Start New Year with old traditions on the table

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 31, 2011

Southerners make their resolutions like anybody else, and probably don’t keep them like everybody else, but they are sure to have their bowl of black-eyed peas and a mess of greens for New Year’s. My peas will be hoppin’ John, and the greens done my favorite way.

Folklore varies about the origins of hoppin’ John. This is a West African dish, a pork-flavored stew pot of rice and black-eyed peas, but the symbolism stays the same. The beans represent coins, and the pork conveys optimism, because pigs forage forward and don’t look back.

We have always had black-eyed peas and greens (usually collards) for New Year’s Day. I love the smell of the ham hock or whatever pork you use for seasoning, cooking with the peas. We could all use some good luck this year, a better economy, better health and better relationships with family members. I had better eat a lot of peas and greens.

Taken from ‘Garden and Gun’, December and January issue, this recipe is from the chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon Restaurant in New Orleans. (He learned to cook and love this dish in the Carolina lowlands where he lived for a time as an Army brat.)

Hoppin’ John

About 6 servings

Ingredients (Stage 1)

1 lb. dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over

¾ lb. Tasso ham, diced

1 onion, halved

3 cloves garlic

3 bay leaves

Preparation: In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine ingredients with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 2½ hours. Drain the black-eyed peas and ham, saving cooking liquid separately. Remove and discard the onion pieces, garlic and bay leaves.

Ingredients (Stage 2)

½ lb. bacon, diced

3 ribs celery, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and minced

½ tsp. fresh thyme

1 cup Cajun Grain rice or a good quality long grain rice

6 green onions, sliced

½ bunch parsley, chopped

1 tsp. coarse salt

1 tsp. ground black pepper

Preparation: Wipe out the pot and return to stove over moderately high heat. Add bacon and render until golden, for eight to 10 minutes. Then add the onions, celery, bell pepper and jalapeño. Using a wooden spoon, stir occasionally, cooking until onions look translucent, for eight to 12 minutes. Add the thyme and 2½ cups water, and bring to a boil. Lower heat, stir in the rice, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 17 to 22 minutes.

Stir in the green onions, parsley and black eyed-peas and ham, season with salt and pepper, and adjust the consistency with the reserved cooking liquid. The hoppin’ John should be moist, but not soupy.

My greens will be done with my favorite greens recipe. I forget where I got this recipe several years ago. I try other ways to do greens occasionally but I come back to this one. We eat greens in the winter several days each week since all I have to do is go to the garden to get mustard or collards.

My Favorite Greens Recipe

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. butter

½ cup onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups chicken broth

1 or two bunches of collards or other greens such as mustard or chard

2 tbsps. red wine vinegar

In a large pot, add the olive oil and butter and melt. Add the onion for one minute and then add the garlic but do not burn. Add a sprinkle of salt over this. Add the washed and chopped greens to the mixture and stir together for one to two minutes. Add the chicken broth and cook with a covered top for 20-30 minutes on low heat. In the last two minutes of cooking, add the red wine vinegar. Season to taste with the pepper and salt.

Happy New Year and good luck!