Peas and Rice Make the New Year Nice
In the south, they say luck and fortune is on your side if Hoppin' John stops by on New Year's Day. The exact origins of the name remain fuzzy, but the culinary legacy of melding field peas (of which black-eyes are one type) and rice are crystal clear, a direct link to the African slave trade, particularly in rice-rich South Carolina.
It's been said that field peas represent coins, clearing the way for fortune to enter one's home (perhaps the only way to keep hope alive for better days ahead), and you'd double your chances with a pot of collard greens, which represent cash, aka greenbacks.
Although I wasn't raised with this tradition up north, I must have enjoyed it in a previous life because I wouldn't have New Year's Day any other way. It makes sense to me to channel my hopes and aspirations through a simmering pot of peas and rice as our brothers and sisters did three centuries ago. I look at a pot of peas and rice as a bridge between the past -- honoring those who died tilling the land -- and the future -- the year ahead, brimming with possibilities. If nothing else, with a pot of peas and rice, I'm nurturing those around me (Hoppin' John is just meant to be shared) with a complete protein, and that sense of nourishment spreads like a grease fire, dancing on the stove, onto the kitchen walls and between us, as we slurp from our bowls. It is a force that is bigger than us all, one of good will and loving kindness, strong enough to overcome evil, if only for a few minutes.
Peas and rice don't just make things nice -- it's good karma.
Happy New Year!
There are many schools of thought on how to season a pot of Hoppin' John (ham hocks, tomatoes, onion, garlic), but most cooks agree on these few things: Soak those peas today, for at least four hours, and use long-grain rice. The rest is up to you.
There's also difference of opinion about cooking time for the peas, anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours. Unfortunately, much of this depends on the age of dried peas, which in the supermarket, are older than you think. In my experience, field peas are fairly quick cooking (often under one hour), but keep in mind you may experience timing variations.
Should dried peas be out of stock (or you run out of time), frozen peas make a reliable back-up plan, with Hoppin' John on the table in one hour, start to finish. Below, my notes for how I do my Hoppin' John.
1 cup field peas, soaked in enough water to cover, for at least four hours, and drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 slices thick-cut bacon (or slab bacon or 1 ham hock)
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 habanero chile or chipotle chile, diced
salt and pepper to taste
water or stock of choice
1 cup long-grain rice
Heat oil over medium heat. If using ham hock, add and brown on both sides. If using bacon, eliminate oil and render until crisp, about five minutes. If not using meat, eliminate and sweat onion and chile in oil. When using bacon, I like to remove crisp bacon and reserve for garnish.
Add peas and liquid (should be at least one inch above beans), and bring up to a boil. Cook at a boil for a five minutes, then reduce heat, cover and simmer, until beans have arrived at desired tenderness. This could take a minimum of 35 minutes and a maximum of one hour. Add rice, plus 1 additional cup of liquid, return lid, and cook for 20 minutes, without lifting lid. Season to taste. Rice and peas should be moist but most liquid should be absorbed.
Makes enough for six bowls' worth.
Some of my favorite garnishes: Chopped scallions, diced tomatoes, a splash of soy sauce, hot sauce, shredded cheddar.
After several attempts (and screwing up) cornbread, I'm giving this version a try, from cookbook author and southern culinary scholar John Martin Taylor, a Charlestonian who now makes Washington D.C. home. After all, we need a lil' cornbread to sop up the juices.
By Kim ODonnel |
December 31, 2007; 10:23 AM ET
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