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Pea shoots, a newer ingredient showing up in farmers’ markets across America, have long been prominent in other cultures, such as Asian cuisine. With tendrils in the shape of curly-cues and leaves soft like potherbs, watery-stemmed pea shoots ensure the promise of spring peas to come.

Offering the flavor of peas, their edible shoots are almost more appealing to farmers and gardeners because they can be harvested in a quarter of the time of peas themselves. And apart from flavor, their rich nutrients have recently made them just as appealing to the home cook. Pea shoots look like plants when untouched: a quality I love, but my boys do not. That’s where my transformative yet simple recipe swoops in: Pea Greens with Toasted Garlic and Almonds from “Molto Batali” (Ecco, 2011).

If pea shoots aren’t in your local market yet, any soft, leafy green can be substituted in this recipe. The stems are much like watercress and the tendrils cook very similarly to baby spinach.

Since pea shoots are a delicate green, they should be eaten within one to two days of purchase. To prep, rinse trimmed pea greens in cold water and then drain them. Do not use a spinner; you want the leaves to retain some water. Much like peas need consistent moisture to develop pods throughout the early growing phase, pea leaves need moisture to maintain their full flavor, as well.

Once prepped, you can consume pea greens raw in a fresh salad to add extraordinary spring flavor. They can also brighten up a pasta dish, contributing a soft texture and fresh taste. Or, as I use them, pea greens are a bold choice when served all on their own as a side dish with a sprinkle of toasted garlic and almonds.

Pea Greens with Toasted Garlic and Almonds

1 1/2 pounds pea greens (tendrils with leaves)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 scallions, whites and about 2 inches of the greens thinly sliced

1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds

Salt

Trim off and discard any tough ends of the pea tendrils. Rinse the trimmed pea greens in cold water and then drain them. Do not use a spinner; you want to retain some water on the leaves.

In a 14-inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the garlic, scallions and almonds all at once and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic and almonds start to turn golden brown. (Longer is better than less).

Add the pea greens and cook, stirring, until they wilt and soften, about 3 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and serve immediately. Serves 8 as a side dish.

Per serving: 130 calories; 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 76 percent calories from fat); 6 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 109 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 4 g fiber.

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