Pea greens, the young and tender pea vines you may find piled high in tangled bundles at the farmers' market, can be eaten cooked or raw. They often appear in Asian cuisine, but their herbal flavor makes them an appealing garnish for nearly any dish. Pea greens are abundant in spring and early summer—whenever farmers or backyard gardeners near you start clearing pea plants to make room for more mature plants to thrive.
What Are Pea Greens?
They're sometimes labeled "pea tendrils" or "pea shoots," but don't mistake them for pea sprouts, which are just the first few inches of plant growth. Pea greens in markets typically come from snow or snap peas, although you can eat the shoots of any pea variety. Because they're so perishable, they are among the more expensive produce items, comparable to the cost of microgreens. They require minimal preparation, however, about the same effort as needed to clean a head of lettuce.
How to Use Pea Greens
Before cooking pea greens, look them over and cut or snap off any wilting leaves, tough ends, or thick stems. Rinse them in cool water, lift them out of the water to leave behind any grit, and dry them in layers of paper towels or a salad spinner. If you're confronted with a particularly twisted bunch, cut them up to make them easier to eat.
Add raw pea greens to salads, sandwiches, bowls, and soups for crunch and textural variety. You can also steam cook or sauté them to eat as a simple side or add them as an ingredient in stir-fries and pasta dishes. Note that pea greens cook down in volume a tremendous amount—up to 90 percent. To serve them to a large group, you may need to cook them in several batches. Pea greens are also delicious added to soups just before serving, where their great leafy volume wilts down into lovely green ribbons.
Older, thicker vines can be tough, with similarly tough leaves. They do turn tender with long, gentle cooking but still remain more fibrous than their less mature counterparts. A squeeze of lemon before serving revives the fresh flavor.
What Do They Taste Like?
Pea greens have a grassy flavor with a hint of sweetness reminiscent of peas and a mineral essence similar to spinach. Older vines can be tough and bitter, though. They pair particularly well with Asian flavors but also add a nice snap to tacos or as a finishing garnish on nearly any dish.
Pea Greens Recipes
Fresh pea greens add crisp texture to salads and other cold dishes. If you want to cook them, pea vines taste best simply sautéed or steamed. In general, you can also use pea greens in place of spinach in Florentine dishes and as a green vegetable in stir-fries.
Where to Buy Pea Greens
Pea greens are sold in spring and early summer in big tumbled masses at farmers' markets and Asian markets. Some specialty grocery stores carry them too, but because they go bad so quickly, they can be hard to find in larger supermarkets. Besides displays of tangled piles to pull from, you may see them already packaged in paper or plastic bags. Be sure to check the contents before you buy—these delicate greens wilt and spoil quickly, and getting scrunched into a bag tends to speed that process along.
Look for bright pea green vines with fresh, vibrant leaves. Avoid vines with brown or mushy ends and damaged or wilted leaves.
You can grow pea greens at home. Simply sow seeds for dedicated plants specifically for harvesting the stems and tendrils. You can also grow them indoors in a sunny window.
Ideally, you should use pea greens within a day or two of purchase. When you bring them home from the store, keep them loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. If you want to clean them first so they're ready to grab when you want them, rinse them thoroughly, spread them out to dry completely, then roll them up in paper towels. Pop that whole bundle into a plastic bag in the crisper drawer to keep them fresh for a few days.
Nutrition and Benefits
Like most leafy greens, pea greens pack a nutritional punch. They're low in calories and a good source of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A for healthy skin and eyes. A 1-ounce serving also delivers an impressive 32 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, along with folate and fiber—and all for just 40 calories per cup.