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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Pea shoots come from none other than the pea plant. Shocker, right? Usually the delicate tendrils come from snow or sugar snap pea varieties, but any garden pea variety will produce them. It may seem like pea shoots have always been a part of your spring menu -- but at least in the United States, they’ve only been dressing up our plates for a couple of decades. In Leafy Greens, Mark Bittman writes that “pea shoots were “discovered” by chefs and soon thereafter by home cooks in 1992.”
To stem any confusion, the pea shoots we’re talking about today are made up of a few inches of delicate leaves (1), tendrils (2), and occasionally buds or blossoms; you'll find them as pea tendrils, pea greens, or pea tips, too. A mixup can occur, though, when you find pea sprouts mislabeled as pea shoots. The sprouts are lighter green and are generally a long thin stem and two tiny leaves; pea shoots are a further along, more mature version of the plant.
What to Look For and How to Store
Choose pea shoots that look fresh and are free from bruised, wilted, or discolored leaves. Given their short season, your best bet for finding pea shoots will be to visit your farmers market -- though you might find them at a Chinese market or restaurant, as well. It's easy to visually tell the difference between pea shoots and pea sprouts if you're shopping at the market, but take heed if you're ordering take-out. The naming confusion continues: pea shoots’ Chinese names (dou miao and dau miu) can refer to either the sprouts or the shoots.
Once you track them down, use your pea shoots quickly -- within a day or two. Wrap them in a paper towel and place them in an open plastic bag (3) in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to use them, gently wash and discard any large stems.
How to Grow Your Own
Make the most of your kitchen, and have pea shoots on hand at all times by growing your own -- The Yellow House walks you through the process step-by-step. Just make sure you stick to your windowsill for the optimal growing location. Given that pea shoots are the precursors to pea pods, if you’re growing peas outside in your garden, practice restraint when harvesting tendrils. Take too many, and you’ll compromise the number of pods you get later.
How to Use
Pea shoots are best handled with a light touch. Their delicate crunch and sweet flavor make a snappy addition to salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish for pretty much anything. Or, lightly cook them with garlic and give scrambled eggs a springy twist. We’ve had multiple discussions on the Hotline that are packed with suggestions, and we've got a week's worth of options, too:
Saturday: Pea Shoot and Baby Arugula Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Sunday: Slow Cooked Salmon Filets with Savory Sweet Pea Shoot Soy Sauce
Monday: Three Peas in a Pot
Tuesday: Fava Bean and Pea Shoot Salad -- either with Asparagus or Avocado
Wednesday: Baby Spinach and Pea Shoot Salad with a Honey Lemon Vinaigrette
Thursday: Ramped Up Crostini with Ricotta and Pea Shoots
Friday: Pea Shoots and Sugar Snaps with Preserved Lemon Cream
What are your favorite ways to use pea shoots? We’re planning to kick off the weekend with a peatini.
Photos by James Ransom