Unexpected Edibles - Pea Shoots
May 21, 2013 at 3:55 PM
Spring peas are one of the most anticipated flavors of the garden—sweet, crunchy sugar snap peas and creamy, full-flavor shelling peas seem to take maddeningly long to reach harvest size as our palettes tire of the hardy greens and stored roots we’ve been eating all winter. As pea plants mature, they create a jungle of vining stems and tendrils that grow in all directions despite our attempts to train them onto a stake or trellis. While this leafy growth is essential for a bountiful pod harvest, collecting and transferring the solar energy needed to the pods, a few tender stalks here and there can be sacrificed to keep the plants tidy and quell some of our pea cravings.
If we prune our peas selectively, choosing only the most tender stem tips in 2 to 4-inch segments and limiting our harvests to 10% or less of the total plant mass, we can tidy up the garden and turn our trimmings into a delicacy. Choose tips that feel very soft, cutting just above the point they begin to stiffen, as any rigidity will translate to fibrous, chewy pea shoots. Once you’ve harvested a few rounds of pods, consider pinching off a bowl’s worth of pea flower buds and an inch or so of stem—the unopened flowers have a creamy green flavor that rivals the pods we grow them for. Best to harvest in moderation, though, and have the best of both worlds.
Tender, young buds and very soft stems may be eaten out of hand as a garden snack, or tossed in salads. Slightly firmer and longer shoots will hold up in stir-fries and pastas, but only need a minute or two in the pan. Pea soup gains a whole new dimension with the addition of leaves, shoots and buds as a garnish.