Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Lonely Legume: Eat Yo' Peas, Please!

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I can only speak for myself here, but I grew up hating peas, or English peas as we called them. I really despised those buggers. Their presence on my plate told me two things... 1) my mother loved me enough to feed me vegetables, but 2) she clearly wanted to ruin my life. They tasted like dirty swamp water.

I pushed those peas around my plate with gusto, hoping against hope that they would suddenly vanish from my plate or maybe just give the impression that I ate a few. If my parents had allowed our dog Hank into the kitchen during dinnertime, I would've definitely flung him a few. Hate is a strong word, but it is the only word appropriate for my feeling towards those little green globes of swamp water.

So you can imagine my surprise when I decided to give green peas another try, and I actually LIKED THEM this time! Then, when I started reading up on their nutritional benefits, I liked them even more. I can only compare the feeling to that of seeing the biggest dork in high school at your reunion and finding out he's magically transformed into a Brad Pitt look-alike. Pleasant surprise mixed with the thought of 'what have I missed out on?!?'.

Green peas (also called sweet peas or English peas) are one of the most nutritious legumes, yet they seem to be largely ignored (probably because we all hated them as children). They are believed to have originated in the Sub-Himalayan plains of northwest India and have been traced back thousands of years (we're talking BC, not A.D.).

Here's why you should give them another try...

HEART HELPERS - Green peas are packed with omega-3's and antioxidants.

CANCER FIGHTERS - The phytonutrients in green peas act as health protectors, fighting cancer-causing free radicals in the body.

BLOOD SUGAR REGULATORS - The high dietary fiber and protein content of green peas can help regulate your blood sugar and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes (1 cup of raw peas provides 30.3% and 14.7% of your daily values respectively, based on a 2000 calorie diet)

FATIGUE FIGHTERS - Green peas provide a significant, non-animal source of iron, a nutrient that fights fatigue, helps in proper blood cell formation and carries oxygen throughout the body.

FAT BLASTERS - One cup of raw peas has only 1/3 gram of fat and 115 calories.

EYESIGHT ENABLERS - The lutein found in peas helps to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.

VITAMIN PROVIDERS - One cup provides 44.6% of your DV of vitamin K (for bone building) and 32.5% of vitamin C (for immune support).

When buying fresh peas in the pod, look for pods that are smooth and consistent in color. I really like buying them fresh because you get to shell them. It's really easy and can be really cathartic... the kind of therapy you don't have to pay the big bucks for!

To ease myself back into the pea game, I tried this recipe from (but I added shrimp because I felt like it, ok?). I've attached simple step-by-step instructions and pictures for your viewing pleasure. It was incredibly flavorful and sooooo good that I hardly noticed my pesto was made from peas!

To prep, toast the pine nuts in the oven at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, watching them closely to prevent them
from burning. Pine nuts can be expensive (like $30 per lb.), so you can always
substitute them with raw cashews or almonds.
Shell your fresh peas. This part should be fun! Get the kids involved! 
Peel and devein the shrimp.
Bring the water to a boil and cook the linguine until al dente (when draining, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water for later). You can use whole wheat pasta if you want to make it extra nutritious!
In a small saucepan, bring lightly salted water to a boil. Add the green peas and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the peas,
then transfer them to an ice bath for a minute and drain again.
In a food processor, add the peas (setting 1/2 cup aside for later), pine nuts, garlic and salt. Now add the parmesan cheese... and blend for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides if necessary.
While it's mixing, drizzle in a bit of olive oil.
While your sous chef is busy manning the food processor, saute your shrimp in a little olive oil and garlic.
Add the cooked pasta and pea mixture to the pan of cooked shrimp. 
Add in the extra peas you saved and as much of the reserved pasta water as you need
to make the pesto mixture combine more easily. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve it up while it's hot and chow down! Nom nom nom!

Here are a few more pea recipes to get your wheels turning...

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My grandmother calls me 'sweet pea'. I guess my love for them was meant to be.

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