Sunday, December 26, 2010

Not my mama's black eyed peas & greens

Black eyed peas with Indian spices. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Visit my mom’s house on New Year’s Day and you will be treated to simple, humble fare – a black-as-midnight cast iron skillet sizzling with buttermilk cornbread, a pot of black-eyed peas and a bowl of greens, usually collards. The peas and greens are usually cooked with pork, such as the leftover bone from the Thanksgiving ham. And if you’re lucky, there will be a jar of  chow-chow from a friend’s summer canning frenzy; the relish makes a fine garnish for the black-eyed peas.

It’s kind of endemic to the Southern experience that the Way Mom (or Grandma) Cooks is the best and only way to cook. My mother is an excellent cook and I’ve learned much in her kitchen. At my mother’s apron strings, I learned dishes such as country fried steak and chicken & dumplings. I learned to make layer cakes, pound cakes and cookies. My mom taught me how to put together a meal, cooking the meat and vegetables in order so that everything is ready at the same time. She taught me her way, but she also taught me something else: to try new things. This is the most valuable lesson of all. Even in my suburban Georgia neighborhood, I have an incredible amount of ingredients and technology available to me, plus a world of information at my fingertips. I can choose to cook from my own little world or I can bring the world into my kitchen.

Which is why on New Year’s Day 2011, you will find the traditional black eyed peas flavored with garam masala, turmeric and cumin at my table. This recipe is adapted from Gene Lee, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and blogs at Eat, Drink, Man: a Food Journal. Instead of cooking the peas entirely on the stovetop, I start them off in a Dutch oven and place it in the oven on convection for an hour or more, for the peas to slowly soak up the spicy goodness.

Oven-Braised Black Eyed Peas with Indian Spices

A note on the chilies: the original recipe specifies three to six chilies. In the summer, I take the chilies and peppers from the CSA box, roast them together, seed them and freeze in a container. Whenever I need peppers or chilies, I break off a portion and use in the recipe. When making this recipe, I used about 1/2 cup of chopped, frozen chilies. 

8 ounces dried black-eyed peas
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 chilies, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch dice
 1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
2 cups water

1.      Pour peas onto a rimmed half sheet baking pan and pick out stones, debris and off-looking peas. Pour peas into a bowl and cover with water. Swish the peas, then pour off most of the water. Refill with water to cover peas by one inch and leave to soak for a few hours or overnight. Add water, if needed.
2.      When ready to cook, put a Dutch oven on the cooktop over medium heat and pour in oil. Add cumin seeds, garlic and ginger and stir for a minute. Add dry seasonings – salt, cayenne, turmeric and garam masala. Cook over medium heat for five minutes. If mixture is too dry, add a spoonful of water. Turn up the heat and add onions and chilies.
3.      Add peas and water and bring to a boil. Heat oven to 350. Place Dutch oven in real oven at 300 for at least one hour. Check liquid level occasionally. Peas should be done after an hour, but can continue to cook at low heat for several hours - be sure to check the liquid level and replenish with water as needed.

Beets and beet greens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

  I’ve also tried a new method for cooking greens. I happen to think collards are great and consider the work involved – washing, trimming and chopping – a labor of love. But my family? Not so much. My  friend Susan’s recipe for Kale with Raisins and Pine Nuts has turned my husband and girls into greens eaters. Susan writes about produce on her blog, Thoughtful Consumption. Here is my adaptation of her recipe.

Kale and Beet Greens with raisins and pine nuts

There are many possible variations of this dish – any kind of green except for collards would work. (As much as I love collards, they’re just too tough for this quick treatment.). I used a bunch of kale plus some beet greens and it was terrific. Slivered almonds or roughly chopped walnuts could sub for the pine nuts.

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup raisins
1 bunch of greens such as kale or beet greens, or a combination of greens, washed and trimmed into 2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a skillet over medium heat, pour in olive oil. Add pine nuts and raisins, stirring and cooking until pine nuts are golden and raisins are plump and soft.
2. Add greens, stirring until softened, at least five minutes, or as much as 10. If they dry out, add a bit of water a spoonful at a time. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Greens with pine nuts and raisins. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I'm not saying that these two dishes should be served together, but either one would make a fine addition to a New Year's feast. Just be sure to add the cornbread, a dish so perfect that there's no point messing with it.

Cornbread. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I submitted this story for a Twitter party called Let's Lunch. Here are a few other stories on the theme Holiday Sides by some awesome writers. Be sure to check them out! (and if you'd like to be a part of Let's Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch!

Cheryl Tan's Auntie Jane's Potato Gratin at Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Charissa‘s Coconut Date Balls at Zest Bakery
Eleanor‘s Easy Festive Stir-Fry at Wok Star
Ellise‘s Lime-Chipotle Carrots at Cowgirl Chef
Felicia‘s Chinese Butterfly Cookies at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Fruitcake at HapaMama
Joe‘s Maine Homestead Holiday Dishes at Joe Yonan
Linda‘s Baked Salad at Free Range Cookies
Linda‘s Trinidadian Baked Pastelles at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Potato Latkes at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s “Not My Mama’s” Black-Eyed Peas & Greens at A Cook And Her Books
Maria‘s Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs at Maria’s Good Things
Patrick‘s Baby Pecan Pies at Patrick G. Lee
Rebecca‘s Grandmother Martha’s Potato Kugel at Grongar Blog
Steff‘s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crumble at The Kitchen Trials
Victor‘s Roasted Parsnips, Carrots & Delicata Squash Tossed With Sauteed Mustard Greens at The Taste of Oregon

Text and images copyright 2010, Lucy Mercer.


HapaMama said...

Ooh, garam masala! And I just trying to remember how to make a sweet version of green. Timely recipe ;)

linda @spiceboxtravels said...

Making me hungry, Lucy! There is a pakistani black eyed peas dish called lobia which I imagine is similarly spiced. One of my favorites. Glad you came to #LetsLunch today.

Eleanor Hoh said...

I think the 3 dishes are perfect combinations! Like that you use Indian spices to perk up the black eyed peas.

Cowgirl Chef said...

Love your twist on these traditional Southern dishes - I grew up eating the same menu on New Year's Day, and don't feel like I can start the new year without black-eyed peas. Garam masala is one of my favorite "secret" spices that I toss in here and there -- haven't tried it yet on black-eyed peas, though. What a great idea!

Jeanette said...

Love the idea of Indian spiced black eye peas for New Years. I also like mixing different greens - over the summer, I used all sorts of vegetable tops from my CSA box in stir-fries, all so nutritious and nothing went to waste. Happy New Year!