How to Buy, Store and Cook with Pea Shoots

peashootsA couple of weeks ago I experienced a revelation: I tasted my first pea shoot.

I was at the Little Italy Mercato buying Asian produce from The Vangs, also known as Mr. and Mrs. Green. After purchasing Thai basil, fresh ginger and sugar snap peas, I asked, "What do pea shoots taste like?"

She replied, with no sarcasm, "Peas."

She tore a small piece off one of the leaves and handed it to me. I bit into it and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds, harp music began playing, and I floated ever so slightly off of the pavement.

OK, that's not exactly what happened. There was no harp music. It was Spanish music being played by a local band. Pea shoots are the leaves and tendrils of pea plants, usually sugar snap peas. But they're so much more than that. With their celery green leaves and wispy curly cues, they look like Nature's wedding bouquet. As for the taste, Mrs. Green was right. Peas shoots taste just like fresh English peas -- refreshingly crisp and somehow both sweet and grassy.

Pea shoot season is frighteningly short, lasting only three to four weeks, so when you see pea shoots, buy them. It can start as early as April or as late as June depending upon where they're being grown. Here is San Diego, we're nearing the end of our season because pea shoots can't survive the heat. Fortunately, they'll return for a short time in the fall.


Where can you buy pea shoots? Try farmers' markets first then organic and specialty markets. Look for fresh, brightly colored, crisp bunches void of yellowed stalks and leaves. If you can't find them, ask the produce manager at your local market if they're available.

How do you store pea shoots? Place them inside a brown paper bag, or wrap them with paper towel, and place in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They should last 2 to 3 days.

How do you cook with pea shoots? First, cut off any yellowed or thick stems, then tear into small pieces. Eat them raw by tossing them into salads or eating them out of hand. Like most greens, pea shoots can be steamed, boiled, sauteed and stir-fried. Whichever cooking method you choose, be sure to cook the pea shoots quickly and lightly; you just want to wilt them.

Here are five simple ways to cook with pea shoots:
1. Saute lightly in extra virgin olive oil, and douse with fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
2. Saute lightly in sesame oil and crushed garlic, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and cayenne pepper.
3. Add to warm pasta with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and zest, grated Parmesan cheese, and cracked black pepper.
4. Toss into scrambled eggs with grated Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.
5. Add to soups such as a gingery Asian chicken noodle.

Fresh Pea Shoot, Sugar Snap Pea and Orange Salad
Makes 4 side or 2 main servings
Printable recipe.

1 small bunch fresh pea shoots, large stems removed, and hand torn, about 2 packed cups
1 cup fresh sugar snap peas
1 large orange, peel and cut into segments
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Toss pea shoots, sugar snap peas, and orange segments in a medium bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust as necessary. Pour over salad, toss well and serve.

Variation: Add sauteed shrimp or scallops lightly sauteed in sesame oil.


Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of  Recipes Every Man Should KnowCookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too and The Encyclopedia of SandwichesCookbook Review: Parents Need to Eat Too.