Want to know a little industry secret? 95% of the year, frozen peas will taste a whole lot better than the fresh stuff. That's because the moment you pluck pea pods from the vine, their sweet sugars begin to convert into starches. The difference between a fresh-picked pea and a day-old pea is easily noticeable (and we're talking both English peas, and their close cousin the sugar snap pea, though the former shows a more noticeable difference). So during the off-season, when fresh peas have to be shipped from faraway locations, by the time they reach your kitchen, they are bland, starchy, and not all that pleasant. Frozen peas, on the other hand, are flash frozen just after being picked, guaranteeing that they'll be sweet and tender when you defrost or cook them.
Luckily, now is that wonderful window, that five percent of the year when fresh peas are growing locally and hitting their peak—just be sure to buy the most recently picked crops you can get your hands on. Once you've got 'em, make sure to enjoy them right away, or check out our tips on preserving their fresh flavor. But even if your best option is the frozen stuff, we've got 19 great recipes to make the most of the season, from stir-fries to chilled soups to pasta salads and beyond.
Stir-Fried Beef With Snap Peas and Oyster Sauce
For an intensely beefy and buttery steak stir-fry, use skirt steak marinated in soy sauce and wine. Sugar snap peas provide a fresh, light crunch, and oyster sauce adds a punch of flavor. Stir-frying the meat and vegetables individually guarantees a perfect cook, for optimal texture and flavor in each ingredient.
Pasta With Snap Peas, Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Black Pepper
If you're looking for a quick and easy pasta recipe, try this vegan dish with snap peas flavored with garlic and black pepper. A touch of cornstarch helps the sauce to emulsify into a silky pasta-coating texture without the help of butter.
Spring Salad of Asparagus, Ramps, Snap Peas, and Peas, With Poached Egg and Lemon Zest Vinaigrette
A bit of knife work, a quick bath in well-salted boiling water, a cool down in an ice bath, and a few sparingly applied aromatics and seasonings, and you've got the essence of spring in a perfect, simple salad. Crunchy snap peas and fresh peas add double the pea magic, and a poached egg adds a finishing touch of richness.
Lamb Sausage with Pea Purée and Pea Sprouts
A bright green pea purée comes together quickly in the food processor, and provides a nice, sweet balance to this savory lamb sausage. A sprinkle of fresh mint adds herbal brightness, accented with pea sprouts and tangy feta cheese .
Risotto with Spring Peas, Ham, and Fontina Cheese
Ham and fontina cheese add some salty funk to this simple pea-studded risotto. It's flavored with basil and lemon zest, along with a generous grind of black pepper. The resulting dish is creamy and satisfying, yet undeniably made with warm weather in mind.
Pasta Salad with Peas and Pesto
Pasta with pesto is kind of the perfect potluck dish—it's easy to prepare, delicious at virtually any temperature, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. This rendition calls for fresh peas, for a sweet twist on the classic.
Seared Cod with Peas, Pancetta, and Wilted Lettuce
Petits pois à la française, or French peas, is a very traditional dish with many iterations. This version starts with pancetta and adds peas, parsley, lightly wilted lettuce, and a dollop of crème fraîche. Usually these peas are served as a side, but seared fillets of cod make it a dinner. There's a heartiness to it, but between the flaky fish and the vegetal nature of the peas, it's light and lively.
Cheesy Grits with Spring Vegetables
Creamy, cheesy grits are an excellent canvas for bright spring vegetables. Start with coarse-ground cornmeal and cook it low and slow in a combination of milk and water. Butter, sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheese take the grits up a notch, and English peas, snap peas, fava beans, and asparagus that are blanched and butter-glazed make a tender-sweet topping. Top it with a poached egg to make things extra saucy.
Make-Ahead Pea Soup with Shallot, Lemon, and Parmesan
Not to be confused with the thick-as-fog, sits-in-your-stomach-like-a-brick winter-time version, this pea soup is subtle and light, fragrant with lemon and mint. The soup is only simmered long enough to cook through the peas and let the flavors come together; a handful of Parmesan at the end adds salt and a touch of creaminess. Serve it chilled for maximum refreshment.
Basmati Rice and Pea Pilaf (Peas Pulao)
This one-pot side dish will compliment any Indian dinner spread. The subtle, fragrant spices coat the rice, and the peas add a wonderful sweet burst to the dish. Fresh or frozen peas work equally well in this case.
Easy One-Pot, No-Knife, Lighter Tuna Noodle Casserole
Classic tuna casserole is comforting and easy to prepare, but very heavy and by no means considered diet food. This equally easy but lighter version starts by cooking the noodles in the skillet before adding a sauce of crème fraîche, egg, and cornstarch. Add the stars of the dish to finish it off—tuna and peas—along with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Vegetarian Mapo Tofu with Peas
If you're making a trip to an Asian supermarket, plan to make this vegetarian version of Mapo Tofu. The Sichuan dish is essentially a quick-cooking stew in which cubes of silky tofu are simmered in a smooth, complex-tasting sauce made with dark soy sauce, cooking wine, chilies, and fragrant peppercorns, then garnished with sliced green onions and served over hot, sticky white rice. Instead of adding meat, this recipe calls for green peas, which provide a pop of freshness and texture in every bite.
Asparagus and Sweet Pea Frittata With Minty Spring Salad
This simple pea and asparagus frittata is a quintessential spring dish that's as perfect for breakfast as it is a light lunch, snack, or dinner. Served with a bright, fresh salad with pea tendrils, it becomes a quick and easy meal in its own right. Serve the frittata warm or at room temperature.
Stir-Fried Velvet Chicken with Snap Peas and Lemon-Ginger Sauce
In Chinese cuisine, a common technique for cooking chicken is called velveting. Slices of meat are marinated in a mixture of egg whites, corn starch, and a liquid before getting par-cooked in a fair amount of oil. You end up with soft, tender, slippery slices of meat that go wonderfully with crunchy and sweet sugar snap peas.
Whole-Wheat Linguine With Pancetta, Peas, Corn, and Mint
Taking advantage of late spring and early summer produce, this easy one-pot pasta combines crispy bites of pancetta with fresh peas, corn, and mint for a refreshing and filling weeknight meal. With minimal prep work, this tasty dish can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Peas and Carrots Salad with Goat Cheese and Almonds
Enjoy fresh spring peas in a delicious but straightforward way—blanch them along with some carrots, toss them with a quick vinaigrette, and sit them atop a flavorful goat cheese mixture. A sprinkling of toasted Marcona almonds adds buttery crunch and a drizzle of honey pulls it all together with an earthy sweetness.
Balsamic-Glazed Ham With Basil English Peas
Don't wait until the holidays to bake a ham. It's an inexpensive way to feed a crowd, and the leftovers work wonderfully in an array of recipes, morning, noon, and night. A glaze of balsamic, mustard, and apple jelly is applied after the ham has had time to cook to prevent premature caramelization. Sweet English peas complement the peppery ham in all the right ways.
Stir-Fried Snap Peas and Mushrooms with Fish Sauce and Basil
Snap peas are sweet, crunchy, and tender, and with a hint of smoky char from the wok, they're an ideal candidate for vegetable stir-fries. Mushrooms aren't so bad either, and together, along with a simple sauce, they make a quick and flavorful side dish.
Spicy Orecchiette With Tuna, Peas, and Lemon
Orechiette is loaded with meaty canned tuna and sweet peas, then slicked with chili-infused olive oil in this lightning-fast, super-simple weeknight dish. Garlic, lemon zest, and parsley punch up the flavor, and reserved pasta water helps create a creamy sauce.