Four recipes showcase pea shoots

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez Columnist
  • Monday, May 14, 2012 8:17pm
  • Life

Eager young hands reach through the tangle of vines, seeking a package of peas. An emerald pod is plucked from a reluctant branch, sending a wave of shivers and shakes down the garden row. But the little tow-headed boy misses the dance of the vines as he pops open his prize, extracting the peas within, one by one.

This was the way my youngest ate his peas. Even in later years, when the average teenage palate is generally piqued by more processed foods, Ryan could be found in the garden — the Great Pea Hunter — in search of sweet, green game.

Such children are wise, for they understand an important characteristic of fresh peas: Once picked, their sugar rapidly turns to starch. Even a two-hour lag between garden and meal can diminish the sweetness beyond a youngster’s liking.

But if you think shelling peas went out with the rotary dial telephone — and besides, who has time? — think again.

In a world fast-forwarded to a frenzied state, working your way through a bowl of pea pods gives you time to evaluate what’s important in life and what isn’t. So if you haven’t done it in a while, give it a try.

To shell garden peas, snap off the top of the pod and pull the string down the side, pushing open the side seam in the process. With only the slightest amount of encouragement with thumb or index finger, the peas will pop right out. Figure on about 1 to 1 1/3 cups of shelled peas per pound of whole peas (in pod). (Unless you turn the task over to the resident fresh-pea fiend, in which case you had better figure on two pounds unshelled per cup of shelled.)

Of course, as we’re waiting for those spring-into-summer peas to ripen, we can enjoy pea shoots. Although a prominent ingredient in Asian cuisine for eons, they’re fairly new on the culinary radar in the U.S., just recently showing up at your local farmers markets and in Community Supported Agriculture boxes.

The soft, tender leaves, with spiralling tendrils and crunchy stems, provide a hint of pea flavor. Use them raw in salads or lightly sauteed as in the recipe below, for a simple sidekick to anything off the grill.

Several years ago, when plotting the menu for my annual summer dinner at Tyee Winery in Corvallis, I decided that pea shoots would be a delightful garnish on the salad course.

Three weeks before the July event, I planted several flats of sugar snap peas, just enough for the 150 guests I’d be feeding. On the eve of the dinner, the shoots were about 4 inches tall and I was able to harvest. They were, of course, a hit.

Aside from their garnishing potential, they are wonderful in soups when added at the last minute, or tucked into a tortilla roll-up or pocket-bread filling.

Stir-fried pea shoots with garlic

2-3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 quart of loosely packed pea shoots (6 to 8 ounces), washed and spun dried

Splash of ponzu or soy sauce (optional)

1-2 tablespoons chicken broth or vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook briefly, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the pea shoots and continue to stir-fry just until the sprouts begin to wilt. Add the ponzu sauce (if desired) and the broth and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Heat through then remove from heat and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

The word “paillard” is French for “flattened.” I love the approach, because the chicken breasts cook quickly and there’s greater surface to volume which maximizes the flavor experience.

The three-pea concept involves a zesty saute of tender sugar snap peas, freshly shelled peas and pea shoots.

Herbed chicken paillards with three-pea saute

For the chicken:

3fresh cloves of garlic, put through a garlic press (or mashed into a paste on a cutting board using a chef’s knife)

3tablespoons Dijon mustard

1teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1heaping teaspoon salt

1/2teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

For the three-pea saute:

8ounces sugar snap peas

2tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1tablespoon butter

4large green onions, chopped (white and pale green portions)

11/2cups of fresh peas (start with about 11/4pounds shell peas), or 1 10-ounce package frozen peas (thawed)

1cup fresh pea shoots (if not available, use baby arugula)

1heaping teaspoon salt

1/2teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1tablespoon fresh lemon juice

To prepare the chicken: Combine the mashed garlic with the mustard, lemon zest, salt and pepper; set aside. Place each chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound each one with the flat side of a meat pounder (or a heavy rolling pin) until they are 1/2-inch thick.

Rub the breasts all over with the mustard mixture.

Grill the chicken, turning once, until they are cooked through, which will only take 2 to 3 minutes per side; remove to a clean platter and keep warm.

While the chicken is cooking, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and saute the sugar snap peas in the oil for about 20 seconds. Add the green onions and fresh peas and continue cooking just until the peas are warmed through and bright green, about 30 more seconds. Add the pea shoots (or arugula), salt, pepper, and lemon zest and toss again over the heat, then remove from heat. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and quickly toss one more time.

Serve the chicken topped with the pea mixture.

Makes 4 servings.

Dilled artichokes and peas

3/4cup chicken broth

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1tablespoon cornstarch

1tablespoon vegetable oil

2large green onions, thinly sliced

1/2pound snow peas, trimmed

114-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and halved

2pounds fresh peas, shelled (about 2 cups), blanched 1 minute, or 1 package (10-ounces) frozen peas, thawed

Dill weed to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In small bowl, combine broth, lemon juice and cornstarch; set aside. In large skillet, heat oil and stir fry green onions and snow peas over medium-high heat until crisp-tender. Add artichoke hearts and thawed peas, stirring until thoroughly heated. Pour broth mixture over vegetables and cook just until thickened. Add dill, salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from “Creme

de Colorado” by The Junior League of Denver

I love this salad! It’s a great make-ahead offering, especially in the summer months, when I can hollow out local tomatoes into which I spoon individual servings.

Cold pea salad

1cup sour cream

1/2teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4teaspoon lemon pepper

2cloves finely minced garlic

4pounds fresh peas, shelled (about 4 cups), blanched 1 minute (then immediately plunged into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color), or 2 packages (10-ounces each) frozen peas, thawed

1/2pound bacon, fried, crisp, drained and crumbled

1/2cup minced red onion

In medium bowl, combine sour cream, seasoned salt, lemon pepper and garlic powder. Stir in peas, bacon, and red onion. Mix thoroughly, adjust seasoning, then chill overnight. For a little extra crunch, consider stirring in thinly sliced or coarsely chopped water chestnuts (canned).

Makes 6 generous servings.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis., Ore., food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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