Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Mainer Cooks Soul Food

If you grew up in the southern United States, you probably won't get very excited about this recipe. Black-eyed peas, humbly seasoned with pork and onion, are a soul food staple. On New Year's Day, they're served with leafy greens and hot sauce for good luck: the greens symbolize money, and the beans, which swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity.

We in the north grow up on baked beans, a warming dish of navy beans stewed or baked in a tangy tomato sauce, sweetened with molasses or maple syrup. Sometimes we eat them with ketchup or mustard (especially if tofu pups are present), but we would never dream of dousing them in salsa.

My husband's grandmother introduced me to black-eyed peas; originally from Oklahoma, she can practically whip them up blindfolded. She leaves out the pork, but sometimes she throws in sliced okra. Ask for her recipe and all you'll get is a list of ingredients; the method and measurements are instinct. The following recipe contains my best guesses and the addition of bay leaves. A little bit of liquid smoke would be a nice touch, particularly if you grew up on pork-seasoned black-eyed peas.

Now that temperatures are below freezing and I'm busy preparing for BabyMitten, meals like this one—easy, satisfying, and nutritious—are just what I need. So why wait until New Year's to share?

Oklahoma Black-Eyed Peas
Inspired by Grandma Shaw

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
8 cups water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 large onion, chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves
½ cup brown rice
freshly ground black pepper
optional: cooked, sliced okra or chopped greens (collard, turnip, or mustard)
salsa, hot sauce, or sliced pepperoncinis

Soak beans for at least 6 hours. Drain and rinse.

In a large pot, bring beans, water, garlic, onion, salt, bay leaves, and rice to a simmer. Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, or until beans and rice are tender. Add more water if needed to keep beans from sticking to bottom of pot. Stir in freshly ground black pepper, and vegetables, if using. Stir until greens are wilted. Serve with salsa, hot sauce, or pepperoncinis.

Serves 4 as a main course.