What We’re Cooking This Week: Sugar Snap Peas

Lightly cooking the peas deepens their color and their sweetness.

Recipes: Sugar Snap Peas (Jim Dixon)

Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.

Spring brings sugar snap peas, and for the next couple of months their stubby, fat pods should be in regular rotation on your table. While humans have been eating some form of dried pea mush for millennia, the bright green little balls of vegetable goodness we call peas have only been a thing since the Renaissance Italians came up with “piselli novelli” (new peas) that they harvested and ate while young. But compared to what we now call garden peas, sugar snaps are more like newborns.

In the late 1970s, a newly minted Montana plant breeder named Calvin Lamborn crossed a thick-walled shelling pea mutant (discovered by another breeder in the 1950s) with snow peas to bring us sugar snaps. Part of the larger family of edible pod fruits (anything with a seed is a fruit), they’re technically just snap peas, but Lamborn called his cultivar Sugar Snap—like Kleenex, the name stuck to every snap pea.

When sugar snaps were introduced to the vegetable-eating public in 1979, Oregon’s most famous eater, James Beard, said they were “nothing short of sensational.” And they are, especially when prepared simply. While you can eat them raw, sugar snaps are much better if very lightly cooked. Not only do they look better, a deep vibrant green compared to the pale mottled look when raw, they actually get a little sweeter without losing any of that satisfying crunch.

While cooked snap peas can be added to salads, I think they’re best on their own. While this simple recipe adds a few extra flavor enhancers, snap peas are almost as tasty with just a drizzle of good olive oil and some salt.

1 pound sugar snap peas

2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Juice from half a lemon, about 2 teaspoons*

Zest from half a lemon (optional but very good)

Pinch of kosher-style sea salt to finish

*You can substitute good vinegar for the lemon juice and zest

Bring a couple of quarts of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, drop in the snap peas, and cook for a minute or two. Drain and use kitchen shears or scissors to clip off the stem ends. I cut the longer ones in half, too. Toss with the rest of the ingredients.

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