Tuesday, December 9, 2003

It's Bean called that before, but not by you

A long time ago, I got a big bag of dried black-eyed peas.

A couple weeks ago, I got some smoked ham hocks.

I had no idea what to do with them.

So they sat around for a while, forgotten.

And then, one day, the waiting was over. It was time to make Hoppin' John.

Hoppin' John is a mix of beans (usually the black-eyed pea kind) and rice, flavored with meat (usually ham), and herbs. The name comes either from a) the custom of inviting guests to saying "hop in, John", b) an old New Year's Day ritual where kids hop once around the table before eating the dish, or c) the French-Creole word pois pigeon (pronounced pwah pee-zhohn), or pigeon peas, a native pea in the Caribbean that was also eaten mixed with rice. Take your pick.

In any case, black-eyed peas were brought to the United States by African slaves in the 1600s, and Hoppin' John has been a mainstay of African-American and Southern cuisines ever since, particularly as the traditional good-luck dish for New Year's Day.

But why wait? Have some now. It tastes good (and is good for you!) Use the crock pot while you're at it.

Hoppin' John

The night before, soak several handfuls of dried black-eyed peas in water.

Chop a couple of garlic cloves, a medium onion, a green pepper or two, and a celery rib (all optional, but good stuff). Put it in the crock pot with two ham hocks, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a pinch of allspice and cayenne, and a couple of dashes of worcheshire sauce, and keep it in the fridge 'til morning.

Drain the peas in the morning, give a quick rinse, and fill up the crock pot, along with about 3 cups of water or stock, and turn it on.

When you come back after work, make rice (and is there any other way to make rice than in the rice cooker? I think not.) Serve the beans on top of warm rice. If you don't feel bound by tradition you can also add cheddar and sour cream, and let's face it, cheese and sour cream makes everything better.

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