozen peas are more watery and their skins become more perceptible, almost "squeaky" in the mouth. The first fresh peas, on the other hand, are a different proposition entirely - a life-enhancing seasonal highlight of early summer. Their sweet, green juiciness, and opulently velvety texture when cooked, can brighten a dish immeasurably. Later in the season, as the peas become bigger and starchier, use them in summer stews and other slow-cook recipes.

Why are peas good for me?

Green peas are a great source of bone-building vitamin K and manganese. They will boost your levels of folate - a micronutrient that is crucial for heart health and foetal development - and their significant store of vitamin C supports your immune system. Relatively high protein levels mean that peas have much more of a satisfying "fullness factor" than most vegetables, so they won't leave you hungry and eyeing up the first unhealthy snack that comes into view.

Where to buy and what to pay

A trip to a PYO farm to pick fresh peas makes a very pleasant summer expedition. Failing that, farmers' markets, greengrocers and supermarkets all do the job. Guide price: £2-2.50 a kilo. And don't bin the shelled pods. Use them to make a smooth blended soup, sieving out the stringy coarse fibres before serving.


Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

Braised peas and lettuce

This all-in-one dish goes wonderfully with roast duck, chicken or lamb, or a thick slice of hot ham. I make this dish year-round with frozen peas (my top freezer resource) but at this time of year, with fresh peas in season, it is even better.

Serves 4
1 tbsp flavourless oil
200g smoked streaky bacon, derinded and cut into 1cm pieces
3 little gem lettuce, trimmed, rough outer leaves removed, cut in half lengthways
30g butter
2 small leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced
550g fresh peas, podded
3 sprigs of mint
250ml stock (preferably chicken)
320g jersey royals, cooked in salted water
A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 In a heavy-based pan, heat the oil and add the bacon. Cook until it starts to crisp and has let out its fat.

2 Lift out the bacon with a slotted spoon and put the lettuce in the pan, cut-side down, to brown a little.

3 Lift them out, then add the butter to the pan and the leeks. Stir about until well coated. Let them cook down for several minutes until soft and sweet, then add the peas and whole mint and return the bacon and lettuce to the pan, along with the stock.

4 Simmer gently for 5 minutes until the peas start to soften, then season and add the potatoes. Heat through for a few minutes then stir in the parsley.

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Rosie Sykes is head chef of Fitzbillies (fitzbillies.com) and co-author of The Kitchen Revolution (Ebury Press, £25). To order a copy for £19.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

Fresh peas are the bees' knees ... Photograph: Getty Images/Flickr RF



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