Happy (Belated) New Year

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lucky Meal

Lucky Meal

A friend of mine has a Hoppin’ John party every year on New Year’s Day, but I don’t usually go as I prefer a festivity-free New Year (another long story that I will spare you the details of).

But it seemed like it would be a good break from the database work, so I decided to go this year, but it turned out it wasn’t such a good idea because I was in total database mode, at that point trying to figure out if I could set up a recursive custom function to match event dates, so that an event would show up on the list of upcoming events whether it started on that date or if it was the second or third day of a multiday event, which was not so hard but not so easy either, and required me to figure out something I hadn’t worked with before. And this is what I felt like talking about at the party, you can imagine how well that went over.

So I had some black-eyed peas and greens and started a Scrabble game outside (it was 60 degrees here on New Year’s Day) but quickly realized that I was going to lose my database mojo if I stayed much longer, so I headed home.

And it was just enough black-eyed peas and greens to make me miss the version I make, which is from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking, published by my friends at UNC Press. So I made that yesterday in my effort to re-start the New Year right. A week or so late, but still good. And hopefully what I had on New Year’s Day will be enough to sustain my luck for the year.

I’ll give the recipes straight up below, but here are a few notes.

It turned out I didn’t have a lot of black-eyed peas on hand so I just made what I had — it was about half a pound (which was a little over a half cup of dried peas).

For many years I made vegetarian versions of recipes like this, sautéing in olive oil or substituting butter for bacon grease or fatback, but then I got salt pork for some recipe I was making and had a whole bunch left over so cooked beans in it and discovered what I had been missing. Beans cooked with pork fat are substantially better than those cooked without. So I picked up some fatback at King’s yesterday before making this.

And I don’t follow the recipe exactly, since the beans and rice are cooked fresh, I just put them together with tomato and scallion and cheese as garnishes. The second night, I do it like the recipe says and mix it together in the pan and heat through. It’s good both ways.

I did follow Bill Neal’s braised greens recipe, which is the first time I’ve made them like that. Usually I sauté kale in olive oil and garlic and add red wine or balsamic vinegar, and a little salt and pepper, and I like that a lot. I’ve made collards that way too but don’t like them nearly as well, and King’s had some good-looking collards so I got those and did the braised version, though I am currently out of bacon grease so I had to leave that part out. They were good, and it felt nice and traditional.

I’m also including my minimalist cornbread recipe that I came up with by looking at all the different cornbread recipes I had. You can adjust the sweetness to taste — recipes I looked at varied from 1 tablespoon of sugar in a recipe with 2-1/2 cups of combined cornmeal and flour to 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of honey in a recipe with 2 cups of combined cornmeal and flour. At one point a number of years ago I discovered that I’d been making it with 1/3 of a cup of honey because I’d been consistently using the wrong measuring cup. It was good with that much sweetener, but more like a breakfast bread. I’ve since cut back.

I keep powdered buttermilk on hand, which I mix in with the dry ingredients then add 1 cup of water with the liquid.

So here are the recipes, the first three from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking and the last from me.

Happy New Year!

Field Peas

Cooking time for these peas will vary greatly depending on size, variety, and freshness. Always keep enough water in the pot so the peas will remain whole. No pea is ever cooked to mushiness, though often leftover peas, especially black-eyed peas. are mashed, formed into small cakes, and fried in bacon fat.

Yields 6 servings

1-1/2 pounds shelled cowpeas, lady peas, crowder, or black-eyed peas
3 ounces pork sidemeat
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup thinly sliced onions
1 bay leaf
1 red pepper pod
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
2-1/2 cups water

Recommended equipment: a 3-quart saucepan

Wash the shelled peas and drain well in a colander. Cut the sidemeat into nine strips and along with the salt, onions, bay leaf, pepper, and garlic simmer in the water for 15 minutes. Add the peas (and water to cover, if necessary). Simmer for 35 minutes to 1 hour or longer, depending on the maturity of the peas.

Hoppin’ John

Southerners may make resolutions for the New Year, but they know success (or lack of it) depends more on what is eaten on 1 January than on all the good intentions in the world. More black-eyed peas and collards are consumed on that day than any other time of the year — part of an antique gastronomic insurance policy. Collards are for a steady supply of folding green in the coming year; black-eyed peas for plenty of pocket change. Hoppin’ John is a sort of jambalaya with a light touch. Do not stew the different elements into a homogeneous mush. Each pea, grain of rice, chunk of tomato, and piece of scallion should retain its individual identity, flavor, and texture.

Yields 4 to 6 servings

2 cups cooked Black-eyed Peas (see above)
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

Recommended equipment: a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or enameled cast-iron saute pan with cover

Heat the peas and rice separately if cold. (Add 3 tablespoons water to cold rice, cover and steam briefly.) Combine lightly in the skillet or saute pan, sprinkle the chopped tomato and scallions over all, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and heat through. Add grated cheddar cheese when serving, if desired.

Braised Greens

The following recipe is a basic one for all the commonly used southern greens. Cooking time will vary for the type of green, its maturity, and the time of year. During hot weather, it may be wise to blanch turnip or mustard greens before a final cooking to relieve them of excess bitterness. The pot should simmer, not boil. You are not overcooking a vegetable here, but braising it much in a French manner to slowly coax and develop flavors. It will be instructive for you to taste the mess of greens often, anticipating and savoring the developments.

Yields 6 servings

7 cups water
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 ounces pork sidemeat, diced (or a small ham hock)
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 tablespoons bacon fat
1 teaspoon sugar
2-1/2 pounds greens — turnip, mustard, kale, or collards, or a combination

Garnishes: crisp bacon bits, hard-boiled eggs, sliced green onions, chopped fresh cayenne, Pepper Sauce, and Indian Dumplings

Recommended equipment: An 8-quart stainless steel or heavy aluminum stockpot with lid.

Bring the water and seasonings to boil over high heat and boil for 20 minutes. During this time wash the greens well — usually at least twice to remove the grit. If the stems and ribs are anything but very small and tender, strip the leaf off and discard the ribs and stems.

Add the greens to the pot, cover tightly, and bring back to the boil. Uncover and stir down the leaves, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook about 1 hour. Remove greens from pot, reserving potlikker if required for future use, and serve with any of the garnishes suggested above.

Buttermilk Cornbread

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 (or smaller) pan, or a cast iron skillet.

Sift together:

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add to dry ingredients:

1 to 4 tablespoons of sweetener — granulated white sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses (if you use liquid sweetener, add it in with the liquid ingredients)

Beat together lightly:

1 egg
1 cup buttermilk

Add to liquid:

2 to 4 tablespoons of liquid fat — vegetable oil, or melted butter/margarine/shortening/bacon grease, or some combination

Mix together the dry and wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until all is combined. Pour into the greased pan and bake until the top is golden brown and the center is set.

One Response to “Happy (Belated) New Year”

  1. Babygirl Says:

    Happy belated New Years to you as well. Let me say your buttermilk cornbread recipe is very similar to my mothers and I simply love it.

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