Although I’ve lived all over the place at this point, I was actually born and raised in Georgia. In the South it’s a tradition to eat a dish called Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Made of black eyed peas and rice, it’s meant to bring on prosperity and good fortune in the year ahead. The peas symbolize coins and sometimes a penny is even added to the pot as they cook.
I have no idea if my mother made Hoppin’ John before she moved to Atlanta, but I do know that she made it every year when I was growing up. We usually ended up eating it in Grand Cayman where we spent the winter holidays, my mother having brought a bag of dried black eye peas with her on our trip. She’d made a big pot of of Hoppin’ John and, as the clock struck 12 turning over into the new year, she’d hold out a spoonful for me. Inevitably, I’d shake my head, finicky girl that I was, and she’d beg and plead and cajole me into “just one tiny spoonful for good luck.”
Seriously, I tried my damnedest refused this stuff every year. But come New Year’s eve on the year she died I panicked, realizing that I was going to have make Hoppin’ John or suffer the unfortunate consequences that my mother always threatened would occur if I didn’t.
Henceforth I have made an annual batch of Hoppin’ John. And, as were most things I made in the beginning, it was terrible. I over-spiced it, under-spiced it, over-cooked it and yes, under-cooked it. It’s taken me a good decade, but I’ve finally got a recipe down that I feel really good about it.
It’s so good that I no longer make it just once a year. I’ve made it just because it’s good and I’ve also made it when I’ve been down on my luck and needed a boost. I’ve also made it a day too late, like today. It’s one of those great dishes that stands alone or can be served as a side dish in a larger context.
But I have to tell you that this is not my mother’s Hoppin’ John. She was true to its Southern heritage, always adding a ham hock, celery and bay leaves. My recipe is a lot more simple, the taste lighter, and hopefully it’s one that brings you luck and prosperity whenever you need it.
Not My Mother’s Hoppin’ John
*16 oz dried black eyed peas
28 oz diced tomatoes
32 oz chicken or vegetable broth (I prefer vegetable, but it works either way)
1 large red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno seeded, chopped
**1 poblano chile seeded, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
3 cups steamed rice (brown or white)
- *Note that preparation begins a day ahead of time
- **If you don’t like spicy food you can substitute the chiles for a large green bell pepper. I rate my version with the chiles as medium spicy.
Begin 24-36 hours ahead of time by soaking the black eyes peas in a large bowl of water overnight. (There should be enough water so that it rises one inch above the peas.) Once the peas have soaked, drain and rinse them and set them aside.
Chop the onions and garlic and sautee them with one tablespoon olive oil in large stock pot. Seed both chiles by cutting off the top section close to the stem and pulling out all the seeds. (Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after removing the seeds as these are what carry the spice.) Chop the seeded chiles and add to the onions and garlic. Sautee altogether for 5 minutes on medium, stirring frequently.
Next, add the peas and broth.
Then add the tomatoes and salt and pepper.
Stir well and bring to a simmer. Simmer on low for two hours or longer.
Serve in individual bowls over rice.
This is another one of those dishes that is better the longer it has to think about itself so be sure to eat some the next day too. When eaten on January 2nd it’s called Skippin’ Jenny instead of Hoppin’ John and is said to bring even more luck for being frugal by eating leftovers.
Enjoy and good luck!