Simpler is better with spring peas

One of the joys of early spring is the availability of crisp, sweet edible peas. They are an entirely different vegetable from the canned or frozen variety , but their season is short, so they should be enjoyed while they taste their best.

In purchasing peas, look for pods that are light green in color and slightly velvety to the touch. Immature peas usually come in pods that are dark green, flat, and limp.

Overmature pods are swollen, whitish in color, and pebbly in texture. Some say that peas should squeak when the pods are rubbed together.

Several herbs and spices are compatible with fresh peas, enhancing their natural flavor. These include marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, rosemary, savory, and tarragon.

One way to cook peas is to steam them in a heavy covered pan with a small amount of boiling water. Turn the heat low; while they're cooking, lift the cover and add salt to taste. Steam for 5 minutes or longer, depending on size. Drain well and toss peas in butter.

For peas with rosemary, tuck a sprig of fresh rosemary into the pot while peas are boiling, or add a pinch of dried rosemary to peas before serving.

For fresh peas in cream, drain cooked peas. Stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream and a pinch of nutmeg or mace, along with salt, pepper, and butter. Here are some other ideas. Peas and Water Chestnuts 2 pounds peas Salt to taste 2/3 cup chopped bacon slices 1/4 cup minced onion 1/2 cup slivered almonds or sliced water chestnuts 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream Shell peas. In medium saucepan over medium heat, in 1 inch boiling water, heat peas and salt to boiling. Cover and cook 5 minutes. Drain. In medium skillet over medium heat, fry bacon and onion until light brown. Add peas and almonds or water chestnuts, and heat through. Stir in cream. Serve in individual dishes. Serves 4. New Green Peas With Mint and Orange 3 pounds green peas, shelled and boiled 1/4 cup butter or margarine 2 tablespoons finely slivered orange rind 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint, or 1 teaspoon dried mint 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper

While peas are cooking, melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add orange rind; heat uncovered 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain peas well. Add butter, mint, salt, and pepper. Toss lightly to mix. Serves 4. Peas Lorraine 2 pounds peas, shelled 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 1/2 cup water 2 tablespoons minced onion 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1 teaspoon sugar (optional) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper Pinch of nutmeg 4 to 6 lettuce leaves, finely shredded 1/2 cup cream

Heat butter and water. Add shelled peas, onion, parsley, sugar, and seasonings. Cover and cook until peas are almost tender. Add finely shredded lettuce. Cook 5 minutes longer. Add cream. Serves 4 to 6. New Peas, Chilled and Dilled 1 cup sour cream 1 bunch fresh chives, snipped 1/4 cup fresh snipped dill 1 teaspoon curry powder, or to taste Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 2 cups tender new peas, cooked Snipped dill for garnish

Combine sour cream, chives, dill, curry powder, salt and pepper in bowl. Add peas and mix gently. Place in serving dish and garnish with dill. Chill thoroughly before serving as appetizer, first course, or vegetable dish. Serves 4 to 6.

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