Here’s a Deep South shocker: the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day originated with the Jews. (I guess the salt pork floating atop the pot threw me off.)
Wikipedia says Jews have been eating black-eyed peas for good luck at Rosh Hashana since 500 CE, and Sephardic and Israeli Jews still do today. How come none of my Jewish friends bothered to share this with me?
Apparently the Southern black-eyed pea tradition originated with Sephardic Jews who settled in Georgia back in the 1730s. The pork addition doesn’t need much explanation. We Southerners can’t cook anything without throwing in a hunk of the stuff.
Although I love the way pork flavors black-eyed peas, I don’t especially like a hunk the size of an old shoe swimming in the middle. This year I decided to change that. Thick slice the salt pork, then cut it into pieces a person might actually want to eat. Next, fry up those little bite-size nuggets. Not only is golden brown a better look than gray boiled, there are also renderings for sautéing onions and peppers to flavor the beans.
Now it’s time to add the beans and liquid. I’ve always used water, but this year I switched to more flavorful chicken broth. Bring all this to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Keep cooking the beans until they start to break down and turn the pot juices from translucent to opaque. Otherwise you’ll end up with watery, wan beans. Salt the beans only after they have fully softened. (Salt too soon and they never will.)
Now they’re ready to eat. You’ll need cornbread. Vinegar’s nice too, and if you like heat, vinegar-soaked peppers (aka pepper sauce) is even better. A little crunch in the form of minced red onion is a nice foil to the soft pork and beans.
And the final Southern touch: drop a coin into the pot for good luck. This year for the first time ever (battling the Great Recession), I’m dropping in more than one.
Serve 12 to 16 as a side dish
3/4 pound slab salt pork, sliced thick and then into 2-inch pieces
1 large onion, cut into medium dice
1 large bell pepper, cut into medium dice
2 lbs black eyed beans, soaked in 12 cups of water overnight and drained (see notes for quicker method)
2 quarts chicken broth, plus 1 to 2 cups water as needed
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 medium red onion, minced
Red wine vinegar (or pepper sauce) as desired
Heat a large soup kettle over medium-high heat. Add salt pork; fry until golden brown and fat has rendered, 4 to 5 minutes. Add onions and pepper; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add peas, chicken broth, and coin; return salt pork to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peas are fully tender and cooking liquid turns from translucent to opaque, adding water as necessary to keep peas moist but not soupy, about 1 hour.
When peas have fully softened, season generously with salt and pepper and stir in thyme. Continue to simmer to blend flavors, a couple of minutes longer.
Serve with a dish of red onion and vinegar or pepper sauce alongside.
Related post: A formula for bean and grain salad