Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Day Tradition

Black-eyed peas eaten New Year's Day are supposed to bring good luck for the coming year. Now I generally am not superstitious but every January 1st for as long as I can remember, certainly all of my adult life, I've made sure to have a bowl of "crowder peas" in some version, topped with greens.
For years I have been making cowpeas the same way -- long simmered with ham hocks or slab bacon and mixed with rice for "hoppin' john" a Southern staple since at least the mid- 1800s. The first published recipe surfaced in 1847.
I started out to make a healthy even vegetarian version of my old favorite based on a recipe I saw from Los Angeles' Cafe Gratitude. The vegan hearty food restaurant has become the recent darling of LA's health crazed beautiful people with dishes named not for the ingredients but for the results they hope to achieve like  "I Am Inspired" and "I Am Cleansed."
Gratitude's recipe started with sun dried tomatoes and capers to replace the meaty texture and saltiness of the ham usually found in these recipes. I rehydrated the tomatoes, rinsed the capers and stood staring at them in the colander. Going back and forth I couldn't quite imagine the capers and the beans, the molasses and the chills. I wanted to trust and yet the years of tradition (and my own prejudice seeing capers only as a mediterranean accent flavor) from my rarely more than once a year dish gave me doubt. I put the capers back in the jar and reached for the salt pork tucked away in the freezer.
The sun dried tomatoes were ready to use so I opted for a somewhat more healthy vegetable filled version of the old standard. First I rendered lardons of salt pork in olive oil and when they were crisp added in the chopped sun dried tomatoes and a couple chopped cloves of garlic. A couple minutes later chopped onions, carrots, celery, and a jalapeƱo pepper went into the pot. When the onions were translucent I added in my fresh black-eyed peas (though the method would work just as well with dried soaked beans -- just require a longer cooking time), the tomato soaking liquid and water to cover. The beans simmered until tender while the rice cooked nearby.
Another bowl of beans, another year of good luck. Welcome 2014.

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