Perhaps nothing says New Year's Day quite like black-eyed peas.
This legume is often viewed with disdain by the uninformed. It is old South and is almost always associated with country food.
This Southern specialty was a gift to the world from West Africa, but spread to Asia rapidly and is now cultivated around the world. They are loaded with calcium, protein and vitamin A, among other good things.
The black-eyed pea also is a New Years tradition, because of its symbolizes prosperity. It swells when it is cooked, as fertile a symbol as can be found, but its roots are much deeper in New Year's tradition than that. It seems it became a holiday tradition in the South in the 1860s, but black-eyed peas have been part of the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashana for hundreds of years.
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As the New Year approaches, and we all look for a more prosperous year, put a pot of black-eyed peas on the stove, start with the holy trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery, add as much garlic as you can stand, then add some pork and simmer away.
The end result will be something delicious with nothing more than a crusty piece of bread, a slather of butter if you are so inclined and warm assurances of a better year to come.
BLACK-EYED PEA NECK BONE STEW
For the Stock
1 pound of pork neck bones
6 cups water
1 whole garlic
For the stew
2 cups fresh or frozen black eyed peas
All of the picked over pork from the bones
4 cups pork stock
1 chopped onion
1 chopped bell pepper
1 large sweet potato
3-6 cloves chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes
Fresh ground black pepper
To make the stock roast the pork bones in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, remove and add to a large stock pot. Add 6
cups of water and bring to a slow simmer. Quarter the onion (there is no need to remove the skin), cut the garlic in half and add to the pot. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove the bones and allow to cool, then remove the meat and discard the bones. Strain the stock and reserve it.
To make the stew add the onions and bell pepper to a large pot and sauté in a little oil. Remember to season as you go. Add the stock, peas, pork meat and return to a simmer. Cut the sweet potato into 1 inch cubes and add to the stew. Simmer until the peas and the sweet potato are tender. Please do not overcook, mushy beans are not appetizing. Serve with hot, buttered cornbread. If you want to make this recipe even heartier, add thick slices of Italian sausage that have been sautéed until crispy and brown.
If you have leftover stock, reduce it until it is thick and gelatinous, add to an ice cube tray and freeze. Once solidly frozen pop out of the tray and put into a plastic freezer bag and keep in the freezer until ready to use.
BLACK-EYED PEA CAKES
3 cups left over blacked eye peas
6 slices smoked bacon
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3-4 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (substitute jalapeño if you want it spicy)
Drain the peas and set aside. Sauté the bacon until crispy, remove and drain, the chop. If your doctor allows it, sauté the vegetables in the left over bacon grease, OK, remove some of it if you must, for 3-4 minutes. Add the peas, bacon and the egg and mix thoroughly. Add a little flour at a time as you mix. The flour will bind the mixture, but too much and the cakes will taste of the flour. Form into cakes and sauté in a little oil until well-browned. Served immediately. These cakes go very well with the tomato chutney below.
RED TOMATO CHUTNEY
This is a real classic in Southern cooking and pairs deliciously with all peas, beans and cornbread. It keeps well too, so make a little extra, seal in a glass jar and store in the refrigerator.
1 large can best quality whole tomatoes
1 cup chopped red onion
1 cup sugar
1 cup Asian style gourmet rice vinegar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 chopped hot pepper (optional)
Combine all of the ingredients and place in a sauce pan. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Give it a stir every once in a while so it does not burn. This sauce should be thick and not runny at all. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in well sealed mason jars. Vary the amount and type of pepper used based on how spicy you want it.