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New Year's Good Luck: Black-Eyed Pea Soup

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. 

Nutritional Estimate 8 Servings, 1 cup each. Per serving: 105 Calories; 18 g Total Carbs; 3 g Dietary Fiber; 3 g Sugars; 1 g Fat; 5 mg Cholesterol; 63 mg Sodium; 6 g Protein. Weight Watchers: 2 points.


More black-eyed pea recipes from around the web: 

Hopping John Soup for Good Luck in the New Year from Kalyn's Kitchen.

Black-Eyed Beans with Chorizo and Chimichurri from Cook Almost Anything.

Creole Black-eyed Peas from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

Black-Eyed Peas for Luck from The Runaway Spoon.

Lucky! Black-Eyed Pea Salad from Kitchen Parade.Vegetarian Hoppin' John For A Prosperous New Year from Christinecooks.

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Hmmm... I like the sound of this. Perhaps, I'll make it for New Year's. Why include the cornstarch?


Hi Paz...

Thanks for the note. I added the cornstarch because it thickens the soup without adding any fat and it adds only a small amount of carbohydrates. If you cook black-eyed peas for a much longer time (6 hours or more) they will start to break down and this thickens the soup naturally. Some people prefer that style (and I frequently prepare it that way, just tossing the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and leaving it all day) but I thought Id present this quicker (if you call 2 hours quick!) version with the cornstarch for thickening...

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2010!

best, Stephen

This sounds delicious. I am a convert to the idea of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.

I'm making that Hopping John soup for a party tomorrow! Cornstarch is a no-no for South Beach, so to thicken, I use a can or two of black-eyed peas that I puree with the immersion blender.

For those of us who don't eat pork, or prefer vegetarian soups, barbecue sauce makes a great substitute for the ham bone. Thanks for sharing links to other recipes, too; it's always great to see the diversity of recipes out there in food blog land. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

Hi Lydia...Thanks for stopping by and leaving your excellent suggestion! I definitely agree with you. Another option that I endorse for a meat-free soup would be a drop or two of Liquid Smoke. (I used to keep my supply of Liquid Smoke hidden in my pantry because it seems so fake....then I found it as an ingredient in a barbecue sauce in The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby -- my go-to gurus for grilling -- and so decided that if they can come out of the pantry with it so can I!).

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2010!

Thanks for the explanation, Stephen. I'm going to make it this New Year's Day. Ummm... Yeah... Two hours is long enough for me. I'm hungry now. ;-)

Happy, Happy New Year!


I can definitely endorse Kalyn's suggestion -- if you want to omit the cornstarch you can remove a couple of cups of the cooked peas and purée them (being careful of course about hot spatter!) and then return them to the soup. This would lower the per-serving calories to 99 and the carbs to 17 grams. It also lowers the Weight Watchers points to 1!

Thanks for a great recipe! I found your site from one of Alanna's ones. Even though I don't consider myself living in the South (Washington DC) I have only been able to find fresh, not canned BEP the past couple of years. Last year I didn't realize I needed to cook fresh peas longer and our Hoppin' John was crunchy. This year I boiled them in a bit of water for 20 min and they turned out just fine.

I have a few technique pointers - 1) you need 3 cups of water per cup of beans for soaking. 2) after beans come to a boil, skim off the foam, THEN cover and simmer. 3) 1/8 teaspoon (DO NOT ADD MORE! Will give off a soapy taste if you do!) of baking soda during cooking can help cut down on flatulence. 4) put the covered pot of beans in the oven (stirring occasionally) for more starch release and a thicker soup (so you can skip the cornstarch step). 5) use stock instead of water and cut back to 5 cups, adding more if the soup is too thick. 6) take lid off of soup last 30 minutes to help thicken it. 7)If you use a ham hock or smoked turkey bone, leave it in for the entire cooking time. The bone will release its natural gelatin, thickening the soup.

These technique tips will work for any bean soup.

I'm a southerner, from a long line of southern women cooks. have never used cornstarch to thicken soup. never. not needed! You can also stir in some collard greens or kale for a one-dish meal, adding in rice or not, as you prefer.

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