12/03/2013 09:30 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2014

The Power of the Pea

Many of us grew up reading about The Princess and The Pea. In that story, you may recall, that only a real princess could feel the impact of a tiny pea that was hidden under twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds. The good news is -- that was just a fairy tale. And the even better news is -- you don't have to be royalty to feel the power of peas. What many people don't know is that peas are packed with protein. Just one cup of peas has as much protein as an egg.

That's why we're beginning to see pea protein as the foundation of baking mixes and even protein drinks. Here at The Sneaky Chef, we've created No-Nut Butter, a delicious peanut butter alternative made from golden peas! People who are sensitive to nuts or soy protein, or those who follow a vegan diet have been thrilled to discover a better tasting peanut butter alternative.

Peas have been my own long-time sneaky snack. I've been known to run a bowl of frozen green peas under hot water, put them in a cup and take them with me when I'm on the run. They are the fastest healthy snack available -- no chopping or prep time. But there are many more ways you can get a protein punch for yourself or your family -- even for picky eaters who swear they'll never go near anything green, unless it's guacamole, of course. Somehow even my fussiest friends seem to scoop up that tasty snack, emptying the bowl in what seems like seconds.

So let's begin there. I'm going to show you how to double your pleasure and your protein, by sneaking not only peas, but broccoli and spinach -- also surprisingly great sources of protein -- into your favorite weekend snack and holiday appetizer - fresh guacamole. And by doing so, you'll not only get all the benefits that protein brings you, you'll be cutting out 25 percent of the fat.

You want to begin by making my Sneaky Chef Green Puree (recipe below)

2 cups raw baby spinach leaves
2 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen
1 cup sweet green peas, frozen
2 to 3 tablespoons water

Raw baby spinach should be rinsed well, even if the package says "prewashed."

To prepare Green Puree on the stovetop, pour about 2 inches of water into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Put a vegetable steamer basket into the pot, add the broccoli, and steam for about 10 minutes, until very tender. Add the frozen peas to the basket for the last 2 minutes of steaming. Drain.

To prepare in the microwave, place the fresh broccoli in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with water, and microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes (frozen florets take only 1 to 2 minutes), until very tender. Add peas for last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain.

Place the raw spinach in the food processor first and pulse a few times. This will reduce the spinach significantly. Next add the cooked broccoli and peas, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Puree on high until as smooth as possible. Stop occasionally to push the contents to the bottom. If necessary, use another tablespoon of water to make a smooth puree.

This recipe makes about 2 cups of puree; double it if you want to store more. You only need half-cup of this puree for the guac below. Green Puree will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or you can freeze 1/4-cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers.

To make the guac: Scoop out two ripe avocados, add the juice from one lime and half a teaspoon of salt and mix it together with half-cup of the Green Puree. If you want to spice things up, you can also add a half-cup of chopped red onion, chopped tomatoes, a handful of chopped cilantro or fresh basil -- even chopped jalapenos.
The end result? Every cup sneaks in 8 grams of protein!

You can use this same green puree in any dish that includes ground meat and tomato sauce -- allowing you to cut down on the amount of red meat you use, while boosting the protein in dishes like meatloaf, meatballs and tacos.

Want to pack a punch of protein into dessert as well? Then turn to another member of the pea family -- chickpeas! Just half a cup has 6 grams of protein. And because they're white, when you puree them into your favorite cookie mix, no one will notice that you've snuck them in (not even Santa -- in this recipe for Santa's Sugar Cookies with hidden Chickpea Puree.

And that's the real secret of the oh-so-unappreciated pea. Sometimes real life is even better than fairy tales!