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Sugar snap peas are, to my mind, the best vegetable to eat out of hand. I can easily tear through a pound of them, snapping their stems and stripping off the stringy fibers that run their length before popping them into my mouth in rapid succession. Sometimes, though, I try my hardest to exert just a little self-control by not eating them all at once. When I succeed, an even tastier treat awaits.
That's because, as good as snap peas are raw, I find them even better when lightly blanched. The quick cooking gives them a juicier bite that's ever so slightly tender but still has a satisfying snap, with a more pronounced sweetness that comes right to the fore.
The main thing to know about blanching vegetables is that the oft-repeated idea that you have to do it in very small batches in a very big pot of water isn't really true. Through repeated testing, I've found that vegetables typically come out just as crisp and bright green when cooked in smaller vessels of boiling water.
The reasoning behind the big-pot rule goes like this: The larger the amount of boiling water, and the smaller the amount of vegetables in each batch, the less the water's temperature will drop when you add them to it. This is true, but it doesn't account for the fact that it takes more energy and time to return a big pot to a boil than a small one, even if the small one had a bigger initial temperature dip. Big pots have a lot of surface area and are not well insulated, so they're constantly losing tons of heat from all sides, which is what slows the reheating down—ever notice how easy it is to get a rolling boil going in a small pot of water, but a really huge pot over the same burner sometimes never hits that level of vigorous boiling? That's the same process at work.
The other factor in large versus small pots is the concentration of anything leached out of those vegetables. As certain vegetables cook, they can release acid into the cooking liquid, which, when concentrated enough, can cause them to turn a drabber green. Fortunately, with very short blanching times like what I use for these snap peas, that effect is minimal.
Much more important than pot size when blanching is to immediately shock the vegetables in ice water as soon as they're ready, in about a minute or two—that rapid cooling keeps them plump and fresh.
Once they're blanched, I toss the peas in a creamy dressing made from yogurt, olive oil, and a tiny bit of mayo, plus lemon juice and zest for flavor and brightness. A little minced shallot and mint add just a bit more depth and freshness.
The real secret to enjoying snap peas this way, though, is to buy twice as many as you think you need. That way, you can eat half raw, and still have enough left to turn into a proper dish.
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