My husband isn't a superstitious person, except when it comes to New Year's Day. For the 20 plus years we've been married, he's always requested black-eyed peas on January 1. We live in the South and legend has it that eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is supposed to bring a person good luck all year long. Black-eyed peas are my least favorite legume, but I find them palatable when served as Hoppin' John, a Southern dish made with pork, rice and, of course, black-eyed peas. After cooking feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas, I don't want to spend New Year's Day cooking so I take a few shortcuts.
Instead of cooking a pot of dried black-eyed peas, I substitute a can of black-eyed peas.
Canned black-eyed peas are already cooked so you don't have to soak or cook them. The peas need to be drained and, since canned black-eyed peas contain a lot of salt, rinsed.
Quite a few Hoppin' John recipes use ham hock, an approximately 3-inch piece of a hog's hind leg consisting of meat, fat, bone and connective tissue which adds a lot of flavor to beans. This recipe skips the ham hock and uses bacon instead. I cook the bacon in my indispensable Bacon Wave microwave bacon tray which gives, as advertised on the box, "The frying pan taste without the frying pan."
The bacon grease collects in the bottom of the tray and can easily be poured into a saucepan and used to saute the onion.
No matter what I cook, I like to do as much prep work ahead of time as possible. There's not much I can do ahead of time with this recipe, other than cook the rice and put it in the refrigerator. The rice is reheated when it's added to the saucepan with the other ingredients.
Not all Hoppin' John recipes use tomatoes. I like to add them because they add a pop of color to the finished dish. Some recipes call for garnishing Hoppin' John with diced fresh tomatoes. Other recipes call for stirring a can of diced tomatoes into the mixture. Instead of fresh or canned diced tomatoes, the recipe I'm sharing today calls for a can of stewed tomatoes. Canned diced tomatoes and stewed tomatoes are not the same thing.
Unlike diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes are cooked before being canned. Stewed tomatoes are also flavored with herbs and spices. Regular or classic stewed tomatoes contain bell pepper, onion and celery. Mexican stewed tomatoes contain jalapeno, garlic and onion; Italian stewed tomatoes contain basil, garlic and oregano. I don't recommend using Mexican or Italian stewed tomatoes in this recipe because it will give the finished dish an entirely different taste. Another difference is diced tomatoes are -- like the name implies -- diced. Stewed tomatoes are usually halved.
The easiest way to cut stewed tomatoes into smaller pieces is with a pair of kitchen shears.
This Hoppin' John is seasoned with Tabasco, garlic powder and pepper. You can skip the Tabasco, but I recommend adding it because it keeps the dish from being bland. This is the only recipe I have that uses Tabasco and the only reason I have a bottle in my cupboard! You don't need to add salt; the bacon and rice add enough.
Black-eyed peas are often served on New Year's Day with greens such as collard, turnip or mustard which, because of their green color, symbolize money. We're not fans of greens so I don't fix them. I keep the meal simple and serve Hoppin' John with corn muffins made from a packaged mix.
I'll never like black-eyed peas as much as my husband does. However, after the year I've had, I'll gladly eat a plate of them New Year's Day, especially if it means better luck is in store for 2015!