Photo: Iain Bagwell

These highly sought after Southern peas are a rare find at farmers markets. Here’s how to make the most of these nutrient-packed, versatile legumes this summer.    

Elizabeth Laseter
June 09, 2017

Meet the lady pea, the ultra-luscious Southern legume that needs to be on your plate this summer. Prized for their delectably creamy texture and sweet taste, these beloved beans have developed a loyal following from chefs to home cooks. However, with a short growing season and exclusive availability in Southern states, lady peas can be notoriously hard to find.

How far are you willing to go to secure these elusive summer jewels? If you can find fresh lady peas, don’t let them go to waste. Whether you prefer them slow-simmered with aromatics and mixed into fresh summer veggie salads or hearty sautéed greens, or simply by themselves, our lady pea primer shows you how to make the most of this versatile Southern superstar.

What are lady peas?

Lady peas belong to the cowpea family, and are similar to black eyed peas. Like all peas, lady peas originate from a pod. Native to the southern United States, Africa, and parts of Asia, lady peas (as well as all cowpeas) thrive in hot and dry climates. The distinguishing factor is size and taste—lady peas are smaller and sweeter than other cowpeas. Lady peas go by a number of names, including lady cream peas, lady cowpeas, conch peas, and zipper cream peas.

What are the health benefits?

Lady peas—as well as all legumes—pack essential nutrients such as heart-healthy fiber, protein, antioxidants, and more. Incorporating dried or fresh legumes into your diet can help you stay full and satisfied throughout the day, which is key if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight. Legumes may also reduce the risk of certain cancers.

How to buy lady peas:

You’re unlikely to find fresh lady peas if you live anywhere above the Mason Dixon Line. If that applies to you, pack your suitcase and take a vacation down South. They’ll most likely pop up at local farmers markets in June and July across North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. While lady peas may be sold in their pods, they're often pre-shelled and bagged for your convenience. If you can’t find fresh lady peas, dried are a suitable substitute. Order them through Amazon.

See More: America's 50 Best Farmers' Markets

How to cook lady peas:

Fresh lady peas are delicate due to their small size, so handle them with care when cooking. While there are many ways to prepare lady peas, we suggest keeping it simple to let their sweet flavor sing. Cooking Light Executive Editor Ann Pittman has a surefire method: She sautés onions and thyme in a large stockpot, adds the peas and chicken stock, and then lets it simmer together until tender. Cook time for fresh lady peas is about 30 to 35 minutes. If using dried lady peas, check the package for instructions and cook time.

Substitute lady peas in recipes calling for black-eyed peas and field peas. Spark your inspiration with these top summer pea recipes:

Lastly, round out your meal with a batch of our tantalizing Whole-Grain Cornbread (because what's any summer supper without the cornbread?).