Please eat your sugar peas pods and all

June 26, 1994|By Elizabeth Schneider | Elizabeth Schneider,Eating Well Magazine United Feature Syndicate

While shelling English peas is a good project for a lazy afternoon, sugar peas -- the kind with the edible pods -- are more suited to those of us who are just getting home from the office. The British and French appropriately call them mange-tout, meaning eat-it-all. We know them as two distinct types called snow peas and sugar snap peas.

Ribbon-flat, pliable snow peas are also dubbed Chinese snow peas. Curiously, they have nothing to do with snow, and $H originated not in China but in the Near East. Plump, crunchy, crescent-shaped sugar snap peas look much more like English peas, but have edible pods.

* Selection: Snow peas are sometimes available year-round in Asian markets, fancy groceries and most supermarkets; sugar snap peas can be found at the latter two. Late spring and early summer produce the most tender, sweet, flavorful specimens.

* Storage: All peas lose flavor and tone when stored, so purchase for present or near-future use. Refrigerate sugar peas in a perforated plastic bag; snow peas in peak form will keep for three to four days, sugar snaps for five to six days.

* Stringing along: Stringless peas exist, but most pods must be stripped of their fibrous sutures, which cooking will not soften. For snow peas, break the stem end and slowly zip off the thicker side (where the peas are attached). Snap and pull the other tip of a few pods to see if the batch needs double stringing. Sugar snaps usually need to have both strings removed. Some will zip free in one move: Break the stem end, then gently pull the length of the pod to remove both "spines" at once. If one side balks, pull again, starting at the other tip.

* Cooking: Quick is the trick. Overcooking destroys the character of sugar snaps and snow peas. Although they can be enjoyed raw, brief cooking -- even for cold dishes -- develops sweetness, flavor and color.

Snow Peas with Radishes and Sesame Seeds

Serves 6

1 tablespoon white or black sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon peanut oil

1 pound snow peas, strings removed, halved diagonally

2 tablespoons dry sherry

10 small red radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch cayenne pepper

In a large, dry skillet, toast sesame seeds over low heat, stirring constantly or shaking the pan, until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Increase heat to high, add oil to the skillet, then add snow peas and cook, tossing, for about 3 minutes, or until not quite cooked through. Add sherry and toss for another 30 seconds, or until the snow peas are just barely tender. Add radishes, sugar, salt and cayenne and toss just until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Per serving: 59 calories, 3 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrate, 94 milligrams sodium, 7 milligrams cholesterol.

Penne with Sugar Snaps, Tomatoes and Herbs

Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main course

2 tablespoons pine nuts

10 firm, ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered

3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

1 tablespoon olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 pound sugar snap peas, strings removed, pods halved on a diagonal

1/2 pound penne

1/4 cup slivered fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast pine nuts, stirring until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Coarsely chop the nuts and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large serving bowl, combine tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the chives, olive oil, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Place sugar snaps in a sieve, then dip into the boiling water for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until not quite cooked through. Lift out and set aside. Add penne to the water; boil until just barely tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and add to the serving bowl with the tomatoes. Add the cooked sugar snaps, basil, parsley and remaining 1 tablespoon chives and toss. Taste and add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the reserved pine nuts, toss again and serve.

Per serving: 310 calories for each of 4 servings, 11 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 52 grams carbohydrate, 148 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol.

Smoked Salmon and Pea Barquettes

Wasabi powder can be found at most Japanese groceries or health-food stores. If more convenient, the snow peas can be blanched instead of steamed.

Makes about 40 appetizers

4 ounces snow peas

2 1/2 -inch-thick slices French bread, crusts removed

1 10-ounce package frozen green peas (2 cups)

4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese

1 teaspoon wasabi powder or bottled horseradish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into slivers, or 2 tablespoons salmon roe

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