I adore sweet pea tendrils for their little corkscrew stems and tiny flower buds clinging to the vines. But mostly, I think, I enjoy these tender pea sprouts because the short window of opportunity to enjoy their unique flavor only comes once a year.
What are pea tendrils?
Tender pea greens are among the gifts of springtime produce. They are the young stems, leaves and curly tendrils of pea vines. (You may also know them by the name pea shoots.)
You may have seen them growing and not realized that sweet pea greens and pea leaves are edible. These pea greens and tendrils are harvested when the pea plants are about 12-18 inches high. They’re fairly common in Chinese cuisine but not frequently used in American recipes.
Green pea tendrils have a flavor that hints at sweet peas but is more delicate. But their aroma is more like dewy, fresh-cut grass. They have a very short season, so make this pea shoots recipe while they’re available.
I find sweet pea shoots are my farmer’s market each spring. They’re sold by two of my favorite Asian vegetable vendors. However, if you don’t know where to buy pea shoot greens near you, you can always try your hand at growing a pea plant or two. The Spruce has a fairly extensive guide to growing and harvesting pea shoots.
How to handle and store pea leaves
If you buy green pea shoots from a grocery store or farmer’s market, store them in the refrigerator and plan to use them within 48 hours. These greens are delicate and won’t last.
To prep green pea leaves and shoots, wash and dry them as you would lettuce. Be sure to remove any thick stems. The thicker shoots are tough and unpleasant to try to eat.
How do you cook pea greens?
The easiest and most common way to cook tender green pea leaves and shoots is to sauté them, as I do in the recipe below. You might also see them added to stir-fries, into which they lend both extra color and nutrition.
There are two important things to remember when making sautéed pea shoots:
- Wash the pea stems and leaves very carefully. Tiny bugs love to hide between the leaves and in the flower buds.
- These delicate greens cook very quickly. The cooking process is similar to cooking fresh baby spinach leaves. Cook pea tendrils for no more than two to three minutes and season them generously with salt and pepper for a simple and delicious side dish.
Ways to serve pea shoots for vegans and meat lovers
In addition to sautéing them the way suggested in this recipe, you can use pea greens raw in salads or toss the leaves and tendrils into freshly drained pasta with a splash of olive oil and some salt.
I once read that Alice Waters sautés her pea plant tendrils in duck fat. (This is the kind of cooking tip that sticks with you.) So if you have a spare jar of duck fat laying around, you might want to try swapping the olive oil in this recipe for the richness of duck fat.
Peas and romance
Most of the recipes on our site are ones recommended for serving to your date or for a romantic occasion. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t delve into how a plate of tender pea leaves might benefit your romantic life. Although I’ve found no direct references to pea tendrils as aphrodisiacs, the fully formed pea does have a history as a food of love.
In fact, peas earned a mention in The Perfumed Garden as aphrodisiacs. The reason is probably more nutritional than romantic. You see, both peas and their shoots are packed with nutrients essential to great lovemaking, including vitamin C, folate and fiber.
In addition, this recipe incorporates the aphrodisiac of garlic. Garlic is not only historically aphrodisiac but it might be one of the very best foods for libido and overall health.
Garlicky Pea Tendrils
- 1/2 lb pea tendrils
- 1 tbsp olive oil*
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp cold water
- Thoroughly wash the pea tendrils (Be thorough. These greens tend to attract bugs).
- Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the garlic and saute until soft, about one minute.
- Add the pea tendrils and saute for an additional 2-3 minutes. (The leaves should still be vibrant green but soft.)
- Season with salt and pepper then remove pan from heat and mix in the water before transferring the tendrils to a serving dish.
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