As far as I know, eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a tradition across the South. I’m not sure why, but they supposedly bring luck for the whole year (I should have eaten an extra dose before our trip to Vegas last week).
Since my parents are from Texas, I grew up eating black eyed peas every January 1. When I first left home, my mom would send me a bag of dried peas each December among Christmas presents, making sure she did her part in passing on some New Year’s luck. I typically took the bag and shoved it to the very back of my kitchen cabinet, right next to the bag from the year before. To be fair, though, the dried black eyed peas went uncooked mostly because I was spending my winters in the mountains of Colorado, where the altitude makes cooking beans just about impossible without a pressure cooker. I’m back at sea level these days, so I’m returning to my black eyed pea roots. Since they taste great and are healthy, why buck tradition?
Last year was the first time I staged a Southern-themed, black eyed pea-filled New Year’s lunch. Alex, my friend, Jenny, and I made a vegetarian Hoppin’ John–inspired soup and some cornbread. The soup was great. The cornbread, not so much. So, I’m thinking of a repeat this year, with improvements in the cornbread department.
Hoppin’ John isn’t in any of my veggie cookbooks…which might be because it’s usually just meat and beans. So, I’m going to base it off a few recipes found online. Emeril’s looks pretty good, though still very meat-centric.
Unlike Emeril, I like my Hoppin’ John with tomatoes. Also, since dark leafy greens are often served alongside black eyed peas, I think I’ll throw some of them directly into my Hoppin’ John. At this point, I’m not even sure it’s appropriate to call my New Year’s soup Hoppin’ John, but let’s just go with it.
Vegetarian Hoppin’ John
- Half a bag of dried black eyed peas, soaked overnight
- One half cup or so of long grain white rice
- A couple tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, diced (or more…I mean, this is inspired by Emeril!)
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 – 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 2 jalapenos, diced (we like things spicy…Alex likes things VERY spicy)
- 2 stalks of celery, sliced
- 1 carrot, cubed
- About two tablespoons of tomato paste (I just do a squirt, since I like to buy the tomato paste in a tube)
- 1 of the bigger cans of diced tomatoes
- 6 cups of water (more or less, depending on how soupy you like your soup)
- 2 cubes of salt-free veggie bullion (I like to control the salt myself)
- A couple bay leaves
- A few dashes of apple cider vinegar
- A small dash of tamari (this deepens the flavor of the stock without imparting a “soy sauce” taste)
- Salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
- A few handfuls of dark, leafy greens (I usually buy the “Southern greens” mix from Trader Joes, but coarsely chopped mustard greens or kale would be great)
Rinse your black eyed peas and make sure there’s no rocks hiding out. Throw the beans in a pot of water and let them soak overnight. Make sure to put about twice as much water in as beans, since the beans will absorb a lot of water.
The next morning, dump out the beans in a colander and rinse them.
Cook the rice in a small pot (a little shy of 1 c. water for ½ c of long grain white rice). I think it’s best if the rice is very slightly undercooked, because it will cook more once you add it to the soup. You can use brown rice, but in this recipe I like the way white rice tastes better.
Heat the olive oil in the biggest pot you have in your kitchen at a medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, celery and carrot. Stir and cook until the onions look translucent.
Add the tomato paste. Stir until it coats all of the veggies. Next, add the can of tomatoes and the beans.
Pour in enough water so the beans are covered by a few inches. Add the bullion cubes (I really like Rapunzel Vegan Bullion Cubes and dislike Knorr veggie cubes, which have MSG, but sometimes it’s difficult to find anything but Knorr. More on making your own stock in a later blog post). Add the bay leaves. Reduce your heat to a simmer, stir and start making the cornbread.
It should be a little more than an hour before the beans start to soften. If you add salt earlier I think it may take a little longer (I’ve read something about how the shells on the outsides of the beans get harder with salt, but I don’t really know). You can tell the beans are done when they’re still firm without being hard or crunchy — like al dente pasta, I guess. I tend to overcook mine because I start doing something else and forget about them, so you may even want to set a timer.
After the beans are about done, stir in the cooked rice. Add some more water if the soup is looking too thick.
Now, add a couple dashes of vinegar and a dash of soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add some cayenne if you want to bring up the heat.
I like to add the greens just a couple minutes before I serve the soup so that they retain their bright color. So, if you’re about to serve the soup now, add the greens now. If you’re not going to eat it until later, add the greens later. The greens will only take about a minute or two to cook. If they cook longer, they start to lose their color.
As the flavors of the soup meld, the taste gets so much deeper and better. If I were organized, I’d make the soup the day before (minus the addition of the greens) and set it aside. I’m never that prepared, though.
Ideally, as soon as the cornbread comes out of the oven, you’ll serve the soup in a big old bowl with the fresh, steaming cornbread on the table and Tabasco on the side. If you want to add some extra B vitamins to this healthy meal, pair it with your ale of choice (it’s New Year’s Day, after all, and football is on!).
Does anyone have any good cornbread recipes? I’ve been looking for a Southern-style cornbread (not sweet, like Yankee cornbread), but most seem to require a cast iron skillet, which I don’t have. Hmm…*
* Inga to the rescue! Our friend showed up with some great cornbread she made using Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Looks like we may need to add some cast iron to our pot and pan collection.