Eating black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day is a special Southern tradition, and folklore says it brings luck and money in the upcoming year. However, eating greens actually isn’t a rarity for me. We eat greens 3 or more nights a week. I buy bunches at the farmer’s market, but I will admit to taking a shortcut with the pre-washed and pre-chopped bags of greens, too. They are just so easy and so good! It’s simple to simmer a couple of handfuls with an onion and a little vegetable or canola oil, just until they are tender. Meme used to cook them for hours and hours with salt pork or fatback. The salty, delicious greens would be so soft and tender they would practically slide down my throat. I like them prepared the old-fashioned way, but I also like them a bit more toothsome.
In the spirit of clean-eating and starting out the new year with a new you, I am sharing a recipe for a Black Eyed Pea Paella from my friend and colleague Kim O’Donnel. Kim is such an inspiring person, writer, and friend. Her most recent book is The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebration: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts (You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into). Her recipes are flat out delicious and, they just happen to be meatless. They are built on sound technique and good flavor. This book is a beautiful follow-up to her first book The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour. Her recipes are about good food, first. She’s a meat eater — she eats meat, just not as much as she used to.
Kim is very involved in the global movement Meatless Mondays. Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Meatless Monday premise is that going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel. One pound of commodity ground beef – meaning not grass fed or all natural – takes 2000 gallons of water to produce. That’s astonishing. Thoughtful and mindful eating is a good way to make a small change in our health and our lives. The tiny step of going meat-free one day a week can make an impact on your own health, and the health of the global community.
Often at this time of year people make resolutions. I find those grand proclamations can be perfect set ups for massive failure. Instead, I prefer the Japanese concept of kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices and personal efficiency. Lordy Mercy, I know I am flawed and I have plenty to work on. If I think of all the things I should work on in my life, it’s far too overwhelming. But, if I think about improving my life a little bit at a time, it’s manageable. Kaizen.
Here are a few tips for cooking black eyed peas and greens from a recent interview with the Charlotte Observer. I also have an article in this month’s Fine Cooking on Hoppin John. Meaty or meatless, you’ve got the recipes for a lucky start to the New Year. Many wishes for a safe, prosperous, and healthy 2013.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA’s Lucky Greens
Serves 4 to 6
Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.
2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 sweet onions, chopped
2 cups water
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, for serving
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are just tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
KIM’S BLACK-EYED PEA PAELLA
Kim says, “I learned how to make paella many years ago from one of Spain’s great culinary ambassadors, chef José Andrés. Using the technique Andrés taught me, I have created a meatless version with
black-eyed peas, a new twist on New Year’s hoppin’ John.”
The amounts below are for six hearty servings. Ideally, you’ll
want to use a 15-inch paella pan to ensure the most even cooking
results, but don’t worry if that’s not an option. Use a wide and
shallow skillet (lid not necessary) as close to 15 inches in diameter
as you can get. For a half-batch, use a pan about 10 inches wide.
Saffron, which is a spice derived from a variety of crocus, is a
traditional seasoning in paella, for both flavor and color. For this
dual tribute to the Catalan and the American South, the saffron
is not as integral to the final dish as is the pimentón (smoked paprika),which adds layers of flavor to the beans. You can do this
dish without the saffron, but in my humble opinion, you can’t do it
without the pimentón.
4 cups vegetable stock
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion (more than 1⁄2 medium-size onion)
1 cup seeded and diced bell pepper of your favorite color (about 1 medium-size pepper)
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen black-eyed peas, or 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, cooked*
1 1⁄2 teaspoons smoked paprika (also known as pimentón)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 1⁄4 cups tomato puree
1⁄2 teaspoon crumbled saffron (optional)
1/2 cup white wine you enjoy drinking
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 cups uncooked short-grain white rice (1 pound)
Optional garnishes: Pickled peppers, chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest
*To cook dried black-eyed peas: Soak the peas for at least 2 hours in enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Drain the peas, then place in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a lively simmer over medium-high heat.Cook at a hard boil for 5 minutes, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender to the bite. This should take about 1 hour.
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO: In a medium-size saucepan, warm the vegetable stock until heated through and keep covered, on low, until ready to use.
Over medium-high heat, heat a 15-inch paella pan until it’s too hot to place your hand about 3 inches above the pan. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, tilting the pan so that the oil coats the entire bottom surface. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning or sticking.
Add the bell pepper, stir well, and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and smoked paprika, stirring until the vegetables are evenly coated with the spice, about 90 seconds.Transfer the black-eyed pea mixture to a bowl and set aside.
Wipe the pan clean with a dry paper towel to remove any burnt, stuck-on bits. Add the remaining olive oil plus the garlic and cook over medium heat until, as chef Andrés says, “they dance.” (When
heated, the garlic moves around the pan in the bubbling oil.)
Add the tomato puree and stir often, over the next 5 minutes, until the color has transformed from red to a more golden, orange-brown shade. Add the saffron, if using. Then add the white wine and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring to keep from burning.
Return the black-eyed pea mixture to the pan. Add the stock. Bring to a boil, taste for salt, then season accordingly. You want the mixture to be slightly salty. This is also your last chance to add salt before
the rice is added.
Add the rice and set a timer for 16 minutes. For the first 6 minutes, gently stir the paella, to minimize burning and sticking. For the remaining cooking time, please heed the advice I learned from chef
Andrés: no more stirring or touching. Otherwise, you
will have a gummy rice concoction. This is also why you cannot add salt at this stage.
At minute 16, taste a grain of rice for doneness. It should be slightly al dente, like risotto. Turn off the heat and allow the paella to sit for at least 5 minutes. The results should be dry, not soupy. Serve hot in bowls.
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Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.