Have some Hoppin’ John, and a Happy New Year

The beginning of 2019 is right around the corner, and celebrating the start of a New Year often involves partaking in a traditional food ritual to promote health, luck and prosperity in the year ahead.

In the Southern United States, many subscribe to the notion that eating just a bowl of Hoppin’ John will bring you good fortune in the New Year.

The ritual dates back to the 1800s in South Carolina, where the food is also known as “Carolina Peas and Rice.”  This African-American dish is nothing fancy. It’s just a simple recipe of pork (ham hock/bacon/country sausage), black-eyed peas (or red cow peas/field peas) and rice.

There are many ethnic variations of this dish.

Beans and rice have been staples of many cultures around the world from Africa to Brazil (baiao-de-dois), Guiana, Peru (tacu-tacu), Costa Rica/Nicaragua (gallo pinta), Venezuela (pabellon criollo), Puerto Rico (arroz con gandules), the Caribbean and Cuba.

You can follow the traditional way of cooking separately, or, as some prefer you can cook the black-eyed peas and rice in the same pot. Some may even add the greens to that same pot making it a one-dish meal. I like the simplicity of that idea, but would probably go a step further and adapt to using my slow-cooker.

In modern times, the recipe has been modified to make a somewhat healthier/more nutritious version using smoked turkey (instead of fattier pork products)  to add flavor; sometimes jalapenos to add spice; red or green bell peppers to add more color; and then served upon a bed of brown or white rice.

I find the symbolism intriguing.

Each food item represents a different meaning: black-eyed peas = coins; greens = money (“green backs”); corn bread = gold; and tomatoes (optional) = health.

Betsy Crisp is a Professor Emeritus, UF/IFAS Extension – Family & Consumer Sciences.

Recipes

Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day
Ingredients

 2 smoked turkey thighs (cooked as instructed below)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup onion, chopped

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1 cup red bell pepper (or ½ red + ½ green), diced

2 jalapenos (remove stem and seeds), chopped

1 Tablespoon garlic, chopped

1 pound dried black-eyed peas (rinse, remove any tiny stones/debris; soak overnight; rinse and drain)*

1 quart chicken stock (low-sodium)

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

1-2 Tablespoons cider vinegar (optional)

1 cup green onion, thinly sliced for garnish

4 cups freshly steamed brown or white rice

Instructions

  • In a large pot/Dutch oven, add turkey breasts and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer to cook until tender and meat falls off bone. Remove meat from pot (reserve broth in a large glass measuring cup – fat will rise to top and can easily be removed when cool). Let turkey cool to touch to remove bones and skin, and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in the large pot.
  • Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapenos and garlic, and cook until opaque and lightly browned, about 8 minutes.
  • Add the turkey meat, peas, chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme and a teaspoon of salt.
  • Simmer for 40-60 minutes, or until peas are just tender.
  • Add the can of diced tomatoes**
  • If liquid evaporates, add the saved broth. (You may have to add more seasoning)
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar (optional) ** and stir.
  • Garnish with green onions.
  • Serve hot over rice (uncooked rice can be added to the pot early, but you will need that extra broth).

Serve with collard/mustard/turnip greens (even chard/kale/cabbage/spinach) and corn bread to complete this Southern meal.

Makes 10 servings.

Notes:

  • Soaking dried peas overnight is not the only method, but helps speed cooking process, otherwise beans can take 1 ½-2 hours to become tender (do not overcook or they will become paste). Another technique is to rinse and sort to remove tiny stones/debris. Place peas in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover pot and let stand 1-2 hours. Drain and rinse beans.
  • Acid in the form of vinegar, tomatoes, lemon juice or something similar may make beans tough if added early in the cooking process and, therefore, beans may take longer to cook.

Published December 26, 2018

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