Incredibly, we have reached the end of 2008. Like every year, it's had some good, some bad and some ugly, but as we stand on the precipice of 2009, it's time to look back on what's happened and use what we can to make the future a better place. So I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone peace, love, happiness, prosperity, and lots of beans.
Legumes are a staple of our diet, and at this time of year they even have folkloric street cred: in the southern United States, black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten to ensure good luck for the coming year. A cursory Google search says the black spot represents a "lucky streak," and notes that "the legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham...the hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity" (although not, it must be noted, for the hog), while another site suggest that the black-eyed pea's association with good fortune "dates back to the pharaohs."
Others say it started in Vicksburg, Virginia, during the Civil War when the town ran out of food while under siege and the inhabitants were lucky enough to discover dried black-eyed peas among their stores. Meanwhile, cabbage leaves are thought to bring prosperity to those who eat them on New Year's Day. Of course, the "luck" conferred upon the digestion by the combination of legumes and cabbage may be open to debate, but it still sounds a lot better than hog jowls, unless you're Granny Clampett, in which case you probably don't want to spend New Year's with us, anyway: we have a much smaller fancy-eatin' room, and no cement pond at all.
But whatever the reason, Egyptians or Damn Yankees, eating black-eyed peas is a time-honored way of ushering out the old and ringing in the new, and this is how I do it. Let me say straight up that A. this makes a ton (I like to freeze things for when I'm too lazy/busy to cook), but can be easily halved for a more reasonable quantity, and B. my version is more curry than Cajun, but go ahead and adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste. I've used frozen or canned black-eyed peas when they were on hand, but soaking raw ones is even better, provided you remember to do it. With some rice, garlicky greens, and extra hot sauce, this is a delicious, healthy start to a brave new year: the best one yet!
Black-Eyed Peas with Okra and Sweet Potatoes
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 4 cups onions, diced
~ 1 cup each: celery; bell pepper, chopped
~ 3 cups vegetable stock
~ 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes , including liquid
~ 1 lb. okra, tops removed and sliced (4 cups, or a 1 lb, bag if using frozen)
~ 3 sweet potatoes, chopped
~ 1/2 cup white wine or broth
~ 1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
~ 1 tbsp. Jamaican curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, chili powder, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, thyme, garam masala
~ ¼ tsp. each: cayenne pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg
~ 1 tbsp. each: molasses, maple syrup
~ 3 cups frozen black-eyed peas, 2 drained and rinsed cans, or 1.5 cup raw, soaked overnight
~ Lots of black pepper, or to taste
~ 4 cups baby spinach (approximately), chopped
~ Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium flame. Add the onions and cook, stirring regularly, until they begin to brown, about 8 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, bell pepper, celery, sweet potatoes and spices. Cook for 5 minutes, and add the wine or broth to deglaze the pan. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another minute or two.
~ Add all remaining ingredients except the spinach, and cook over medium heat until okra is thoroughly cooked and the mixture has thickened, about 45-55 minutes.
~ Add the baby spinach and a little more stock if desired; it should be thicker than a soup but still a bit brothy.
~ Cook another 20 minutes over low heat, then allow to stand awhile; the longer it sits, the better!
~ Serve over rice with sautéed kale, chard or (ideally) collard greens and extra hot sauce.