I CAN still hear it so clearly in my head even after all these years -- my mum constantly reminding me to “Finish up your peas!” as I pushed them around my plate. Admittedly, peas were not exactly my favourite vegetable when I was little. I can’t explain it, I just didn’t fancy the taste at the time.
However, it’s one of those foods that has grown on me. Maybe my taste buds have evolved, but I now truly enjoy the taste and texture that it gives to my meals. So needless to say, it’s a staple item in my kitchen. I often use it to boost the nutrition and taste in my stews, curries, salads, stir fries, fried rice and savoury soups.
You’re probably used to seeing peas as the small little round balls. But did you know that there are several varieties of peas? They are harvested at different times of the year and have varied culinary uses.
Different type of peas are categorised as inedible-podded or edible-podded.
The inedible-podded peas are commonly called green peas or shelling peas. Some of you may also know it as English peas. The edible-podded varieties you will find in your grocery store as snow peas or sugar snap peas. Their seeds are smaller and flatter compared to the inedible-podded variety. Before eating the edible-podded variety, you may need to remove the fibrous “string” that runs along the length of the pod.
Peas that are freshly harvested have a crisp, slightly sweetish taste. However, the sweet taste reduces greatly as the natural sugars turn to starch over time upon harvesting. I guess unless you are lucky enough to buy peas from a farmer’s market where they are sold as soon as they are harvested, we will never really get to experience that sweetish taste. I’ll be sure to add that to my bucket list when I travel!
Green peas are in actuality legumes, so their nutritional content is different from the usual leafy green vegetable. Legumes are types of plants that bear their fruit in pods and their fleshy seeds are essentially beans. Other types of legume include chickpeas, lentils and all the variety of beans like red bean and green bean, etc.
A one cup (240g) serving of peas contains roughly 135 calories. It contributes carbohydrates and protein to your diet. One cup of peas has eight grammes of dietary fibre, as well as 8g of protein. The edible-podded variety has less calories and protein – about 64 calories and 5g of protein per cup.
Peas are rich in vitamins and minerals too. They contribute a good amount of Vitamins A, K, C, thiamine, folate, manganese, iron and phosphorous to your nutritional intake. These are all important nutrients in a balanced diet for your overall good health.
Green peas have a small amount of fat, but it is the type of fat that is good for you. One cup of green peas contributes 30 milligrammes of alpha-linolenic acid and 130mg of linoleic acid. We get Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids from them. These fats are considered essential, as our body cannot make them, so we need to get them from our foods. This small amount of high quality good fat also provides Vitamin E and beta carotene (a form of Vitamin A).
Plus, green peas contain phytonutrients, which are natural plant compounds that provide important antioxidants. These antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties that help to prevent chronic diseases.
Researchers are seeing the benefits of green peas as part of a healthy, balanced diet that is good heart health, better blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetics and even potential cancer risk reduction. Like all things pertaining to food and health, they should be part of a well-balanced daily diet.
Those of you who have high uric acid levels or are prone to gout may want to be aware that peas are one of the foods that do contain purines. So you will need to be mindful of how much of these types of foods you consume. Do see a dietitian who can assist you to plan your meals better.
When it comes to buying peas, always try to get them fresh if you can so that there is minimal processing of it. However, it is not always available fresh in our part of the world. You may notice that green peas are often times sold frozen or canned. Between the two, frozen peas retain their flavour and nutritional content better than the ones that are canned.
Both canned and frozen peas will have some level of sodium as a preservative ingredient or part of processing method. Therefore, always look for the lowest amount of sodium when choosing your product. You can also further help to reduce the amount of sodium by rinsing off the green peas under running water.
NUTRITION IN THE KITCHEN
GREEN PEA & CARROTS BASMATHI RICE PILAU
This savoury rice dish is a lovely accompaniment to grilled fish and served with some cooling yogurt
120g basmathi rice
90g frozen green peas
90g carrots – cut into small cubes
1 medium red onion – finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
3 small cinnamon sticks
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Garnishing – chopped parsley, roasted cashew nuts and sliced red chili
• Wash and rinse the basmathi rice until the water runs clear. Place the rice into a rice cooker with the green peas and carrots.
• In a small non-stick pan, heat the olive oil on gentle flame and sautee the cumin seeds, cloves cinnamon sticks for one minute.
• Add chopped onions and cook till translucent and fragrant. Transfer the sauteed spices into the rice cooker.
• Pour in the water and stir in the coriander powder and turmeric powder.
• Turn on the rice cooker and cook as usual. If after the rice cooker is off and the rice is still too firm for your liking, just add a little bit more water and press the rice cooker button down to cook.
• Once done, fluff up the rice and place in a large bowl. Garnish with chopped parsley, roasted cashew nuts and sliced red chili (optional).
* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple, practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at [email protected]