Friday, January 2, 2009

Black-eyed peas

I lived in the South for many years, and there's a tradition there of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. So I'm told, each pea eaten will give you a day of good luck in the new year. Every year on January first, I make a big pot of them.

I don't follow a recipe so much as a method, this being a dish I learned at my former mother-in-law's elbow. She never follows a recipe, eyeballs every measure. The amounts in this recipe are highly approximate: as long as you follow the instructions, the amounts are not so important.

Usually I would soak my peas overnight in plain water, as I would with any dried bean, but I forgot to put them on to soak on New Year's Eve, so I started with unsoaked beans. Even cramming the pot full of unsoaked beans, the method likely to cook slowest, they didn't take longer than two hours to soften. Soaking overnight might take half an hour off your cooking time.

You can cook black-eyed peas (or any dried bean) in water, or stock, or a combination. Most kinds of stock are fine, though I've never tried a fish stock. Yesterday's peas were cooked in equal parts of chicken, turkey, and roasted vegetable stock. The onions, garlic, and bay leaf are important, and I would say the bacon is essential for the traditional flavor, but this can be made as a vegan dish. Roasted vegetable stock provides lots of deep, caramelized vegetable flavor that substitute for the sweet and smoky flavors of bacon.

If you use meat in your beans for flavor, the amount and type is also variable. You could use pork hocks, duck bacon, turkey sausage, beef bones, kielbasa, or whatever meaty thing you like to use to flavor your food.

Black-eyed peas

1-2 lbs dried black-eyed peas, washed thoroughly and picked over
8-14 cups water, meat and/or vegetable stock, or a combination
1/4 - 3/4 lbs bacon, diced
1-2 bay leaves
2 onions, diced
1/2 bulb of garlic, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

To shorten the cooking time, soak the peas overnight in a generous amount of plain cold water, then drain and proceed.

In a large, heavy pot, cover the black-eyed peas with about three times their volume of water and/or stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very slow boil. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the peas are tender, 1-2 hours.

If the beans have very little liquid in them before they are tender, add more water or stock. If there is too much liquid, raise the heat and allow it to boil gently, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Serve the peas and their juices over rice or cornbread, with a generous helping of cooked greens.
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