Blustery winds whoosh, snow flies, yet we can feel spring arriving in Montana, the earth about to burst.
Peas, a universal favorite, are among the first vegetables of spring.
Botanically, peas are “pulses” or legumes and are the seeds from the pods of flowering pea plants. Among the varieties of peas, the garden pea boasts full, rounded, vibrant green pods that with the flick of a thumb release delicate, sweet orbs of goodness. Snow peas, a star in Asian cooking, have flat, edible, sweet pods. Snap peas, often found in Montana gardens, are a cross between the garden and snow pea with rounded, edible pods. Pea shoots—the plant’s fragile tendrils and leaves—are also delicious.
Peas are little miracles of nutrition for body and soil. High in protein, fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients, they are beneficial on many levels from aiding bone health with high levels of vitamin K to discouraging stomach cancer with the polyphenol coumestrol and regulating blood sugar levels as a low-glycemic food.
Peas, nitrogen fixers, are wonderful for the soil. Their roots contain rhizobia, beneficial bacteria that remove nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil. Farmers and gardeners know to use peas as companion plants and soil enhancers.
Look to local Montana growers like Chance Farm and Montana Roots for fresh pea shoots year round and browse Bozeman farmers markets for the earliest garden peas. Choose the smallest, sweetest “petit pois” for optimal taste. The larger the pea and longer it sits after harvest the less sweet and starchier it becomes. Year-round frozen organic petite peas are also a good option for your cooking needs.
Celebrate the change of season with Potage St. Germain, a classic nod to the spring pea’s delicious taste and gorgeous color. Heap on the freshest and most nutritious produce with a salad of spring’s tender lettuces, radish, spring onion, strawberries, and pea shoots.
A warming soup and a salad with a bit of punch from radish and onion will help to balance the body as it transitions from cold, dry winter’s need for warmth, moisture, and stillness to the body’s desire for more movement, lighter fare, and engagement as we come out of deep winter and embrace the light and warmth of spring.