My friend Caroline saved me from a year of poor luck and bad finances.
I've been making (and enjoying) Hoppin' John on New Year's Day for some time, but this year I zoned out. Hoppin' John, a tasty melange of black-eyed peas and rice, is said to bring good fortune to those who consume it on January 1. When we spoke on New Year's Day, Caroline asked if I'd eaten the requisite foods, and I realized I'd spaced out. I promptly turned the car around and drove to the grocery. Within 30 minutes I was back home, black-eyed peas and tomatoes in hand, ready to whip up a batch of Hoppin' John.
Recipes for Hoppin' John vary wildly. Some versions call for the tomatoes (and sometimes other vegetables, like peppers) to be cooked with rice; others simply combine black-eyed peas and onion with plain rice. I stick with a slight variation of Bill Neal's version — soft, somewhat mushy, ham-flavored peas served atop white rice to create a joyous starch-on-starch medley punctuated by fresh tomato and green onion. It's a fabulous combination of warm, earthy carbs and bright vegetables that should be eaten throughout the year.
Adapted from Bill Neal's Southern Cooking
Serves 4 to 6
2 cooked cooked black-eyed peas
2 cups cooked white rice
1 cup fresh tomato, chopped
1/2 cup scallions, finely sliced
freshly ground black pepper
Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups fresh black-eyed peas
2 ounces country ham or pork sidemeat
2 bay leaves
2 dried red chiles
water to cover
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium flame. Add the onion and garlic, a pinch of Kosher salt, and cook gently until softened, but not browned. Add the remaining ingredients and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, skimming away any scum that initially floats to the surface. Cook until the peas are tender; this will take about 25-30 minutes, depending on the freshness and quality of the peas.
Combine the cooked rice and black-eyed peas in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tomato and scallion, season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir, cover, and allow to heat through. Add grated cheddar cheese if desired.