Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Pea Shoots

For those with a strong sweet tooth, mealtime is often a battle between what you want to eat, and what's healthy. You could have chocolate cake for dinner, but often that nice piece of grilled fish with a hearty salad wins out.

That's why pea shoots are such a blessing. They're a healthy vegetable, but have a strong sweetness that brightens up your dinner plate. Though their texture is that of grassy curling tendrils, their flavor is a surprising hit of earthy sweet peas.The delicate leaves and bright green color of pea shoots make them a natural go-to garnish. We often serve them simply dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. They're also a nice addition to a more complex salad, like this Sesame Pea-Shoot Salad from Epicurious.

But you can also cook with them; pea shoots are a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. Stir fry them with garlic and oil as a side dish. You can also give them a brief saute in butter and add them to spaghetti. (Not unlike this recipe for Spaghetti with Ramps that we posted the other day.)

But what are pea shoots exactly? They're the early growth, and top leaves of a snow pea plant. In fact, many gardeners are sure to save the ends of their snow pea plants, even after they've started producing pods. But for the most tender leaves, you'll want that early first growth.

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For you gardeners, we've heard that pea shoots are a snap to grow. They thrive indoors in cool environments, and are ready to harvest in about a week. The New York Times advises buying seeds specifically bred for shoot production. Sprout People has a good guide to growing them. And The Daily Gardener features a pictorial guide, so you can see how quickly you'll get satisfaction!

For those of you in NYC who aren't gardeners, we've found pea shoots at the Union Square Greenmarket, the Park Slope Food Coop, and Whole Foods.

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