Pea Shoots: The Taste of Spring

April 12, 2013

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: Get ideas for maximizing pea shoots’ short season with a week’s worth of meals, and learn how to extend it by growing your own.

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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.

More: Pea shoots make it official -- spring has sprung. It’s time to plan your spring soirée. 

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 

Read More:
10 Recipes to Welcome Spring 
How to Wash Greens (Without a Salad Spinner) 
9 Links to Ring In Spring 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • aprilschauer-slane
  • Panfusine
  • Marisa R
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    Sara S.
  • em-i-lis
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


aprilschauer-slane August 8, 2013
just found pea shoots at jungle jims in cinnti ohio they seem to all ways have them and a lot of everything ever driving 75 stop you well love it!!!
Panfusine April 15, 2013
I love these when they're in season..Use them in a traditional South Indian style Kootu (Stew) with coconut & cumin.
Marisa R. April 14, 2013
I love finding pea shoots once or twice a year in my Asian grocery store..the last batch I bought were a little tough as they were older plants
Sara S. April 12, 2013
I'm obsessed with pea shoots!
em-i-lis April 12, 2013
Oh I just love pea shoots. A quick saute in a super-hot pan slicked with oil, lemon juice and crushed red pepper is fantastic. Solmstea, love your idea of serving them atop eggs. On crostini is nice too!
solmstea April 12, 2013
Love pea shoots more than anything. I used to get 3 bunches a week (for $1 each!) at the Santa Monica farmers market, but since moving back to DC, it's like $4 for half as much and all the pea shoots are woody. Wah. Got to grow my own. I just saute them with some garlic and maybe a little lime juice. Simple, easy, delicious. Great on top of eggs for brunch.
AntoniaJames April 12, 2013
What is "food transparency"? I know what "transparency" means when used while negotiating a business deal but never have heard it when used with food, other than, e.g., cellophane noodles. ;o)
Lindsay-Jean H. April 13, 2013
Food transparency just means knowing where your food comes from - how the meat was raised, how the produce was grown, who did the raising and the growing, etc. I'm sure it's something you're very familiar with, just with a different label. Cara Rosaen, the Co-Founder of Real Time Farms, gave a great TED talk on food transparency last year. If you have 12 minutes to spare, you can find it here:
AntoniaJames April 16, 2013
Thank you so much, Lindsay. I look forward to seeing that. ;o)