Those New Year’s black-eyed peas. December 31, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: black-eyed peas, Hoppin' John, New Year's traditions, recipes for black-eyed peas, vegetarian black-eyed peas
Silence Dogood here. In scenic PA, where our friend Ben and I now live, a dinner of roast pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve is supposed to bring good luck throughout the new year. But in our native South, eating black-eyed peas and greens is the secret to ensuring good luck in the coming year.
There’s just one problem: We both hate black-eyed peas, and as for cooked greens, spinach is about the beginning and end as far as we’re concerned. (We do love kale and mustard greens, but raw in salads, not cooked. And we’re not counting lightly sauteed arugula or cabbage, which we both love. Neither would be considered traditional in our native Nashville.) OFB still talks about being forced to eat a tablespoon of black-eyed peas every New Year’s Eve, and as for me, my Mama was lucky to force even one pea down my throat.
My brother reminded me of my famous black-eyed pea aversion earlier this week, and it made me stop and think. OFB and I love beans. And black-eyed peas are actually beans. So why don’t we love them? In my case, it may have been texture sensitivity: the black-eyed peas at my household were always cooked until they were slippery-mushy, the texture I loathe most. In OFB’s case, an aversion to ham and lack of any flavoring in his mama’s black-eyed peas except ham may have been the culprit. Clearly, it was time for reevaluation.
A dish with the colorful name of Hoppin’ John is the classic way to serve black-eyed peas. The peas are cooked with ham or fatback and a lot of crushed red pepper (let’s hope that’s where the hoppin’ part of Hoppin’ John comes from) , then served over rice or grits, or rice is added to the peas during the cooking process. Being a vegetarian, this method was definitely out as far as I was concerned, and besides, it didn’t sound too flavorful. Not to mention that OFB would hate it.
Time for some serious research: Heading over to my good friend Google, I searched for vegetarian Hoppin’ John recipes. And there were plenty, some classified as vegetarian, some as vegan (though they were actually all vegan—no meat or dairy products). But none of them was really a Hoppin’ John. Some cooked the black-eyed peas in barbecue sauce, some served them up with tomato sauce, some cooked them with a passel of veggies, including tomatoes, bell peppers, and celery, many dumped in pseudo-meats, from pseudo-sausage to pseudo-bacon, one added a bottle of dark beer and some liquid smoke, another stuffed them into collard rolls. These recipes all looked pretty good (except for the pseudo-meat, yuck), but they certainly weren’t Hoppin’ John.
Hmmm. It looked like my problem was that I was limiting my concept of black-eyed peas to Hoppin’ John. Perhaps it was time to regroup, to step back, to think about black-eyed peas separately from the famous dish. Back to Google I went to search for black-eyed pea recipes. Meanwhile, I’d made an intriguing discovery: besides dried and canned black-eyed peas, some of the Hoppin’ John recipes had called for frozen black-eyed peas. Well, I thought, perhaps the texture of frozen black-eyed peas would be more beanlike and less slippery-mushy than canned or cooked-up from dried beans. I was now on a mission from God.
Again, Google didn’t disappoint. My favorite of the recipes that turned up in this batch was a black-eyed pea/potato taco. But no, I just wanted a recipe for black-eyed peas and rice. Rushing to the grocery yesterday before the snowstorm that’s battering us today, I found something even better than frozen black-eyed peas: fresh black-eyed peas! I couldn’t believe my eyes, but there they were in 11-ounce plastic clamshell packs. I snapped one up. By dab, by grab, I was going to make Ben and myself something we could actually eat for New Year’s Eve, even if I had to invent it from thin air!
Thinking things through, this is what I came up with. I’ll simmer the black-eyed peas in veggie stock until they’re tender, adding a splash of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce or Pickapeppa to give them a little heat, and some Trocomare or Herbamare for saltiness and additional flavor. Once they’re almost done, I’ll brown some butter in a saucepan and saute some sweet onions with thyme, oregano, and basil. Meanwhile, I’ll cook basmati rice in our rice cooker. (And long before any of this, I’ll have put sweet potatoes in the oven to bake along with a dish of cored apples in cider with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and raisins for dessert.) And yes, I’ll cook some spinach and serve it up with balsamic vinegar and salt as a side dish. Finally, I’ll make a really hearty, crunchy winter salad.
Just before serving, I’ll stir the sauteed onions and butter into the black-eyed peas, then top the peas with shredded cheese and stir it in. (Checking the fridge, I see that I have shredded sharp white Cheddar, shredded Asiago, shredded Parmesan, and shredded 5-cheese Italian. I suspect I’d have chosen shredded mozzarella if I’d had any, but I think I’ll use the shredded Italian, which will have mozzarella as well as Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano. Guess I’d better see what the fifth cheese is!) Then I’ll spoon the thick pea mixture over the rice, top it with sliced scallions (green onions) or fresh cilantro, and voila! Black-Eyed Peas a la Silence.
Will they be any good? Er, who knows, but if not, there’ll be more rice and the baked sweet potatoes, spinach, and baked apples to fill the gap. And tradition holds that just by tasting them, we’ll have brought ourselves good luck for the coming year!
I’ll admit while I’m at it that another concept I found intriguing was a black-eyed pea salad. If I were making one, I’d cook the peas until tender but still holding their shape, then let them cool. Meanwhile, I’d tear some Romaine lettuce into bite-size pieces (or, gulp, open a bag of prepared Romaine) and pour them into a big salad bowl. Then I’d chop up tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, sweet onion, and scallions (green onion) in a big bowl, add the cooled black-eyed peas, pour extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top, sprinkle oregano, thyme, and basil on lavishly, along with plenty of salt (we like RealSalt) or Trocomare, stir all well to blend thoroughly, pour it over the bed of Romaine, and serve. Knowing me, I’d probably sprinkle shredded Parmesan over the finished salad before serving. Yum!
What are your New Year’s traditions? Please share them with us. And a very happy, blessed, and lucky new year to you and yours!
‘Til next time,