Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year! - Vegan Hoppin' John

Vegan Hoppin' John
Now that I live in the south, I like to follow food traditions when possible. One is to have Hoppin' John on New Years Day, to ensure a year of good luck. The more research I did, the more I realized this was one of those dishes that everyone makes differently. Ham hock is also a key ingredient, one I was not planning to use (hopefully it isn't ham juice that gives you good luck in the new year, right?).

The Lee Brothers, who I trust whole-heartedly with all things food and southern, have an interesting article about the history and most basic recipe for Hoppin' John in the New York Times. There is a great traditional recipe in their cookbook which gave me some ideas about what to use. It was from them, actually, that I learned that black-eyed peas are just one variety of the southern field pea. I had fallen in love with field peas this past summer at various farmer's markets.

Some recipes, like Emeril Lagasse's, ask you to make a stew of sorts and serve it over rice. Many versions are more like a soup, like this one from Cajun Cooking. Still others make more of a rice pilaf dish, in fact that is how Hoppin' John is defined in the South Carolina Encyclopedia. I imagine it is a combination of regional cuisine and family traditions.

Since I'm not from the south, I had no traditions! And since I wasn't going to make it with meat, I pretty much decided I could make it any old way I wanted. The rice pilaf idea appealed to me, it sounded hearty and it is cold and rainy here today. I wanted to come up with ways to replace the smoky flavor of the ham, and came up with a few. I also added greens right to the dish. Sometimes collards are served alongside Hoppin' John, but in a pilaf, the gang's all in.

Vegan Hoppin' John
by Jenny Colvin

2 cups cooked black eyed peas
2 cups cooked long-grain rice (cook in vegetable stock for ultimate flavor)
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted tomatoes*
1 lb greens, chopped, quadruple washed, and dried**
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium or 1 large onion, peeled and diced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp - 1 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

1. Cook black-eyed peas and rice ahead of time. ***

2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute onions until starting to get transluscent. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Stir in tomatoes, undrained.

3. Add greens, putting pot lid on for increments of 5 minutes, stirring in between, until greens are wilted and incorporated into everything else.

4. Stir in black-eyed peas and cover pot for another 5 minutes.

5. Stir in rice and season to taste.

* - You can use several fresh diced tomatoes if you like to stay away from canned foods, but fire-roasted will add a nice smoky and slightly spicy flavor.
** - I used mustard greens. They have a lot of flavor and cook much more quickly than collards. Collards would be more traditional.
*** - Sometimes you can find par-boiled black-eyed peas in the store in the south right before the new year, but you can use canned or start them the night before from the dried version. I could have also used my frozen field peas, but they weren't black-eyed, and who wants to tempt fate?

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