Ever since I was a kid, I've eaten collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. It's a Southern tradition that's supposed to bring prosperity and good luck in the new year ahead. Here's an explanation from Mildred Council, author of "Mama Dip's Kitchen" which is also the name of her restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC.
"Black-eyed peas are an important part of the traditional New Year's meal, served alongside hog jowl and collard greens. I've always heard the explanation of the meal, passed down from generation to generation through the grapevine, given this way: the black-eyed peas symbolize change or silver coins, the collard greens are greenbacks or paper money, and the hog jowl wards off bad luck. This meal is served at Mama Dip's Kitchen every New Year. I have never had the nerve to ask anyone, 'Do you believe, or is it just good eating?'"
My family's explanation of the tradition was pretty much the same, but my grandfather replaced the hog jowl with fatback (seasoning pork). The peas and collards were cooked in separate pots but both had a big old piece of pork fat in them and were cooked for a very long time. I continue to cook and eat them every New Year's Day not just for tradition and/or superstition but mainly because I really like greens and peas.
This soup recipe (selected by Shannon) streamlines the whole shebang by turning it into a one-pot dish. It's so delicious, although I had to tinker with it some since I'm a bit of a freak, a Southerner who has stopped eating pork. The original recipe and my modifications are printed below. I liked it so much that I'm going to make it again on New Year's Day.
I stepped out of the kitchen for two seconds to get my camera and when I got back, I found Maria the kitten eating the soup. I guess she will have good luck in 2009 too!
A list of the other Slow Soupers is here.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope this soup brings everyone good luck and abundance in 2009.
Hoppin' John Soup
1 onion, chopped in fairly small pieces
1 cup celery, chopped in fairly small pieces
1 T olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
2-3 cups diced ham (cut off the ham rind and save)
8 cups homemade chicken stock
(or use water with chicken soup base or canned chicken broth)
2 16 oz. packages frozen black-eyed peas
(or use 6 cups freshly cooked black-eyed peas)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bunch fresh collard greens, chopped (about 2 cups when measured after chopping, but next time I would use more)
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar, or more to taste
Optional: ham flavor base if needed, see note at end of the recipe
In large frying pan, saute onion and celery in olive oil about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes more, then add ham and saute over very low heat 10 minutes. (Don't skip this step, which concentrates the ham flavor into the vegetables.) Transfer mixture to large soup pot, add chicken stock, black eyed peas, and ham rinds if available, and cook at very low simmer for one hour.
After soup has cooked one hour, taste for flavoring. Add more water and ham flavor base if needed. (It will depend on your ham, but I usually add a tiny bit. I added about 2 cups more water to the soup at this point.) Add chopped collard greens, stir into soup and simmer one hour more, or until black-eyed peas are quite soft. When black-eyed peas are as soft as you want them, remove pieces of ham rind, then use an immersion blender, food processor, or hand masher to partially process about half the soup. You want a mixture of broken and unbroken black-eyes peas, with some thickening of the soup from the pureeing process. Be careful not to over process. Add red pepper flakes and vinegar and simmer 10 minutes more. Serve hot.
(Makes 6-8 servings, recipe created by Kalyn Denny with inspiration from The Gourmet Cookbook.)
I started with dried black-eyed peas, soaked them overnight, and then cooked them with a couple of garlic cloves and five bay leaves (a trick I learned from a friend who is a chef). The bay gives the peas a nice flavor without using any pork.
I replaced the ham and ham rind with two slices of turkey bacon and one Amy's chicken andouille sausage. I also added some smoked paprika (this was Marta's idea). All of this gave the soup a nice slow-cooked smoky flavor.
I didn't cook the soup for two hours! Since I wasn't trying to extract flavor from a ham bone, I only cooked it for about 45 minutes tops (not counting the time to cook the black-eyed peas).
I found some baby collard greens at the farmer's market, and they were very tender. If I'd been using regular collards, I might have needed to cook the soup a bit longer.
I also added a diced carrot, tripled the garlic, and added LOTS of red pepper flakes!