The rituals of New Year’s Day will soon be upon us: The lines will form at store return counters. Once-desolate gyms will teem with creaky, writhing bodies. And all across the South, the Caribbean, and drawing a line directly back to west Africa, people will eat black eyed peas and rice – Hoppin’ John – for luck.
Sometimes it’s rice cooked with black eyed peas, sometimes it’s rice served with a bowl of stewed peas to get your smother on. (And sometimes, as the historian Jessica Harris explained in the New York Times, it’s not black eyed peas, but cow peas or field peas—names that connect directly to the African technique of planting them at the borders of fields to keep out weeds and feed cattle.) No one really knows where the name of the dish comes from—some say it’s a slurred pronunciation of the French term for pigeon peas, “pois de pigeon,” and if you really wanna get your etymology on, the historian Karen Hess has a theory that takes you to India, across to Madagascar, and will probably make your head hurt before you make it to South Carolina.
But in any case, it’s a dish that speaks of resourcefulness and strength: These two humble foods come together to nourish—they combine to make an excellent source of protein, whether or not you use pork in the dish—the slaves who brought them with them to America and then spread the tradition throughout the New World.
Using pork in the dish is traditional, because it’s delicious and because it suggests that you’ll live the rest of the year “high on the hog,” as Dr. Harris says. But many make it without meat. Here, we’re thrilled to present two versions. The first, a traditional take, comes to us from chef Rob Newton of the wonderful Southern-styled farmer’s market-based Seersucker restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. And the second, by Sheri Castle, author of The New Southern Garden Cookbook, is a version that cooks the rice into a creamy risotto-style dish, served with collard green pesto. Collards or other greens represent folding money, so eat plenty of those, too!
By Rob Newton, Seersucker
1 pound dried black-eyed peas, picked well to make sure there are no stones
2 medium carrots, peeled and left whole
4 ounces country ham, diced
1 cup onion, diced
3 to 4 sprigs thyme
½ cup celery, diced
2 cups rice, preferably Carolina Gold, rinsed until the water runs clear
3 cups hot water
Grated cheddar cheese, to taste
Finely chopped green onions, to taste
Salt, to taste
1. Soak the peas in cold water for at least six hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Drain the peas and put them in a large pot with the carrots, ham, onion, thyme and celery. Cover with cold water and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft to the tooth but not falling apart. This might take one hour, or it might take two or even three – it all depends on the particular peas you have. Remove from heat, remove the carrots and thyme sprigs and add salt to taste.
3. Combine the rice, 3 cups hot water and a generous pinch of salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot. Cook for 20 minutes and do not open the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and leave covered for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and gently stir to fluff. Don’t overstir.
4. Hoppin’ John is best served in a bowl. Layer in the rice first, followed by the bean mixture. Drizzle some of the bean liquid on top, but not too much as you don’t want the dish to be soupy. Sprinkle with cheese and green onion, and then serve.
Hoppin’ John Risotto with Collard Pesto
By Sheri Castle
There are as many versions of Hoppin’ John (and its decrepit kin, such as Limpin’ Susan, Limpin’ Kate, and Skippin’ Jinny) as there are cooks. Reflective of my love of applying Italian techniques to traditional Southern ingredients, I cook mine like risotto, creating a large pot of creamy rice and peas studded with sausage. To continue the theme, I top each serving with a heaping spoonful of Collard Pesto.
Risotto recipes call for short-grain rice (such as Arborio or Carnaroli) because it releases lots of starch, which makes the risotto creamy. Here, I prefer to use Carolina Gold rice, an heirloom variety of Lowcountry rice. Depending on how it is cooked, Carolina Gold can turn out fluffy like long grain rice or creamy like short-grain rice. The flavor and aroma are exceptional. You can order it from Anson Mills, as well as Sea Island red peas, which are believed to be the original peas in Hoppin’ John.
Hoppin’ John Risotto
Serves 6 as a starter or side, 4 as a main course
4 to 5 cups chicken stock
12 ounces mild or hot breakfast sausage
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped celery
1½ cups Carolina Gold or short-grained rice, like Arborio
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cups cooked and drained black-eyed peas or other field peas*
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Collard Pesto, for serving (recipe follows)
1. Bring the stock just to a simmer in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.
2. Cook the sausage in a large, deep skillet or wide saucepan over medium heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes, breaking it up with the side of a spoon. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. (If you happen to have particularly lean sausage, add olive oil to make up the difference.)
3. Heat the rendered sausage fat over medium-high heat and add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat each grain in the fat. Cook, stirring slowly and constantly, until the outside of each grain is shiny and translucent with a tiny white dot in the center, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook until it evaporates.
4. Reduce the heat to medium, add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring slowly and steadily, until the rice absorbs the liquid. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, if your stock is not already salted. Continue adding stock ½ cup at a time, stirring all the while and letting the rice nearly absorb the stock before adding more. When done, the rice should be tender, yet a little firm in the center of each grain (like pasta al dente). The rice should be suspended in thick, creamy sauce. You might not need all of the stock, or, if you use it all and the rice is not quite cooked, continue the process with hot water. The entire process should take about 25 minutes.
5. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the peas, sausage, butter, parsley, and cheese. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve at once, topped with a sprinkling of cheese and a spoonful of Collard Pesto.
* If you’re unfamiliar with how to cook field or black-eyed peas, follow Rob Newton’s method, steps 1 and 2 in the traditional recipe above, using the seasonings as you see fit.
Collard Green Pesto
Although we often think of pesto as made from basil, it comes in many forms, such as this delicious, bright green version made from collards. It’s perfect with the risotto, but it can be served in any way you’d serve traditional basil pesto. Collard pesto holds its color for days.
Makes 1½ cups
10 ounces small, tender collard greens
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped green olives or capers
2 tablespoons chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes
¼ cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Hot Pepper Vinegar or sherry vinegar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon kosher salt per cup of water.
2. While the water is heating, strip the collard leaves off the stems. (Save the stems for another use.) Stack the leaves and roll them up into a cylinder and then cut the cylinder crosswise into thin strips. You should have about 5 cups of lightly packed collards. Add the collards to the boiling water and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place the garlic in a slotted spoon and lower it into the boiling water for 30 seconds to poach away some of the pungent raw garlic taste. Set the garlic aside. Drain the collards in a
colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Drain well and transfer into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.
3. Add the garlic, olives, tomatoes, pecans, cheese, and vinegar and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until the pesto is smooth and thick. Season with the salt, pepper, and cayenne. Serve at room temperature.
Make-ahead note: You can make the pesto up to 3 days ahead. Store covered and refrigerated. Return to room temperature for serving.