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Eat your peas

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Anyone who knows me can tell you I'm not a vegetable gardener. I've tried it. And I will tell you that is why I appreciate those who are.

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At this time of year, I can't wait to get to the farmers' market to check out the colorful fresh-picked produce that sits like gorgeous jewels in the sunshine. Visiting with all the farmers I've gotten to know over the years is part of the fun, too. The farmers' market is one of the joys of my summer.

Many handfuls of sugar snap peas were my first purchase this season. Plump and bright green, sugar snap peas are a cross between the traditional garden pea and the snow pea. The pod of the sugar snap pea is as sweet as the peas hidden within. They are delicious eaten raw, pod and all. I was tempted to start nibbling the sugar-sweet crispy peas and their bright green jackets on my drive home.

Once peas are picked, their sugar gradually turns into starch, resulting in loss of sweetness. I decided to immediately turn some of my sugar snaps into a healthful snack. I just barely cooked them, giving them only about 30 seconds in a pot of boiling water. To stop the cooking, I plunged the hot-from-the-pot peas into a bath of ice and water. This short cook time preserves all of the B vitamins and phytonutrients while turning the bright green pods even brighter.

When the peas in their pods were cool enough to handle, I trimmed them by grabbing the stem end with a paring knife and pulling it away with the string that runs down the side seam of most of the pods. Then I removed the small fiber that looks like a fine thread from the pointed end. Since I wanted the sugar snap snack to be served for dipping, I used my fingers to easily split the pods open, exposing the little peas inside. This not only makes them look pretty, it gives more surface area to hold the dip. At this point, the prepared peas can be stored in the refrigerator on a plate lined with paper toweling and then covered with another paper towel.

Sugar snap peas prepared this way are ready to adorn a crudités platter full of fresh vegetables along with your favorite dip. Basic Light and Bright Vinaigrette for sugar snap dippers is bright and tangy, the perfect complement for the sweet peas. Try adding some minced fresh mint leaves for a cool refreshing flavor.

Those who want to taste more than just the fresh peas will enjoy the Fresh and Fragrant version, the basic Light and Bright Vinaigrette that's been kicked up a notch or two with cumin, garlic, fresh basil and mint.

Fresh and sweet Sugar Snap Snackers make it easy to eat your peas.

Sugar Snap Snackers with Two Vinaigrettes

1 pound fresh sugar snap peas, washed

4 quarts water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Drop the sugar snap pea pods into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain them. Immediately plunge them into the ice-and-water bath, swishing them around so they cool quickly. Drain the peas. Trim the pods and split them in half. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve Vinaigrettes on the side. Sugar snap peas can be drizzled with either Vinaigrette, making them ready for snackers to pick up and eat. Or, Vinaigrette can be served on the side for sugar snap peas to dip into.

Light and Bright Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, mustard and honey. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Or put all the ingredients in a tightly sealed glass jar and shake it up until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fresh and Fragrant Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground or 1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup olive oil

1 packed tablespoon minced fresh basil

1 packed tablespoon minced fresh mint

Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, mix juice, mustard and honey. Add cumin and garlic. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Add basil and mint and gently stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip from the cook

--To toast cumin seeds, place them in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir the seeds until you can smell their wonderful fragrance. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. When they are cool, they can be ground. I keep an extra coffee grinder in my pantry that I use only for grinding spices.

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