West African in origin, black-eyed peas are one of the most widely recognized staples of African-American cooking. In Southern lore, black-eyed peas are thought to bring good luck and prosperity when eaten on New Year's Day.
The holiday's signature dish, Hoppin' John, is a Southern specialty made with black-eyed peas and rice and flavored with some sort of fat, like bacon or a ham hock, as well as onions and hot sauce. The traditional meal includes collards or mustard greens to symbolize economic fortune, as these look like folded money. The black-eyed peas themselves are also symbols of money, resembling coins. Sometimes a dime is hidden in the dish, and whoever gets it in his or her portion will have a wealthy year.
Despite the name, black-eyed peas are actually beans. While canned black-eyed peas are available, one of my New Year's resolutions is to buy dried beans instead of canned ones and cook them from scratch. Luckily, it doesn't take much more time -- just a little extra planning. Try slow-cooking black-eyed peas in a crock pot on December 31. This is the perfect dish to bring to a New Year's Day brunch or potluck, or to eat at home. Use that leftover Christmas ham bone for a rich and savory flavor.
Happy New Year!
Dried Bean Basics
When it comes to choosing beans and legumes, I recommend using dried beans over canned when possible. I've found that while canned beans are more convenient, buying dried beans is cheaper and uses less packaging. Also, dried beans contain no sodium, while a half-cup of canned beans usually has about 20 percent of your daily sodium requirement. If you have the option, choose bulk dried beans over pre-packaged ones.
You will need to soak your dried beans before cooking them. But first, spread them out on a baking sheet to sort through and get rid of any shriveled or deformed beans. After rinsing the remaining good beans in cold water a few times, place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by about two inches, so they have room to expand. Cover the pot and store them in the fridge overnight. Discard any beans that float to the top. If you are in a rush and don't have any canned beans, you can quick-soak dried beans: place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by about two inches, bring them to a boil over high heat, cover the pot with a lid and set aside to soak for at least one hour before cooking.
Always drain beans of their soaking water and add fresh water to cook them. Cover your beans by about three inches of water and bring to a boil over high heat before reducing the heat to medium and simmering for the suggested cook time. Because the water will be evaporating as the beans are cooking, check them every so often in case you need to add more water.
Crock-Pot Hoppin' John Recipe
2 cups black-eyed peas, sorted, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
1 ham bone, if you have it left over from Christmas. Otherwise, use four slices of bacon or chopped sausage.
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup of cooked rice, to stir in at the end
1 bunch of collard greens or kale, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
¼ cup agave nectar (optional, to add a hint of sweetness)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1. Soak peas overnight
3. Put peas, ham bone, chopped onion, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, agave and vegetable broth in the crock pot
4. Cook on "high" for five hours
5. Add the cooked rice, greens and salt an hour before serving
Serve with hot sauce and corn bread.
Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture.