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Crop of the Week: Dried Beans
• In Yuma County, dried beans and peas are a common spring crop for many producers, with about 1,000 acres in production.
• When fresh peas are not available or when a starchier, hardier flavored legume is needed in a recipe, dried peas are the perfect choice; they are available any time of the year.
• Although they belong to the same family as beans and lentils, they are usually distinguished as a separate group because of the ways in which they are prepared. The different types of peas are all spherical, a feature that also sets them apart from beans and lentils.
• Dried peas, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only can dried peas help lower cholesterol, they are also of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high-fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal.
• In addition to their stellar fiber content, dried peas feature other heart-healthy nutrients. They are a good source of potassium, which may decrease the growth and development of blood vessel plaques and is also good for lowering high blood pressure. A cup of cooked peas will supply 20.3 percent of the daily need for potassium.
• In a study that examined food intake patterns and risk of death from coronary heart disease, researchers followed more than 16,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Finland, the Netherlands, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan for 25 years. When researchers analyzed the data in relation to the risk of death from heart disease, they found that legumes were associated with an 82 percent reduction in risk.
• Dried peas are available either whole or split, the latter being appropriately called “split peas.” While we generally associate dried peas with a deep green color, they are also available in a yellow color, which offers a more delicate flavor and is the type generally preferred in northern European countries.
• Before preparing dried peas, inspect and remove any debris or dirt. Whole peas need to be soaked in cold water for at least eight hours before cooking, while split peas do not need this extra preparation. To prepare peas, place the legumes in a saucepan using three cups of fresh water for each cup of peas. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. Whole peas generally take about an hour to become tender, while split peas only take about 30 minutes. Foam may form during the first 15 minutes of cooking, which can simply be skimmed off.
• The popularity of green peas spread to North America when Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate. With the invention of canning and freezing of foods, green peas became available year-round, not just in spring.
• Fresh pea pods do not keep well once picked, and if not used quickly are best preserved by drying, canning or freezing within a few hours of harvest.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904.