Seriously Asian: Snow Pea Tips


"Snow pea tips are so flavorful they don't need garlic or other aromatics when stir-fried."


Come February my fingers grow restless whenever I pass by the seed packets at the hardware store. The days may still be ensconced in wintry weather, but I'm already dreaming of spring lettuce and summer corn. An entire row in my garden bed will be devoted to snow peas, not only for the bounty of sweet pods, but also for the tender and crisp shoots that grow abundantly from the stalks of the plant when the pods are nearing completion.

Around this time of year Chinese vegetable stands are full of snow pea tips, which, contrary to their name, don't actually refer to the tips of the pods but rather, the leafy growth near the pods. The fact that the leaves and stalks are actually edible is still overlooked by cooks and eaters.

Over the years I've become a snow pea tip proselytizer, explaining to anyone who will listen that the greens are extremely delicious and easy to cook to boot.

Snow peas tips are my all-time favorite green vegetable to stir-fry, a bold statement given the cornucopia of Asian greens that can be stir-fried. If you're a gardener, consider sowing a few extra snow pea seeds in the spring so you'll never run out of the plant during the summer.

From left: a tender section; a tender section with a bud growing in the middle; the tough, curly ends.

The edible part of the plant is the mid-section, which falls between the tough, curly tendrils at the ends of each plant and the thick stalks close to the central stalk of the plant. In the middle, the stalks are crisp and hollow and the leaves, tender and flavorful. The taste is reminiscent of the snow peas themselves, but with a grassier, fresher flavor that's unique to the plant.

Unlike most Chinese greens, snow pea tips are so flavorful they don't need garlic or other aromatics when stir-fried.

While I usually stir-fry snow pea tips as one course in a meal, sometimes I'll stir-fry an egg or two in the wok right after the snow pea tips are removed for a quick, delicious one-dish dinner. The greens are also pleasant when wilted into soup (though doing so will compromise the crunch of the stalks).

Finally, if you're buying pre-bagged snow pea tips from a Chinese grocer, look for bags that don't contain too many of the curly tendrils, which will have to be picked away and sorted into the refuse pile.

Stir-frying snow pea tips requires neither skill nor time, just some patience when picking through the tough stalks to guarantee delicate greens, soft yet resilient to the bite. They're a harbinger of spring's bounty.