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The dreaded black-eyed peas. December 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Did you grow up with the New Year’s tradition that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve would bring good luck in the coming year? My mother was adamant on this point, and though she always made us a wonderful dinner on New Year’s Eve, at some point the dreaded black-eyed peas would make an appearance and we would all be forced to eat at least a spoonful. Yuck!!! How we hated them.

For years, I just assumed that black-eyed peas tasted horrible. But recently, I had a rush of brains to the head (in the immortal words of a friend’s mother) and wondered if the reason we hated the black-eyed peas was simply that my mother didn’t know how to cook them. This hadn’t occurred to me before because, in general, my mother was a wonderful cook. But thinking back on it, I realized that one thing she never cooked was dried beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes. The sole exceptions were the occasional pot of chili and that bowl of black-eyed peas.

In my own household, there’s almost always a pot of beans or lentils simmering on the stove. We love refried beans, black bean soup, vegetarian chili, lentil stew, dal, and the like, and eat them often.

So for this New Year’s, I’ve decided to give black-eyed peas another chance. Like lentils, they’re quick-cooking dried, but I discovered some canned black-eyed peas in the grocery and think I’ll try those before I buy a whole bag of dried black-eyed peas. And rather than just heat and serve them, I plan to make them into that iconic Southern dish, Hoppin’ John.

Hoppin’ John is a variant on that well-known and well-loved poor man’s dish, red beans and rice. We think red beans and rice with some hot-from-the-oven cornbread and a big, fresh salad is nothing short of delicious. Why wouldn’t Hoppin’ John be good, too?

Maybe you’d like to join me in my get-acquainted venture. I’ll give you three recipes to contemplate: one, a down-and-dirty basic Hoppin’ John from that priceless cookbook, White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler, and two other spiced-up versions that I think would be well worth trying. See what you think!

               Hoppin’ John

1 cup raw cowpeas [aka black-eyed peas—Silence]

4 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup raw rice [aka uncooked rice—Silence]

4 slices bacon fried with 1 medium onion, chopped

Boil peas in salted water until tender. Add peas and 1 cup of the pea liquid to rice, bacon (with grease) and onion. Put in rice steamer or double-boiler and cook for 1 hour or until rice is thoroughly done. [Note: 1 cup of rice in my rice cooker only takes about 1/2 hour to cook.—Silence] Black-eyed peas or canned peas will work if they’re already cooked.

Eeewww, no, this version may be traditional, but it doesn’t do much for me. Here’s a spicier version from Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee by Daisy King. (Miss Daisy’s Tea Room in Franklin, Tennessee was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived down there.) But, er, what happened to the rice?!

          Hot and Spicy Black-Eyed Peas

3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 bell pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 17-ounce can black-eyed peas

1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped [Yikes—hard to chop undrained tomatoes! I think I’d buy a can of diced tomatoes if I were making this.—Silence]

about 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Assemble all ingredients and utensils. [Gee, a home economist must have written this.—Silence] Cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and saute onion and bell pepper; drain. Crumble bacon and reserve for later. In a saucepan, mix remaining ingredients and heat to boiling, then simmer for 20 minutes. Pour mixture into serving dish; sprinkle with bacon and parsley. Yield: 8 servings.

Nope, it’s still not doing it for me. But here’s one that’s worth playing with. It’s from The El Paso Chile Company’s Texas Border Cookbook and is called Hoppin’ Juan (priceless!). Mind you, I’d make a few changes. I’d cut way back on the chiles—probably using just one the first time I made it, then upping the ante if I thought it could use more heat—and add a big diced sweet onion along with the green onions and garlic. If I didn’t feel like I had time to char, steam, peel, stem, and seed the chile(s), I might come up with a jarred version, or simply substitute some hot sauce (like my beloved Pickapeppa). But this recipe certainly sounds promising! Note that it’s vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.

        Hoppin’ Juan

6 long green chiles

1 1/2 cups black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed 

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 green onions, trimmed and sliced (about 1/2 cup)

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 cup cooked white rice

In the open flame of a gas burner or under a preheated broiler, roast the long green chiles, turning them, until they are lightly but evenly charred. Steam the chiles in a paper bag, or in a bowl covered with a plate, until cool. Rub away the burned peel. Stem and seed the chiles and coarsely chop them.

In a medium saucepan, cover the black-eyed peas with cold water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stir in the salt, and cook another 10 to 12 minutes, or until just tender. Drain. (The peas can be cooked up to 1 day ahead. Refrigerate, covered.)

In a large skillet over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the green onions, garlic, and cumin and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, for 4 minutes. Stir in the chiles and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the black-eyed peas and the rice and cook, covered, stirring once or twice, until heated through. Adjust seasonings and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

The authors point out that this also makes an easy salad if you stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, cool to room temperature, and sprinkle with minced fresh cilantro just before serving.

Okay, your turn! What’s your favorite recipe for black-eyed peas? Do you eat them for luck on New Year’s Eve? Let us hear from you!

            ‘Til next time,