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Deconstructing: Hoppin' John

Black-eyed peas, which were brought to the United States in the 1600s, are an integral part of the dish known as Hoppin’ John.

Black-eyed peas, which were brought to the United States in the 1600s, are an integral part of the dish known as Hoppin’ John.

You, me and the economy all need some good luck in 2009. Too bad the stock market can't load up a plate with Hoppin' John to make things all better.

It's a tradition in the South, especially in African-American households, to eat Hoppin' John on New Year's Day to bring good fortune for the new year.

Hoppin' John is a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice, flavored with meat, onions, herbs and spices. Some cooks use ham hocks, others sausage. Some bring heat with red pepper flakes or Cajun seasonings. Whatever the ingredients, cook them slow and low starting with dried black-eyed peas. Put on a big pot Thursday morning and it'll be ready come game time.

We know Hoppin' John tastes good, but where does the name come from? One story traces the name to the custom of inviting guests to eat with the request to "hop in, John." Another story suggests that the name comes from an old New Year's Day ritual in which the children hop once around the table before eating the dish.

Whatever the origin, Hoppin' John's history in the African-American community is clear. Black-eyed peas were brought to the United States by African slaves in the 1600s, and by the mid 1700s they were a major crop in Georgia. The black-eyed pea is one of the world's ancient foods, originating in northern Africa and introduced to India more than 3,000 years ago.

And by the way, black-eyed peas are not peas of the English variety. They are really beans, more like kidney or garbanzo.

Have seconds for more luck.

Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor, and Times files


Hoppin' John

1 pound dried black-eyed peas

2 small smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bone

2 medium onions, divided

3 large cloves garlic, halved

1 bay leaf

1 cup long-grain white rice

1 can (10 to 14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chile peppers, juices reserved

1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced

2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 green onions, sliced

In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks and 6 cups water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and add it to the pot, along with the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf, onion pieces and garlic.

Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Mince the remaining onion then add to the rice along with the black-eyed peas, tomatoes and their juices, red and green bell pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, seasoning, thyme, cumin and salt. Cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sliced green onions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot sauce and corn bread.

Serves 8.


Deconstructing: Hoppin' John 12/27/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 3:30am]
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