What are pea greens? They are the young and tender pea vines that you may find piled high in tangled bundles at the farmers market. They're sometimes labeled "pea tendrils" or "pea shoots," although true pea shoots are smaller (just a few inches long) and even younger.
Where to Find Pea Greens
Pea greens are sold in big tumbled masses at farmers markets and Asian markets. Some specialty markets are starting to carry them, but they are not well suited to traditional supermarkets since they go bad so quickly. Besides being in 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—again, these delicate greens wilt and spoil fairly quickly, and being scrunched into a bag tends to speed than tendency along.
When to Find Pea Greens
Pea greens are abundant in spring and early summer—whenever farmers near you are clearing pea plants to make room for more mature plants to thrive. If you're growing peas in your garden, go ahead and harvest "branches" of the pea vines to keep them under control and cook them up!
How to Choose Pea Greens
Look for bright pea green vines with fresh, vibrant looking leaves. Avoid vines with brown or mushy ends. Damaged or wilted leaves are best avoided, if possible, as well. Older, thicker vines will be tough, will similarly tough leaves. They will get somewhat tender with long, gentle cooking, but will always have more fiber and chewiness compared to their less mature counterparts.
How to Store Pea Greens
Pea greens should be used within a day or two after buying them. In the meantime, store them loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. Or, help them last a little longer and clean them first, them roll them up in paper towels, and pop that whole bundle into a plastic bag in the fridge.
How to Prepare Pea Greens
Before cooking pea greens, look them over and cut or snap off any wilting leaves, tough ends, or thick stems (you can tell they're too thick if you bite into them and you can't bite right through them). 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 in a salad spinner. If you're confronted with a particularly twisted bunch, cut them up to make them easier to eat after they're cooked.
How to Cook Pea Greens
They work well in salads and are delicious simply cooked. If you want to cook them, pea greens are at their best simply sauteed in a bit of olive oil or grapeseed oil. Some browned garlic or shallots add a nice bit of sweetness, and a squirt of lemon juice at the end highlight the bright, clean flavor of pea greens.
Pea greens are also delicious added to soups, where their great leafy volume cooks down into lovely green ribbons.
Note that pea greens cook down in volume a tremendous amount - up to 90%. To cook them for a large group you may need to cook them in several batches.