There is an old saying in the American South: “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.” True to the saying, hoppin’ John, prepared with black-eyed peas, is served with collard greens and cornbread for a triple dose of good luck on New Year’s Day in the American South.
Chef Teddi Wohlford, co-author of The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook (Harlequin, 2012), recalls eating black-eyed peas and crowder peas for prosperity and good luck. “Although black-eyed peas can be purchased in the canned food section or in the freezer section of almost every Southern grocery store, there is something special and time-honored about going through the black-eyed peas (or any other dried bean), sorting and removing any bits of debris, pebbles or small dirt clods,” she says. In her family, this process of going through the dried legumes was known as “looking the beans.” Once the looking was done, the dried beans were soaked overnight to speed up the cooking process.
Stacy Harris, author of the book Recipes and Tips for Sustainable Living (Krause Publications, June 2013), was born and raised in Montgomery, Ala., where for as long as she can remember, her grandfather grew black-eyed peas and her grandmother cooked them. “Every New Year’s holiday, my family would go to my grandfather’s house and have a meal consisting of black-eyed peas, collards and fried cornbread. We would all sit around the table talking about how we were going to spend the money that the new year was going to bring depending on how many black-eyed peas that we consumed, and, boy, did we consume our share,” she recalls fondly.
She doesn’t save the peas just for the new year, though. “We grow them from heirloom seeds in the summer, blanch them and freeze them so that we have plenty for the entire year,” she says. She uses them as a side for venison, beef, quail and fish, and she says they are great made into black-eyed pea patties instead of beef patties for a vegetarian burger.
“While we all need a little bit of luck (and prosperity) in our lives, we also love the down-home goodness of this humble comfort food: the black-eyed pea. And what could be more economical than a pound of dried beans [for about $1.25 or cheaper] that will serve four folks generously?” says Chef Wohlford.
Add some good cornbread and you have a meal.
Hoppin’ John New Year’s Salad
Recipe by Chef Teddi Wohlford
Reprinted from the book The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook: More Than 100 Favorite Southern Recipes by Sherryl Woods with Chef Teddi Wohlford. Copyright © 2012 by Sherryl Woods. Photographs copyright © 2012 by Michael Alberstat. Published by Harlequin Nonfiction, a division of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes to 3 days (not including cooking the peas and rice)
Prep: 3 hours 15 minutes to 3 days
Yield: 6 servings
1 1/2 cups cooked and drained black-eyed peas
2 1/4 cups cooked white rice, cooled
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 hot pepper, such as jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 large lemon
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large serving bowl, mix together the peas, rice, onion, celery, bell pepper, hot pepper, basil and garlic. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir into the salad. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or up to 3 days. Adjust the salt and pepper before serving.
Cheddar Corn Muffins
Two 8.5-ounce packages corn muffin mix
One 14.5-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
6 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin tin. In a large mixing bowl, combine first 3 ingredients. In separate small bowl, blend together sour cream and eggs. Stir into dry mixture. Divide batter among muffin cups. Let rest at room temperature 5 to 10 minutes. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until tester inserted in center comes out clean and center of muffin springs back when touched. Let muffins cool in pan 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and transfer to cooling rack. Serve warm. Makes 12.
Note: These muffins are such a breeze to make and are absolutely delicious served with almost any soup, stew or chili.
Monica Bhide is the author of “Modern Spice” (Simon & Schuster, 2009).