The pea plant is a climbing vine that can reach heights of 2 meters. The young tendrils have round hollow stems with thin coiled tendrils that allow it to climb in a trellising fashion. These hair-like strands can be very coarse even after cooking. The succulent leaves are the most tender part of the plant and are a soft green color with pale yellow veins. White, pink or purple blossoms are often still attached to the tendrils and are completely edible. Pea tendrils offer a mildly grassy aroma and the same sweet vegetal flavor of a fresh pea.
Pea tendrils are available in the cool seasons, late winter into early summer and again in the fall.
Botanically known as Pisum sativum, peas are an herbaceous annual in the Fabaceae family. The young tendrils, or sometimes referred to as vines, are the new shoots of the snow pea or sugar snap pea plant. They are harvested after a few weeks of growth, before the pods fully develop. These small shoots often exhibit every stage of development on a single stem: blossoms, tendrils, leaves and occasionally the very small pods.
Pea tendrils are a nutritionally dense food, packed with many of the same vitamins and minerals as other green leafy vegetables. They are a good source of beta carotene, vitamin C, folate and fiber.
Pea tendrils may be used raw when very young, but the more mature shoots can be slightly fibrous and often require gentle cooking. Sautee the tendrils similarly to spinach or other leafy greens and finish with a touch of soy sauce, sesame oil and lemon juice. If the blossoms are still attached, remove and reserve them for a garnish as they are incredibly fragile and do not stand up to heat. The fresh grassy flavor of Pea tendrils balances well with creamy cheeses and accentuates the natural sweetness of shellfish. Other complimentary flavors include, carrots, potatoes, shallots, asparagus, fava beans, mushrooms (especially morels), bacon, lobster, cream, mascarpone, ricotta, butter, basil and mint.
Peas are very fact growing plants, and it was the common pea plant that played a pivotal role in early experiments of the famous geneticist Gregor Mendel. He selectively cross-bred the various plants based on their differently colored blossoms. In observing the outcomes, he developed the principles of dominant and recessive genes we know today.
Peas are an ancient plant dating back to around 7000 BC. They are native to southwestern Asia near present day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today they are a major crop in China, India, Canada, Russia, France and the United States. Peas are a cool weather plant that thrive in relatively humid climates and loamy soils. The tendrils mature quickly and may be sown in the cool seasons of both spring and fall for two harvests in one year.