Sweet, crisp, no-fuss sugar snaps are an irresistibly perfect veggie package, combining the best traits of traditional green peas and snow peas. Like snow peas (Chinese pea pods), snap peas are an edible-pod pea; both are called "mange tout" or "eat everything" in French, because every morsel is edible. A cross between the garden pea (which needs to be shelled from the pod) and the snow pea, snaps have plump, rounded, pods and a snappy texture. The pods of the snow pea, on the other hand, are flattish, and you can see the flattish, immature sweet peas inside. To seal the deal, snap peas are considered the most flavorful of the peas.
Snap peas are an excellent source of folic acid and vitamin C, and they're rich in antioxidants. They are a good source of protein, vitamin K, vitamin A, thiamin, folate, iron and manganese, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Since you eat the pods, they're high in fiber, too. At just 35 calories per cup, it makes for a mighty healthy snack food.
There are many snap pea varieties of interest to gardeners. One you might watch for at your co-op is Cascadia—a nearly stringless, early variety. Other varieties, like Sugar Snaps, arrive a bit later. Some of these have strings that may or may not need to be removed, depending on your preference.
Serve snap peas hot or cold, cooked or raw, dipped in yogurt or tossed with pesto, roasted with olive oil, lemon, mint and garlic—you get the idea. Of course, you can eat snap peas out of hand (who can resist?), but their sweet crunch is also terrific in all kinds of salads, like this Tangelo Chicken Pasta Salad and this Udon Noodle Salad with Pineapple. In both recipes, snap peas add color and texture—and meld beautifully with an array of other vegetables. Keep in mind that you can substitute snap peas for snow peas in any recipe, too. This Snow Pea and Asparagus Salad with Ginger-Cardamom Dressing is a delicious example.
Snap peas are also delightful in cooked dishes, like stir fries, pasta and grain dishes. One caution: Don't overcook snap peas or they'll lose their, um, snap. Just a minute or two should do it. In soups and stews, add them just a couple of minutes before serving, while in stir fries you can add them along with the other veggies. They grill up perfectly, too, as in this Grilled Vegetable Antipasto.
Choose snap pea pods that are bright green, firm and blemish free—preferably no longer than about 2 1/2 to 3 inches, because they'll be tougher if overgrown. The pods should snap, not bend.
Store them in the crisper section of the refrigerator (in a plastic bag with a paper towel is one recommendation; a produce bag is another). For the sweetest flavor, serve them as soon as possible after purchasing and definitely within five days. They can also be blanched and frozen to preserve them for longer. For best taste, use the frozen snap peas up within a year.
To use, trim off the tip or pull the string if it's tough, but usually there's no need to do anything but pop them in your mouth. You might want to buy extra!