By SARA MOULTON
Though black-eyed peas have been around forever, they generally don't get a lot of attention. But I think you ought to give them a second look.
These peas, which really are a bean, originated in Africa and found their way to India and Asia thousands of years ago. As early as the 5th century people were eating them for good luck on New Year's Eve. But they didn't make their way to America until the 18th century, a product of the slave trade.
It was during the Civil War that black-eyed peas became a staple of the Southern diet, as well as a token of good luck in the new year. The story goes that as the Union army stormed through the South appropriating crops and livestock as provisions, they turned up their collective nose at black-eyed peas. The troops considered them mere "field peas," fit for livestock, not people.
In this way, black-eyed peas, paired with greens, became a dietary staple of the surviving Confederates.
This was, in fact, a stroke of singular good luck. Black-eyed peas are high in potassium, iron and fiber, and a terrific source of protein. Pair them with greens and you're looking at an incredibly healthy dish. On New Year's Eve in the American South, each of those ingredients takes on symbolic value: The peas are coins and the greens are bills. Put some corn bread on the side and you've got gold, too.
This recipe is a mashup not only of a traditional favorite from the South, but also of one from the Middle East: falafel.
As a New Yorker, I've been eating at falafel stands throughout the city my whole life. Typically, the dish is based on ground chickpeas (or sometimes fava beans), combined with tahini (sesame seed paste), and served with a garlicky lemon sauce.
My falafel are not deep-fried, but you're not going to miss it. I create the crust by coating the falafel with panko bread crumbs, then sauteing them. And I don't puree all of the peas. I hold some back, then add them to the batter. I top them with a spicy garlic mayo instead of the usual tahini sauce. The finishing touch is chopped scallions, my nod to the greens part.