Chow Town

Peas, a childhood favorite, pack healthy punch

I just love to open a fresh pea pod from the garden and pop the peas in my mouth.

As a child I would eat them from the garden and then throw the pea pod as far as I could so my mom wouldn’t find the evidence of me eating the peas. Little did I know she already knew I was eating them.

In the winter when you can’t grow your own fresh peas and you want to enjoy a starchier, hardier flavored legume, dried peas are the perfect choice — they are available any time of the year.

Although they belong to the same family as beans and lentils, they are usually distinguished as a separate group because of the ways in which they are prepared. The different types of peas are all spherical, a feature that also sets them apart from beans and lentils.

Dried peas are produced by harvesting the pea pods when they are fully mature and then drying them. Once they are dried and the skins removed, they split naturally.

While we generally associate dried peas with a deep green color, they are also available in a yellow color, which offers a more delicate flavor

Do you ever think what could be so healthy about a dried pea? Dried peas, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only can dried peas help lower cholesterol, they are also of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal.

Fiber is far from all that dried peas have to offer. Dried peas also provide good to excellent amounts of four important minerals, two B vitamins, and protein — all with virtually no fat.

As if this weren’t enough, dried peas also feature isoflavones. Isoflavones are phytonutrients that can act like weak estrogens in the body and whose dietary consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of certain health conditions, including breast and prostate cancer.

Sensitive to Sulfites? Dried peas are an excellent source of the trace mineral molybdenum, an integral component of the enzyme

sulfite oxidase

, which is responsible for detoxifying sulfites.

Sulfites are a type of preservative commonly added to prepared foods like delicatessen salads and salad bars. Persons who are sensitive to sulfites in these foods may experience rapid heartbeat, headache or disorientation if sulfites are unwittingly consumed.

If you have ever reacted to sulfites, it may be because your molybdenum stores are insufficient to detoxify them. A cup of cooked dried peas provides 196 percent of the daily value for molybdenum.

Dried peas will keep for several months if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. If you need to store them longer, you can keep them in the refrigerator.

After Thanksgiving besides having leftover turkey, I always have ham. I love to fix green splits with chunks of ham and onions.

To prepare split peas, place them in a saucepan using three cups of fresh water for each cup of peas. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover. Whole peas generally take about an hour to become tender — and you should pre-soak whole peas — while split peas only take about 30 minutes.

Foam may form during the first 15 minutes of cooking, which can simply be skimmed off. After I skim off the foam, I add chunks of ham and an onion chopped. Simmer for 15-20 minutes more and enjoy with a slice of homemade bread.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.