My favorite way to spend New Year's Day is outside in the mountains. Setting my intention for the year ahead of me means creating time to celebrate what I love most about living in Alaska: the outdoors. Whether it's a ski on the Coastal Trail or a skate on the nearest lake, I try to greet the year with rosy cheeks and frosted eyelashes.
Although I dream of days spent cozying up in the kitchen, I equally love meals that I can whip up after an adventure while listening to an episode of "Serial" (a wildly popular new podcast from the creators of "This American Life"). This year I'm planning on make a super easy New Year's dinner. After the past two months of elaborate cooking and baking, it's time to simplify.
West African in origin, black-eyed peas are thought to bring good luck and prosperity when eaten on New Year's Day. Like cranberries on Thanksgiving, I always forget about how good black-eyed peas are until Jan. 1 rolls around. Which is a shame because they are delicious and nutrient-rich.
The basics of the holiday's signature dish, Hoppin' John, are that it must include black-eyed peas, rice and some sort of fat, like bacon or a ham hock. The traditional meal includes collards or mustard greens to symbolize economic fortune, as these look like folded money. The black-eyed peas symbolize coins and tomatoes symbolize health. 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. Sometimes they can be found fresh, but more commonly they're sold canned or dried. If you want to use dried black eyed-peas, soak them in cold water overnight or for about six hours before using them.
This Hoppin' John recipe is a favorite of mine, adapted from the cookbook "American Flavors" by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman. Depending on what you have on hand, this can easily be made vegetarian, extra succulent with spot shrimp or served chili-style without the rice. It freezes well, so make extra to keep on hand when you need some extra luck in your life.
Happy New Year!
Black-eyed peas, bacon and kale Hoppin John
2 tablespoon olive oil
8 slices bacon, diced (1 cup)
1 small onion, diced (1 cup)
2 celery sticks, diced (1 cup)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 28-oz.can diced tomatoes with juice
1 15-oz. can black-eyed peas, drained or 2 cups black-eyed peas soaked overnight and drained
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1-2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (depending on how spicy you like your chili -- they pack a punch.) Cut into small pieces.
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 bunch Tuscan or green kale, stems removed, leaves washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups cooked rice
1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot at medium heat. Add the bacon and let it render for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly to keep from sticking.
2. Add the chopped onions, garlic and celery and stir well to coat in the bacon fat. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until they start to soften.
3. Add the diced tomatoes, chicken broth, black-eyed peas, water, chipotle peppers, vinegar, cumin and coriander. Stir everything together, then let it cook uncovered over medium heat for about 10 minutes to let the flavors come together.
4. Stir in the honey and kale and let cook another 10 minutes.
5. Serve over rice (cook separately) with grated cheese on top.