Black-Eyed Peas With Ham Hock and Collards
For good fortune in the New Year, a plate of black-eyed peas is considered auspicious, especially in the American South. Believe it or don’t. Consuming this frugal dish on the first day of the year is said to augur the arrival of wealth.
Of course, there’s a back story.
Sephardic Jews were evidently eating black-eyed peas for good luck on Rosh Hashana centuries ago, and the custom eventually traveled with them to America. (We think of beans as purely New World, along with tomatoes, chilies and potatoes, but legumes like field peas, chickpeas and lentils have been Old World staples since biblical times.)
Black-eyed peas also arrived in Florida and the Caribbean, carried by African slaves. Just as African seasoning influenced Creole cooking, so black-eyed peas became part of the wider culture.
Ultimately, the Civil War played a part in the spread of the black-eyed pea throughout the South. The ravages of war and the scarcity of food changed the region’s diet. Dried beans and corn, formerly considered the food of the poor (or animal fodder), became the food of the entire population, and I expect most people felt lucky to have it.
Black-eyed peas cook much like any other dried bean. An overnight soak in cold water helps them cook faster. Simmered with onion and a meaty ham bone (other options are salt pork, bacon, pigs feet, hog jowl and ham hock), they can be prepared quite simply, with just salt and pepper. But they may also be made highly seasoned with hot pepper and spices; some cooks add tomato.
Adding cooked greens (the color of money) is said to make them even luckier.
Freshly baked cornbread (the color of gold) is the perfect accompaniment. Stir in some steamed rice and you can call it Hoppin’ John, though purists will say the rice and beans should be cooked in the same pot. It’s still a lucky dish, either way.
Aside from being outrageously tasty, black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day may also help a hangover. But I like the good-luck factor, and encourage guests to have at least a taste. It couldn’t hurt, right?
2 pounds black-eyed peas, soaked overnight if possible
2 pounds smoked ham hock, meaty ham bone or slab bacon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large onion, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 pounds collard greens, cut in 1-inch ribbons (about 8 cups)
1 bunch scallions, cleaned and chopped, for garnish
- Drain peas and put them in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add ham hock or bone (if using slab bacon, cut it into 2-inch chunks), cover with 10 cups water and turn heat to high. Add salt, onion stuck with cloves, bay leaf, black pepper and allspice.
- Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the surface. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until peas are tender. Throughout cooking, add water as necessary, always keeping liquid level 1 inch above surface, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Turn off heat. Check broth for salt and adjust seasoning. Mixture should be fairly brothy. With a pair of tongs, remove ham hock, ham bone or bacon. Chop meat and skin in rough pieces and set aside.
- Put a large wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil and heat until wavy. Add garlic and red pepper and let sizzle without browning. Add collard greens and stir to coat. Season with salt and add 1 cup water, stirring to help wilt greens. Add chopped ham and reduce heat to medium, then cover with lid slightly ajar and cook until greens are soft, about 20 minutes. Check seasoning.
- To serve, put greens and meat in low soup bowls, then ladle over hot black-eyed peas. Sprinkle with scallions.