Spring Pea Soup

Spring is pea season, and a good way to celebrate its reemergence is with a delicate, spring pea soup. Green peas are at their peak in March, April and May (and then again from August through November), so the time is right.

If you can’t get fresh peas – or don’t want the work involved in shelling them – frozen green peas work just fine. If using fresh peas, choose plump, unblemished, bright green pods. Inside the pods, the peas should be crunchy and sweet, with a glossy sheen. Refrigerate them in their pods for up to three days. Shell just before using.

Although they are often thought of as a vegetable, green peas are actually legumes.

In addition to making a pretty soup, peas have a high nutritional profile. They are a source of vitamins A and C, as well as niacin and iron. And, like so many vegetables, peas have some cancer-fighting properties.

For example, lutein is a member of the carotenoid family that includes beta-carotene, lycopene and several other phytochemicals. Lutein may help protect against cancer and other diseases, such as macular degeneration.

The most concentrated sources of easily absorbed lutein are dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collard greens and chard. Less concentrated but still excellent sources are green peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dark green lettuce, such as Romaine, yellow corn and zucchini. Egg yolks are also a good source. Studies show that even the less-concentrated lutein sources can be helpful.

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends an approach to menu planning called The New American Plate. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans should cover two-thirds (or more) of the plate; animal-source foods should cover one-third (or less). Studies show a connection between eating fruits and vegetables and cancer prevention.

A first-course pea soup would be a healthful as well as delicious way to celebrate spring.

Spring Pea Soup - Makes 6 servings.

1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small sweet onion (e.g. Vidalia), finely chopped
1 boiling potato (about 4 oz.) peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/2 cups water
1 lb. frozen baby peas, thawed
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. low-fat sour cream (optional)
Fresh mint leaves, minced (optional)

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add potato and salt and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add water, cover and simmer until potato is tender, about 15 minutes. Add peas and simmer, uncovered, 2 minutes or until tender.

Cool slightly, then purée in small batches in a blender. Force mixture through a very fine mesh sieve into a saucepan. Reheat and season to taste with salt and pepper.Top each serving with a dab of sour cream and fresh mint leaves.

Per serving: 88 calories, less than 1 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat), 16 g. carbohydrate, 4 g. protein, 4 g. dietary fiber, 380 mg. sodium.

The Author:

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on diet and cancer and educates the public about the results. It has contributed millions of dollars for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its Web site, http://www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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