December 30, 2009

Good Luck Black-Eyed Peas

New Year’s Day is just around the corner and people across the globe will prepare for the coming year, often with a traditional meal that is thought to bring good luck. In many countries, ham or pork is thought to bring good fortune, a tradition that may have originated because pigs use their snouts to dig in a forward direction, a symbol for “moving forward” in the new year. On the contrary, some cultures believe that eating poultry on New Year’s Day will result in bad luck because the birds scratch backward when they search for food. Many cultures also bake sweets or pastries for good luck. Greeks and Dutch, for example, make a special New Year’s cake with a coin baked inside. The person who gets the piece cake with the coin is considered the luckiest.

In the United States, black-eyed peas are widely eaten as a good-luck food on New Year’s Day. Also known as cowpeas, they were introduced to the New World by African slaves and have become a common food in the South. For maximum good luck in the New Year, a traditional dish known as Hoppin’ John is enjoyed among family and friends. The simple, hearty bean stew is typically simmered with rice, salt pork or bacon, and Creole flavors. It is typically served with Southern greens, which are supposed to bring prosperity since green is the color of money.

There are many theories as to how Hoppin’ John got its name. One story holds that the phrase “hop in, John” was used as a custom of inviting guests to eat. Another theory says that the name stems from the ritual of children hopping around the table on New Year’s Day before sitting down to eat. Whatever the origin, Hoppin’ John is a deep-seated tradition that we can all enjoy on New Year’s Day. Although I am not particularly superstitious, I do love traditions that are built around food, and I say that enjoying this delicious, one-pot meal definitely can’t hurt!

Hoppin’ John

Serves 8 to 10


1 pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed 

1 medium yellow onion, chopped 

1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice 

1 medium red or orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste 

Tabasco (optional)

For greens
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound greens (collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, or kale)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

Place black-eyed peas in a large heavy-bottomed pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off heat and set aside for 1 hour. 

Drain black-eyed peas and return to pot. Add enough water to cover beans by an inch. Stir in onions and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered until black-eyed peas are tender but still whole, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare greens. Heat oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add greens and broth and simmer 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with Tabasco, if desired. Ladle into bowls and serve with greens.

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