Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Black-eyed Peas in a Healthy Soup for New Year's Luck

For the last few years, we've made sure to make black-eyed peas for New Year's. I never even questioned the source of this mostly southern tradition. It's an excuse to eat black-eyed peas with smoked ham hock. 'Nuff said. That more traditional recipe is in our cookbook, The Cleaner Plate Club, and plenty of greens recipes to go with it, too.

In the South, the peas symbolize prosperity, greens mean money and the pork is said to symbolize the pig's hard efforts at foraging for itself. Some of the history behind the custom comes from Civil War days when the Union soliders wiped out all the food crops in the South, leaving just "animal feed" like field corn and the black-eyed peas.

Other history point to farther back, such as ancient Syria and Jewish Rosh Hashana, then brought to the US by Jewish immigrants in the 1700s.

This year, we skipped the ham and went for a vegetarian approach. After the holiday excess, I have to admit that we were all ready for something light. This soup is based on the Fall Vegetable Soup in the book, with the addition of farro, a wholegrain the offers some protein, and, of course, black-eyed peas which are available fresh this time of year. Also check in the freezer section for frozen ones.

Still, we have the peas for prosperity, kale as the greens for money, and the cheap, healthy protein source of farro for my own foraging, as well as some herbs from my garden (what has not totally frozen yet). And, without the saturated fat from the smoked pork, well, this soup adds a healthy start on your New Year's resolutions.

To modify the recipe for dried black-eyed peas, you'll need to soak them overnight. After sweating the onion, celery, garlic, and carrot, add the stock and black-eyed peas (drained and rinsed from the soaking water) and bring those to a boil, then simmer for 1.5 hours before going forward with the rest of the recipe.

Makes 12 servings

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2/3 cup chopped carrot (about 
3 medium carrots)

2/3 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)

2 garlic cloves, minced

10 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 Tbsp dried summer savory

2 tsp dried thyme

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped

2 bay leaves

2 small Parmesan rinds, optional

1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and diced small (¼-inch cubes)

1 lb winter squash, peeled and diced small (¼-inch cubes)
1 cup farro, rinsed and drained or 1 cup lentils, rinsed, sorted and drained

1 lb. fresh or frozen black-eyed peas

1 bunch (about 12 oz) kale or chard greens, stemmed and chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the onion, carrot and celery. Sweat this combination, known as a mirepoix, until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the stock and the savory, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the sweet potato, squash and Parmesan rinds, and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the farro or lentils and black-eyed peas and simmer for 30 more minutes (or until the lentils, if present, are al dente).
  4. Add the greens, and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  5. Remove the bay leaf and Parmesan rinds. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

When we were eating, my six-year-old who often won't eat soft textures of orange foods, said, "Mom, can we have this soup every New Year?" As picky as kids can be, especially after a sugar rush of holiday desserts, I think that's about as lucky as it gets.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you are off to a healthy, happy new start.