あけましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year! This morning as I watched hatsuhinode (the first sunrise of the new year) through clouds and softly falling snowflakes, I marveled that another year had passed so quickly. It seems it was just yesterday that we were welcoming 2012!
The culinary traditions of the world are filled with lucky foods eaten around the New Year. Last year I wrote about osechi ryori, traditional foods eaten in Japan during the New Year. Today we are making our own luck for the coming year, rather than leave it up to fate. We are eating Hoppin’ John, a traditional dish in the southern United States eaten on New Years Day to bring luck during the coming year. Hoppin’ John is a dish made with black-eyed peas and rice, and has many variations.
Some versions call for cooking the peas and rice separately, whereas others direct you to cook them together. The ingredients also vary, from adding ham hocks, bacon, or sausage, to adding collard greens or cabbage. But the black-eyed peas are the key. The exact reason why black-eyed peas are considered lucky is unknown. Some sources claim that it traces back to the Civil War when the people of Vicksburg, Mississippi ran out of food while under attack. The story goes that the residents discovered that fields of black-eyed peas (also known as cow peas) hadn’t been destroyed. Although previously kept only as food for livestock, the peas were gratefully consumed, and from then on black-eyed peas were considered lucky. Whatever the true story is, most food historians agree that the dish has African/French/Caribbean roots, and black-eyed peas are thought to have been introduced to America by African slaves who worked the rice plantations.
Lucky or not, Hoppin’ John is a delicious way to kick off a new year of eating. The dish is filling without being too rich. The beans are earthy with a bit of natural smokiness, which pairs beautifully with rice. I like to saute peppered bacon and a mixture of chopped vegetables to add to the peas and rice, for added color and flavor. Here’s to 2013 being a year filled with luck and happiness!
Lucky Hoppin’ John
Adapted from Frieda’s Hoppin John Recipe
Makes 5 servings
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
6.5 ounces dried black-eyed peas, soaked in water overnight in the refrigerator
4 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 large bay leaf
6 peppered bacon strips
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, minced
1/4 cup cilantro chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the rice, black-eyed peas, and water in a dutch oven. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. Uncover and reduce the heat and simmer 15 to 18 minutes, or until the rice and peas are done, checking to make sure the mixture does not boil dry.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons of the drippings in the skillet. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, cilantro, garlic, and jalapeno peppers to the drippings in the pan. Sauté for about 3 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Crumble the bacon and add it to the skillet. Remove from the heat.
3. When the rice and peas are done, drain off any excess liquid and remove the bay leaf. Stir the bacon mixture into the rice and beans. The longer it sits, the more the flavors will blend.
*Disclosure: My friends at Frieda’s Produce sent me a sample of their dried black-eyed peas as a New Year’s treat! I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.