After hugging a few necks, I've grown accustomed to being greeted with a plate of food when I go down South. And when that happens, there is nothing more perfect than a bunch of black-eyed peas on your plate. Served up with nothing more than a pile of rice or a few tomatoes, it's a crucial piece of my favorite Southern meal.
So, I thought I'd try my hand at making Hoppin' John, a classic black-eyed pea recipe that, like many other recipes commonly ascribed to Southern cooks, has its roots in African cuisine. It's a dish with a long history, often associated with celebrations of the New Year. Surprisingly, this isn't a Southern recipe that was served in my family; perhaps because it's more linked to the Carolinas. Just another piece in the complex puzzle that is Southern food.
I also gave a little twist to the classic recipe, adding in some Italian heirloom peppers called Jimmy Nardello peppers. They're a frying pepper that has recently seemed to crop up all over the place; sweet and easy to use in all manner of recipes. They're decidedly un-Southern, arriving in the United States via Connecticut, but I thought that their sweetness would add some nice depth to this otherwise-smoky recipe. It also helps me blend my New England and Southern backgrounds into one dish.
Heirloom Hoppin' John
Adapted from a Food52 recipe.
2 cups dried black eyed peas
1 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion
1 clove garlic
2 stalks celery
2 frying peppers, ideally heirloom varieties like Jimmy Nardello
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t cumin
A few grinds of sea salt
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 cup rice, cooked
- Soak the peas overnight (or while you're at work) with enough water to cover them by an inch. Drain.
- Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven.
- Chop onion, garlic, celery, and peppers into small pieces, adding them into the Dutch oven to fry until the onions are lightly golden.
- Add the smoked paprika, cumin, and salt to the vegetable mixture.
- Add the vegetable stock and water to the Dutch oven.
- Add the black eyed peas to the mixture.
- Bring to a boil, and then cook at medium heat for 40-50 minutes. Add more water if needed.
- Meanwhile, cook rice according to package instructions.
- When the vegetable and bean mixture is cooked through, and the beans are tender, drain the juice from the can of diced tomatoes and add them to the mix.
- Warm the mixture through, and serve all mixed up with the prepared rice.
Don't let its simplicity fool you: This recipe is soul-warming. It is a mix of all the smells and flavors of that first meal you get when you walk through a Southern relative's door. It is proof that the simplest ingredients can elicit the strongest food memories. And that is why I cook Southern.