Craving a healthy spring snack? Pick up a bag of sugar snap peas. Developed in Montana in the 1970s, these emerald green pods combine the sweetness of familiar shelled green peas with the crunch of the flat, edible snow pea pods beloved in Chinese cooking.
Sugar snaps are a snap to prepare. Some come pre-washed, and a quick swish in hot butter or oil amps up their colour, giving you a delicious and beautiful side dish in 3 minutes.
When it comes to snacking, Toronto lags a few years behind Vancouver, where families think nothing of picking up a 900-gram bag of sugar snaps weekly at Costco and eating them right out of the bag.
But we’re catching up quickly, says Ben Alviano, Canadian manager for Mann’s in California.
“Sugar snap sales continue to grow immensely in Eastern Canada,” says Alviano. “Our 425-gram bags now outsell our 227-gram bags, which tells me consumers intend to snack on them rather than cook them the traditional way.”
Good for you
Served hot or cold, sweet, crunchy sugar snaps make a satisfying and good-for-you snack. One cup (90 g) contains only 35 calories and they’re an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin K. They also offer a few grams of protein and fibre.
My new neighbours planted sugar snap peas in our laneway garden last summer and they grew exceptionally well. Since pea plants don’t generally like hot weather, I’m thinking of starting seeds now to speed things up.
Buy & Store
- With the Mexican season winding down, Alviano says Mann’s will soon be harvesting sugar snap peas from its fields in California’s Salinas Valley. Guatemala is also a huge producer of sugar snaps, then there’s China.
- Choose bright green pea pods, firm and free from blemishes.
- Store in the crisper section of the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag.
- For the sweetest flavour, serve sugar snaps as soon after purchase as possible.
- Place in a colander and rinse with cold water.
- Some brands offer bags of prewashed, ready to eat sugar snaps.
- Remove strings if necessary, though many varieties are stringless.
- Serve raw or steam, boil or sauté in oil or butter for 1 to 3 minutes.
- However you prepare them, be sure to preserve their crunch and colour.
- Throw sugar snaps in boiling water for 1minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice cold water until completely cool. This keeps them bright green and prevents overcooking. Add to hot or cold dishes. Serve Coarsely chop sugar snap pods or serve whole in salads.
- Eat raw as a snack or serve with hummus, guacamole or ranch dressing for dipping.
- BBQ: Alviano tosses sugar snaps with olive oil and Montreal steak spice. Lay foil on the grill, arrange snap peas in a single layer and cook 3 minutes on medium until bright green. Serve hot.
- Add to a vegetable soup at the last minute.
- Add to salads and stir-fries with an Asian flair.
- Toss raw or blanched into pasta, risotto or potato salad.
- Sauté in oil with fresh garlic for a quick side dish.
- Drizzle steamed sugar snaps with teriyaki sauce, melted butter, fresh herbs, lemon juice or grated cheese.
- Toss cooked shrimp with raw or cooked sugar snaps and dress with a sesame oil-rice wine vinaigrette.
- Sauté quickly and serve with Asian-marinated salmon.
- Add raw sugar snaps to a grilled chicken salad.
- Substitute for green beans in a salade niçoise.
Sugar Snap Risotto
This light, delicious risotto is a lovely introduction to spring. If leeks are pricey, chop up a small onion instead.
4 cups (1 L) low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp olive oil
120 g sliced prosciutto or pancetta, cut in 1/4-inch strips
1 large leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 cup (250 mL) short grain Italian arborio rice
1/2 cup (125 mL) dry white wine
6 oz (180 g) sugar snap peas, trimmed if necessary, cut in half if large
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp butter
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped chives
Heat stock in a large saucepan and keep at a simmer.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add prosciutto and cook 3 minutes or until it renders some fat. Add leeks and cook 3 minutes or until tender and translucent. Add rice, stirring to coat grains with fat. Add wine and cook, stirring, until it evaporates.
Stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) of warm broth. Continue stirring until it’s almost all absorbed then add another 1/2-cup.
Continue stirring and adding broth for about 17 minutes, until rice is creamy and tender but not mushy. You should use all or most of the liquid.
Add sugar snap peas and cook 2 to 3 minutes until bright green. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter. Add black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.