Peas, whether the regular garden variety or the sugarsnap ones, taste of winter's freshness.
More than half the peas sold in the world are canned and almost all the rest are frozen. No wonder, since most of their sugar content turns to starch within six hours of being picked; so the sooner the change is arrested the sweeter they taste. They contain lots of dietary fibre and protein, but, most important, they taste of the freshness of winter. And tiny, sweet, deep green petits pois are not a separate variety but just regular peas harvested very young.
Sugar peas, also called snap peas or sugarsnap peas, are a slightly different variety. Ordinary garden peas have a tough inner lining which makes the pods inedible. Sugar peas have a tender pod and, when they're young and fresh, the whole pod and the tiny peas in it can be eaten - exactly what their French name, mange-tout, means: “eat everything”.
Sugarsnap peas are lovely in a salad – just washed and tossed in or blanched first – or in a stir-fry, with minimum cooking. They should first be rinsed; then the tips at both ends cut off with kitchen scissors. Whether they're being eaten raw or cooked, they need to have their strings removed. The string runs around both sides of the pod. The easiest way is to start from the bottom tip and pull the string up the front, then snap the stem off and pull the string down the back of the pod. Sugarsnap peas aren't so easy to find and one doesn't always have access to specialty vegetable stores or the time to make the trip.
Store it right
But green garden peas are everywhere now. When my daughter was very small she would sometimes wake up from her afternoon nap and demand matar pulao. She was a picky eater, so this possibility of getting both a carb and fresh green veggies into her was seized upon immediately. Had I had to shell peas at 4.00 p.m., I would have offered her a banana instead, and she would have lost interest too. But I've learnt to freeze peas the day I buy them. I've just discovered something that should always have been apparent; that peas should be washed in their pods before shelling. Anyhow peas are shelled, a big pot of water is boiled, the peas are blanched for half a minute, spread out on a cloth, cooled and frozen in one-helping packs. And then their uses are countless. Matar paneer, keema matar, alu matar and matar pulau are almost clichés, but my favourite is just lightly sautéed peas, chhaunka matar, what some call bhagona matar. In some homes this is a breakfast dish, and that's possible because it's so quick to make.
The pea and sugarsnap pea “oriental” salad is a good accompaniment to Indian Chinese food, but it goes equally well with a home-cooked Western meal.
I eat my peas with honey/I've done it all my life/It makes the peas taste funny/But it keeps them on my knife
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp whole zeera, cumin (optional)
2 green chillies, slit and seeded
1 tsp ginger juliennes
2 cups peas, shelled and blanched
1/2 tsp butter (optional)
Pinch of sugar
Method: Heat oil. Sauté cumin, if using. Lightly fry green chillies and ginger for a few seconds, quickly followed by peas.
Stir over medium heat until peas are heated through. Add salt and pepper and a knob of butter, if using. Add sugar just before serving.
Green Pea and Sugar Snap Pea Salad In Sesame Dressing
3 cups shelled peas
12 oz sugarsnap peas, trimmed
2 tbsp rice vinegar (or malt vinegar)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
Salt, preferably coarse
Pepper, freshly and coarsely ground
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted on a dry griddle till golden and fragrant
Method: Cook shelled peas in large saucepan of boiling salted water until almost tender, about half a minute. Add sugarsnap peas to same pan and blanch these for about another half minute. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Transfer to a large salad bowl.
In a small glass bottle, combine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Screw on top tightly and shake vigorously to blend. Pour dressing over peas and toss to coat. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds just before serving.
Green Pea Soup
2 cups peas
3 spring onions
3-4 lettuce leaves
1 rasher bacon
1 cup spinach leaves
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp hung curd
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
Method: Shell peas, chop spring onions small, including green parts. Tear up lettuce roughly. Cut bacon into small pieces, removing rind, if any. Chop spinach.
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat butter just until melted. Sauté spring onions, lettuce, bacon and spinach for a few minutes, until slightly softened.
Stir in peas. Add 4 cups boiling water and salt. Cover and simmer on medium heat until peas are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add sugar and stir till combined.
Cool soup, then purée in blender until smooth. Reheat just before serving, adding pepper and more salt if necessary.
Stir in chopped mint leaves. Top with a spoonful of hung curd and a pinch of grated nutmeg.
Vasundhara Chauhan is based in Delhi.