This was the year I fell in love with black-eyed peas. (The food. Already loved the band.)
They have a wonderful flavor, almost smoky, even without bacon or ham. Earlier this past summer, we put them in a salad with feta and spinach. So, so good!
Black-Eyed Peas: The Star of Hoppin’ John
The dish that black-eyed peas are most famous for is Hoppin' John. No idea where the name came from. And depending on where you are from, you might not even call it that. It's simply black-eyed peas and rice.
Hoppin' John is one of those classic Southern dishes that come with as many versions, stories, and flavors as there are cooks. At its core, however, Hoppin' John is rice, black-eyed peas (or field peas), smoked pork, and onions.
Black-eyed peas are supposed to bring you luck if you eat them on New Year's Day, and it is traditionally eaten with collard greens. (Want to make black-eyed peas from scratch? Here's how to make them on the stovetop. How about our Southern-style collards?)
So, for this new year, I offer you a hot plate of Hoppin' John. May we all enjoy its good luck. Happy New Year!
The History of Hoppin’ John
Black-eyed peas were native to Africa and were domesticated some 5,000 years ago on the continent. This humble little bean (yes, they're beans, not peas as their name would have you believe) came to North America aboard slave ships.
We're not exactly sure how they got associated with New Year's, but we do know that black-eyed peas helped sustain Southerners during the period of Reconstruction. Black-eyed peas are also culturally significant for Sephardic Jews celebrating Rosh Hashana. Sometime after the Civil War, Hoppin' John became good luck New Year's food.
Together with rice, Hoppin' John gives you all your complete proteins. There's a Southern saying: "Peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold." Having these delicious beans on your plate with some rice, collards, and cornbread sounds like great luck to me!
Make It Vegetarian
Instead of bacon fat, use your favorite cooking oil and saute some sliced mushrooms to add more umami and a bit of smoky flavor.
To add more smokiness, try seasoning with smoked salt or a smoked paprika, add some fire-roasted tomatoes, and/or add a bit of liquid smoke to the dish.
You can eliminate the pork and use a vegetable-based bouillon or a vegetable broth to cook the black-eyed peas.
Tips for Storing and Reheating
Hoppin' John makes great leftovers. You can store leftovers in the refrigerator or the freezer. Place the beans in a shallow container to let cool completely before storing. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for three to five days and in the freezer for three to six months.
The leftover beans can be reheated in the microwave, but it's best to defrost in the refrigerator overnight before reheating. Cold black-eyed peas can be reheated on the stovetop over low heat. Just be sure to add a couple of tablespoons of chicken or vegetable broth in the pot beforehand.
More Classic Southern Recipes
- Southern Corn Bread
- Classic Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Sweet Tea Fried Chicken
- Hummingbird Cake
Many things may affect the cooking times of the black-eyed peas. They could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to cook to tenderness, depending on their age, where they were grown, and the water you are using.
This recipe uses 1/2 pound of dried black-eyed peas (about 1 1/4 cups). You could use up to a pound of black-eyed peas without changing the amounts of the other ingredients. However, you'll need to double the amount of water, and you may need to add more salt.
1/3 pound bacon, or 1 ham hock plus 2 tablespoons oil
1 rib celery, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces dried black-eyed peas (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 heaping teaspoon Cajun seasoning
2 cups long-grain rice
Scallions or green onions, chopped, for garnish
Cooked collard greens, kale, beet tops, or turnip greens, for serving
Cook the bacon, celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic:
If you are using bacon, cut it into small pieces and cook it slowly in a medium pot over medium-low heat. If you are using a ham hock, heat the oil in the pot.
Once the bacon is crispy (or the oil is hot if you are using a ham hock and not bacon), increase the heat to medium-high and add the celery, onion, and green pepper and saute until they begin to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir well, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the black-eyed peas and seasonings:
Add the black-eyed peas, bay leaf, thyme, and Cajun seasoning and cover with 4 cups of water. If you are using the ham hock, add it to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for an hour to an hour and a half, (less time or more depending on the freshness of the black-eyed peas) until the peas are tender (not mushy).
Cook the rice:
While the black-eyed peas are cooking, cook the rice separately according to package instructions.
Strain the peas and adjust the seasoning:
When the black-eyed peas are tender, strain out the remaining cooking water. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Taste the black-eyed peas for salt and add if needed. If using a ham hock, remove it from the pot, pull off the meat, and return the meat to the pot.
Serve with the rice:
Serve the dish either by placing a ladle-full of black-eyed peas over steamed rice, or by mixing the two together in a large bowl. Garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with collard greens, kale, beet tops, or turnip greens.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||12%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||16%|
|Total Carbohydrate 42g||15%|
|Dietary Fiber 5g||18%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 17mg||83%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|