Eating black-eyed peas with rice (also called ‘Hoppin’ John’) on New Year’s Day is a tradition among Gulf-Coasters; it’s said to bring prosperity and luck in the new year. It’s yet another tradition in my family as well, as both Mom and Dad have Southern roots (Mom was born and raised in New Orleans, Dad was born in Mississippi and then relocated to a town north of NOLA before high school). So I spent much of this afternoon smelling the unmistakable scents of black-eyed peas (the legume, not the Fergie, who probably smells of Electric Youth perfume, urine, and Jack Daniels) simmering on the stovetop.
Sometimes, in prior years, I forget to secure my BEPs in advance only to discover the stores are out of all varieties – canned, dried, what have you. This year, I had a bag of the best kind – Camellia brand – sent to me lovingly by my cousin. How lucky for me! Indeed, just thinking about cooking up a pot is already working for me.
I also had a challenge because I wanted to make a meatless version. The old-school recipe uses ham hocks for flavoring, and I haven’t eaten pork in 3-1/2 years. My Mom’s new take on the recipe employs a smoked turkey leg for the seasoning meat, but I’m trying to avoid eating too much poultry as well. So after a good 30 minutes of Internet research, I found this vegan recipe that sounded like it contained enough seasoning to be tasty. I had to deviate a bit (which I typically don’t like to do on the first go-round of a recipe) due to some ingredient constraints.
I started by soaking the peas for several hours. This is a controversial practice but I typically feel it can’t hurt if one has the time. Added them to a large pot with water and spices (thyme, a bay leaf, oregano). I also added some veggie bouillon cubes for added flavor (and sodium – boom).
In a separate skillet, I sautéed what’s known in New Orleans and beyond as ‘The Trinity,’ or minced onion/celery/bell pepper. Similar to mirepoix (just swapping the bell pepper for carrots), this trio of veggies provides the base for many Creole dishes. Garlic got added a little later. (No jalapeno as the recipe called for because I didn’t have one. I also used green pepper instead of a mixture of yellow and orange).
Once the veggies were nicely browned and tender, they got added to the peas. At this point I added more basic seasoning – sea salt, ground pepper, Sriracha, crushed red pepper.
And last, as per the recipe, I added a cup of brown rice right into the simmering pot. Mom always cooks the rice separately and dishes out the Hoppin John over it, but even she said the traditional preparation calls for it to simmer together. And hey – it saves washing another pot.
End result – while I slightly missed the flavor and texture of the meat, this was a worthy (and healthier) substitute. Which is damn good, since I’ll be eating leftovers for days. So thank you, Vegan Chef! I will be back.
Finally, the accompaniments. Typically one serves collard greens, which my palette can take or leave and they didn’t have any at my neighborhood market anyway. Corn bread or muffins are also a popular side, so I cheated with a box of Jiffy, which needs only one egg and one-third of a cup of milk. And why there’s my trusty polar-bear Coca-Cola that helped me along today with its sugary high-fructose-corn-syrupy goodness. Side note: I just learned from Real Simple that it’s better if you let ingredients come to room temperature before using them for baking.
And so I did just that. Voila.
And in unrelated news, here is one final holiday tradition to leave you with that I forgot to share last week. Every time I head home for Christmas, Mom has outfitted my bed with this decades-old Christmas Fozzie Bear, accessorized with a New Kids on the Block button. Just ’cause. Happy 2012, everybody!