Pea shoots are the young top leaves and tips of vines on a pea plant. They are usually sold in Asian markets or grocery stores as dou miao. Pea shoots have a mild pea flavor and are served fresh, in salads or steamed and stir-fried as part of Asian cuisine.
Pea shoots were traditionally used in the cuisine of the Hmong people of southern Asia. They grew in popularity throughout Asia and parts of Africa, and have become a popular crop in the Pacific Northwest, where a cool climate provides ideal growing conditions. Shoots can now be found at local farmer’s markets across the western United States, and have even begun appearing in restaurants. At markets, the typical price for one pound of pea shoots ranges between $4-$8 U.S. Dollars.
Although almost any pea plant may be used for shoots, snow and snap peas tend to produce the best results. Snowgreen, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Oregon Giant and Cascadia are all frequently used varieties for pea shoot production. Pea plants grow best in cooler climates, when the average temperature is no more than 65 degrees F (18.3 degrees C). Harvesting begins six to eight weeks after planting, when the pea plants reach about 12 inches (30.48 cm) in height.
As with most leafy green vegetables, pea shoots are nutrient-dense. A two cup serving (16 ounces or .45 kg), contains considerable amounts of Vitamins A, B-6, C, E, and K, folate, thiamin and riboflavin. Pea shoots are also low in calories, with a scant 160 calories in the same size serving, and no fat.
Freshly harvested shoots are quite delicate and should be eaten within one to two days of purchase. They should be stored in the refrigerator, similar to lettuce or spinach. To prepare your shoots, rinse them carefully in cool water and dry, removing any shoots that seem coarse or have taken on a yellow color.
Cooked shoots are generally steamed or fried very lightly. Commonly, they are combined with ginger, garlic, and other Asian vegetables like bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Many Asian restaurants use shoots instead of the usual cabbage as a bed for meats, especially for shrimp or pork. They are also said to be delicious when stir fried with sesame seeds and mushrooms.
Eaten fresh, shoots are an excellent replacement for spinach with a fresh, crisp flavor. Some people enjoy them raw with a splash of lemon juice, while others combine them with strawberries and balsamic vinegar for a delicious and unusual spring salad. Pea shoots provide a new and interesting alternative to common salad greens and are growing in popularity both at home and in haute cuisine.