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How to Cook Peas, Four Easy Ways

Peas aren't just for TV dinners anymore. Learn how to cook (and dress up) spring's simplest side.

By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor and Peggy Woodward, Food Editor

Hot, fresh peas piled high and topped with butter in a bowl

When I was growing up, buttered peas were the side of choice at weeknight dinners. I remember that as a child I'd push these tiny green globes around my plate, hoping they'd slip under the instant mashed potatoes and just disappear. Years later, when I started cooking for myself, I finally realized why people eat peas: They're incredibly quick and easy to make. I've also grown to love their sweet, grassy flavor. (Got a fussy eater at home? Try our sneaky ways to eat more vegetables.)

We think you should eat more peas. Our Test Kitchen shares four easy methods for cooking peas, plus fun ways to dress them up.


How to Cook Peas

Test Kitchen Tip: There's no need to defrost frozen peas before cooking. In these recipes, fresh or frozen peas may be used.


Method 1: Microwave

Peas, fresh or frozen, can be zapped in a snap.

In a microwave-safe dish, combine peas with a tablespoon of water.

Cover with a lid (or paper napkin) and cook on high for around 3-4 minutes.

Give the peas a stir and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes longer. Taste one (careful, they're hot!). If it's tender and hot throughout, it's ready.

Drain and serve. (I like to drain peas in a mesh strainer instead of my colander so they don't get caught in the holes.)


Method 2: Boil

Another quick 'n' easy way to prep peas.

In a saucepan, combine 16 oz. of peas with about ½ cup water.

Bring the liquid to a boil with the lid off. Reduce heat, cover, and let your peas simmer for 3-5 minutes, or until tender.

Drain off any excess liquid and serve.


Method 3: Steam

Person pouring peas from a bag into a metal pot

Pour about an inch of water into a saucepan. Place your lovely little legumes in a steamer basket and drop it into the pan.

Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot. The steam that rises will gently cook the peas. We recommend steaming for 2-4 minutes, testing occasionally. When the peas are tender, they're ready.

This is our favorite way to cook fresh peas, which are typically around for a brief window in late spring and early summer, and deserve gentle treatment to preserve their flavor. (Looking for more easy recipes for spring vegetables? We've got you covered.)



Method 4: Saute

This is our favorite method for frozen peas, as it's easy to toss in other ingredients, as in this recipe for Quinoa with Peas and Onion.


Person stirring peas in a skillet with a wooden spoon

Begin by heating a tablespoon of butter or oil over medium-high heat. If you'd like to add flavor, toss in a chopped onion or minced garlic. (Here's what happened when our Test Kitchen tried six crazy tricks for chopping onions without crying.) Let your aromatics cook a couple minutes, until they're wilted and soft.

Add about 2 cups of peas. Stir them around, still over medium-high heat, until they're heated through and tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper for sure, but consider sprinkling on your favorite spice or adding fresh herbs.



A Little More About Peas


How to Boost Flavor

Now that you know several simple ways to cook peas, here are a few ways to amplify their tastiness:

  • Add a fresh herbs like mint or tarragon to the water when boiling or steaming to add flavor.
  • Top cooked peas off with a tiny pinch of sugar to bring out their natural sweetness.
  • Make a salad with cooked peas. They're especially tasty with bacon and a creamy dressing.
  • Cook with spices, from curry to herbes de Provence.

Think Beyond the Side Dish

Those TV-dinner buttered peas were a fantastic side, but there are many other ways to use up peas. Spring-y noodles seem extra fresh when you toss a handful of peas into the mix. Try this creamy pasta and pea recipe for an easy fix. I also find chilled peas can add a little substance to salads, without overwhelming the dish. This Veggie Chopped Salad does just the trick. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention chicken potpie. Peas, carrots, and creamy chicken in a puff pastry crust—mmm!


Types of Peas

Walking through the produce aisle, you can find several types of fresh peas. There are snow peas and snap peas, which can can be eaten whole (and aren't the type of pea we're covering here). You're far less likely to find garden peas, also called sweet peas or English peas. These pods conceal tender, round peas. They're more likely found at a farmers market (or your own garden). Grocery stores don't often get them in because garden peas start to lose their sweetness just hours after they are picked, and the harvest season is short.

Frozen peas, however, are abundant, and one of the most high-quality frozen vegetables out there. Their flavor and texture is nearly as good as fresh. They're flash-frozen immediately after harvest to preserve their sweetness. Fresh shelled peas and frozen are interchangable in recipes.


How to Shell Fresh Peas

Start by removing the stem end of the pod with your fingers. Then peel away the string that runs the length of the pod, starting from the stem. Pry it open and gently tease out those roly-poly peas.

Test Kitchen Tip: 1 pound fresh peas in the pod yields about 1 cup (6 oz.) shelled peas.


Interested in more ways to cook healthy produce? Check out our collection of farmers market recipes.