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Give peas a chance

By Jim Romanoff

For The Associated Press

Green peas are so robust they can be planted in spring when the ground temperature has reached just 50 F.

And nutritionally speaking, green peas, also called English or garden peas, live up to this brawny image.

Sweet and starchy, green peas are a great source of many vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin C and folic acid. They also are a great source of dietary fiber and plant proteins.

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Though they generally are thought of, and prepared like, vegetables, green peas actually are part of the legume family, which are plants that produce pods containing seeds or beans.

Fresh green peas can sometimes be found in the market, but they most often are sold frozen or canned.

If fresh aren’t available, always opt for frozen rather than canned peas. Frozen peas retain more of their nutrients, are significantly lower in sodium, and have superior flavor and texture.

If you are lucky enough to find fresh green peas, choose glossy light green pods that are free of blemishes and feel somewhat heavy. Some markets carry fresh green peas that have been removed from their shells.

Unlike sugar snap peas or snow peas, the shells (or pods) of fresh green peas are tough and inedible.

To prepare fresh peas, open the pod by pulling from the stem end to remove the string that runs along the seam.

As a rule of thumb, a pound of unshelled green peas will yield about 1 cup of shelled peas.

To cook the peas, bring about 1-inch if water to boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Steam the peas in a steamer basket over the boiling water until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

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Alternatively, place the peas in a large microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high until the peas are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Both of these recipes are quick to prepare and burst with the flavors of spring.

Minted peas with feta cheese

Start to finish: 10 minutes (5 minutes active)

Servings: 5

16 ounces frozen or fresh shelled peas (2 cups)

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint

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Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring about 1-inch of water to boil over high heat. Place a steamer basket over the water and place the peas inside. Steam the peas until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Alternatively, place peas in a large microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high until the peas are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Drain the peas and toss with the feta and mint. Season with salt and pepper.

Nutrition information per serving: 84 calories; 2 g fat (1 1/2 g saturated); 9 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 4 g fiber; 536 mg sodium.

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Green peas with scallions

Start to finish: 10 minutes (5 minutes active)

Servings: 4

1 bunch scallions, washed and trimmed

2 teaspoons olive oil

16 ounces frozen or fresh shelled peas (2 cups)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Slice the scallions in half lengthwise and then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the scallions and saute until soft, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the peas, cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the peas are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tarragon and season with salt and pepper.

Nutrition information per serving: 102 calories; 2 g fat (0 g saturated); 0 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber; 536 mg sodium.

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