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.
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.
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