New Year's Good Luck: Black-Eyed Pea Soup
"Did you get your peas?" My daughter had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and I was calling to wish her happy New Year.
"Did I what?"
"Get your peas," she repeated. "Down here, that's what everyone says on New Year's Day instead of Happy New Year."
I grew up in the Midwest (Ohio and Michigan) and have lived my whole adult life in the Northeast so until Jenny moved south I never heard of the southern tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day to insure good luck. But since learning about this tradition I've rarely missed getting my peas for New Year. Have I been luckier than I would have been? I'm pretty pleased with the way things have turned out for me so far but of course I can't say with confidence that it was – or wasn't – the peas!
Not that I need a holiday tradition to get me to make black-eyed peas. Any diet organized around healthy eating or for glucose control should include legumes on a regular basis: high in protein and fiber, low in fat, they are a nearly perfect food. The only caution is that they also pack a carbohydrate punch so portion control is important, as usual.
I use a hambone, or sometimes some smoked ham hocks, when I make my peas…while not essential, the hambone or hocks add depth and complexity to the soup. I always use dried beans for my bean dishes, but of course you can buy black-eyed peas (also called cowpeas) and similar legumes already cooked, in cans or frozen. In the South there are purists who scoff at anything but fresh peas, of course, but they can be hard to find in markets outside the South. (If you used canned or frozen peas, be sure to check the label for added sugar or fat if you're looking to control intake.)
We usually have this soup with a simple salad and some of my favorite cornbread but if you want to go the traditionalist route you'd accompany your peas with rice, a baked ham and some collard greens.
Another way to get your peas is in hoppin' john, which is made by cooking the rice in the black-eyed pea soup (see the variation at the end of the recipe).
Blackeye Pea Soup
Yield: 8 one-cup servings
- 8 oz dried black-eyed peas
- 1 strip bacon, cut in small pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 celery rib, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- Hambone or smoked ham hocks (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Salt and hot sauce, to taste
1. Inpect the peas to be sure there are no stones included (most beans are mechanically processed and there are occasional inclusions). Soak them overnight, then drain and rinse well.
2. Sauté the bacon slowly in a skillet until just starting to crisp. Remove to a side plate.
3. In the bacon pan, slowly sauté the onion, carrot, celery and sweet red pepper until the onion is translucent.
4. Place the peas, bacon, vegetables, thyme, red pepper flakes and hambone or hocks (if using) in a slow cooker or soup pot. Add about 6 cups water. The peas should be at least covered by the water. Cook at a slow simmer for about 2 hours, until beans are tender. If you're using the optional ham bone or hocks, skim fat from the surface occasionally.
5. Whisk the cornstarch into a cup of the soup broth and then stir into the soup. Cook another 15 minutes or so until the soup thickens.
6. Correct seasoning.
I like to serve this soup with some minced scallions on top and bottle of hot sauce close at hand.
Variation: For traditional hoppin' john, in which rice is cooked in the soup liquid, replace step 5 with the following: "Stir in 1 cup long-grain white rice, cover the pot and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes without lifiting the lid." The yield for the hoppin' john variation is 10 cups; per serving: 151 calories; 29 g carbohydrates; 3 g fiber; 1 g fat; Weight Watchers: 3 points.
More black-eyed pea recipes from around the web: