Meatless Monday: Hoppin' John, Hold the Ham Hock

As this financially difficult year comes to a close, we could all use a kitchen elixir to help shake off the 401(k) blues and usher in vibrations of fortune and prosperity for 2009. We all could use a pot of Hoppin' John.

Black-eye peas before getting a soak. (Kim O'Donnel)

If you've never had the pleasure, get thee to the store right away and introduce yourself to a bag of black-eyed peas. Old timers will tell you a pot of Hoppin' John needs the salty smoky bits of a ham hock, salt pork or strips of bacon to make it proper. But this Yankee girl says you can drop the hock and still come up with fine fixins for New Year's Day – and you'll be just as eligible for the proverbial pot o' gold waiting in the wings.

Over the years, this bacon lover has done Hoppin' John a zillion different ways, and I've come to a conclusion: As much as I love those little itty bits of crispy pork, I prefer my Hoppin' John without the meat.

For many years, the chipotle chile in adobo sauce has done an admirable job of adding heat and smoke to my meat-less beans. The latest greatest addition to my bag of bean tricks, however, is smoked salt, which is exactly what it sounds like (but without the weird chemical flavor of Liquid Smoke). On the nose, smoked salt is a big ole campfire; in a pot of beans, it's like bacon. Seriously.

Right now, I'm working with a container of Matiz Mediterraneo from Spain, but I'm keen to get my hands on various smoked salts produced in this country, including one that's been smoked over Alderwood.

With just ½ teaspoon or so of this weird and wonderful salt, I don't even crave the meat. Other smoky ideas that come to mind: Smoked paprika (aka pimenton) used to season the beans (although it's difficult to find) and smoked mozzarella as garnish.

Here's to a prosperous and healthier 2009 – one smoky bean at a time!

Smokin' Meat-less Hoppin' John
2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked in enough water to cover, for at least two hours, and drained. See Plan B and C for frozen and canned options
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup medium or long-grain rice
water or stock of choice


In a large stockpot, add peas and enough liquid -- about one inch above beans -- and bring up to a lively simmer. 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. Season with salt, about 1 teaspoon. Add minced chipotle. For smokier results, substitute with ½ teaspoon smoked salt.

Add rice, plus 1 additional cup of liquid, return lid, and cook for 20 minutes over low-medium heat, without lifting lid.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion and garlic until softened and golden, 6-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and if you're craving even more smoke, try about ¼ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper.

Lift lid of bean pot. Rice and peas should be moist, with but not super soupy. Add skillet mixture. Stir to combine and taste for salt and other seasonings. Add more smoked salt if desired.

Plan B
: Frozen peas: Cook onions and garlic in deep pot until soft and golden, season accordingly, then add frozen peas, plus just enough water to cover. Bring up to a simmer, then cook over low-medium heat. Add chipotle chiles. For extra flavor, add a few glugs of your favorite beer. Cook until warmed through, then proceed with rice step.

Plan C: Canned peas: This is my least favorite option, as the quality of canned peas greatly varies from brand to brand and canned peas generally are stripped of their meaty characteristics. However, I found Eden Organic to be free of salt and minimal canned "goop," making this an acceptable fall-back option. Cook these just like the frozen peas, but instead of water, add something more flavorful, like stock or beer. Cook rice separately and combine with peas just before serving.

No matter how you cook 'em, serve Hoppin' John with a variety of fixins; some of my favorites include chopped scallions, diced tomatoes, a splash of soy sauce, chopped fresh parsley, hot sauce, shredded cheddar.

Makes enough for six bowls' worth.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 29, 2008; 8:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Winter Holidays
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I've never been there, but this reminded me of a place in Baltimore that I've been meaning to go to on account of their smoked salt and other foods. The place is Neopol Savory Smokery in Belvedere Square. I always get the itch to try smoked foods in the winter. I've used smoked paprika but the smoke isn't assertive for me unless it's sprinkled on at the end. I've been playing with dried chipotle peppers lately.

Two related notes, in different directions.

One, I've been making beer mustard lately (so much that I gave away a lot as stocking stuffers) with horseradish from my garden. Now that I'm out of horseradish, I was thinking of making more beer mustard where the beer was a distinct flavor component. I usually use Marzen, but with the hot spice, the beer adds depth and hides in the background. I'm thinking the next one should include a smoked Marzen (a Rauchbier) from Schlenkerla. Should be an interesting experiment.

Two, my family is from northern Italy, near Milan/Como, and traditionally lentils with zampone are eaten on New Years. Zampone is the skin of a pigs foot that has been stuffed with a pork sausage. Pigs feet can be substituted. Being a vegetarian, I usually just make lentil soup and leave out the feet. I haven't added anything smokey since zampone isn't smokey. Perhaps I'll give the smoked salt a whirl if I can find it before then. If anyone out there has an idea for other substitutions (taste or texture), I'm listening.

Posted by: ArlingtonSMP | December 29, 2008 9:31 AM

I have hosted a New Years buffet forever and always include a vegitarian bean salad which is specifically made with black eyed peas for the hoppin john, good luck effect. I also make greens in beer with smoked paprika, savory corn pudding and for the omnivores, shrimp and a ham.
Happy New Year Kim!

Posted by: NewtonMom | December 29, 2008 2:19 PM

Hi Kim and Everyone -

I usually do beans in the pressure cooker. It takes less time, and the flavor is better.

Here in the southwest, the bean of choice is the pinto, and I just do mine with an onion, some garlic, and a little salt. The chile stuff goes in afterward, along with cheese, sour cream, salsa, or whatever, and served with steamed tortillas or corn tostadas.

I did your veggie pot pie for Christmas dinner, and it was spectacular!! Steamed the vegetables, and added more chile powder to the crust than your recipe calls for (this is, after all, New Mexico). Also used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose for the crust. Not only was it delicious, it was beautiful to look at - peas were bright green, butternut squash and carrots bright orange, potatoes and parsnips white, with nut-brown crust. It looked, smelled, and tasted heavenly!! A real keeper.

Happy New Year to all!! L

Posted by: lsgc | December 29, 2008 3:53 PM

Thanks so much for this recipe! I was determined to make black eyed peas for New Years dinner, but I don't eat pork. This makes it so much easier!

Posted by: earlysun | December 29, 2008 8:59 PM

I haven't tried it yet, but I've heard that another way to give a smokey flavor to beans is to add a lapsang souchong teabag to them while they are cooking. It is apparently a smoked tea, so it imparts the smoky flavor to the beans.

Posted by: AmyH3 | December 30, 2008 1:38 PM

AmyH3: Awesome idea! Lapsang souchong would be a very interesting experiment indeed. I know folks who used the tea to smoke poultry.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | December 30, 2008 2:08 PM

Anyone have a recipe for split pea soup, hold the ham/meat?

Posted by: ORB21 | December 30, 2008 3:17 PM

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