Lucky Black-Eyed Peas

Bonne Année, mes Cheres!  In New Orleans — and, I’m told, much of the South — we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck in the coming year. This purportedly dates to the end of the Civil War, when Confederate soldiers and those remaining Southern citizens had little to eat, and felt pretty darn lucky to have black-eyed peas. I don’t know why it would take those circumstances to feel blessed … these things are delicious and comforting even when the only war you’ve survived is modern-day holiday air travel.

If you’re serious about needing some gris-gris in the coming year, you have your peas (for “good health” technically) with greens (dollars) and cornbread (gold) for prosperity … a trifecta of “I think I’ll eat this because it’s damned good and then also imbue it with special powers beyond its time in my digestive system.” Superstition aside, this is quick to make, versatile, healthy and delicious … we have it on a monthly rotation in our galley, and you should too. Luck only adds to the charm.

Creole Black-eyed Peas

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1 pound dry black-eyed peas
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 large white onion
6 big cloves garlic
2 bunches green onions
1 pound ham
White rice and hot sauce to serve

This recipe really does come together with little effort and active time, sitting on the stove for a couple of unattended hours to bring you a gloriously warm and creamy one-bowl meal.  We made these while also making our Shortbread Christmas Cookies, which involved HOURS of work using every flat surface other than the stove.  So when we were about to faint with hunger, barely able to lift our lighthouse-shaped cookie cutter for one … more … cookie … SUSTENANCE.

Here’s a southern cook’s secret — if you give the dried peas a quick simmer they release some of the “ink” from the black eyes and your peas will be more creamy-white at the end.  Not a necessary step for taste, but a significant enhancement in terms of the attractiveness of the dish, and just not that hard.  So to start, put the peas in a pot of cold water to cover, slowly bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  While you’re doing this (and dicing vegetables in the next step) bring a teapot of water to a boil on the other burner … you will need it in a bit.

Dice the white onion, mince the garlic, and slice the green onions into small pieces.  Toward the end of this process, melt the stick of butter in a pot over medium heat — yes, butter, and yes an entire stick.  Go ahead and use olive oil or coconut oil or scrimp but I’m telling you, this is what makes the dish give you a hug on a cold night, and it’s just not that bad for you.

Sauté the onions and garlic in the butter until soft.  Meanwhile, dice the ham (you can really use anything other than lunchmeat, but a nice quality Alpine bacon is a real treat) into about 1/4-1/2″ chunks

When the vegetables are soft, add the ham and stir through thoroughly.

Now here’s another Southern chef tip: beans stay more tender if you don’t shock them, temperature wise.  So your goal is now to add hot beans to hot vegetables with hot water — this is why we boiled the teapot earlier (and then drained the simmered peas and left them covered).  At this point, to the vegetables and ham add the drained peas and then add hot water to cover.

Give this a good stir, and leave it to simmer for anywhere from 2-4 hours, until the peas are tender.  Add water to keep the peas covered during the early stages, letting them “dry out” a bit toward the back end of the cooking time but leaving plenty of soupy goodness to soak into the rice.  When the peas are tender, salt to taste — salting before cooking will toughen them as well, and the ham has a lot of salt so waiting is worthwhile here.  Serve them over rice — with sauteed collard or mustard greens and cornbread if you’re seriously in need of a boost in the coming year — and enjoy!

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