In the South, where I live, you eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day if you want to be lucky the rest of the year. In my city, Louisville, it is virtually impossible to find a single black-eyed pea at the supermarket if you wait until the New Year to buy them. Having experienced desolation at their unavailability, I have now learned to buy my supply of black-eyed peas about two weeks early. Waiting any longer is just too big a chance to risk on the next year's good luck.
Our favorite form of black-eyed peas is in a recipe called Hopping John, which I faithfully microwave each year. It is a moist blend of onions, bacon and rice mixed with the peas. When done properly, the rice is almost mushy. The peas contribute a contrasting firmness and the whole thing is tied together with the savory flavor of onions and bacon.
Fortune Cookies on the Side
I serve Hopping John with pork roasts or chops with a plentiful supply of Chinese fortune cookies on the side. Plentiful because, if you get a fortune that doesn't quite fit your plans for the New Year, you can keep trying with as many cookies as it takes to get the desired outcome.
Luckily, Hopping John is a very tolerant dish that will accommodate many forms of black-eyed peas. In recent years, fresh peas have been available, but you can use canned or frozen, as well as the widely available dried peas.
Two microwave versions of Hopping John follow: a traditional recipe and a quick version made with canned and instant ingredients. Whichever you choose, good luck and happy New Year.
TRADITIONAL HOPPING JOHN
6 slices bacon
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
3/4 cup long grain rice
1 cup dried black-eyed peas
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups water
Dice bacon slices with scissors and place in 3-quart microwave casserole. Cover with paper towel. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 4 to 6 minutes, until very crisp. Without draining bacon fat, add onions, rice, black-eyed peas, salt, pepper and water to casserole.
Cover with wax paper (casserole lid might be too tight fitting, causing spillover). Microwave at HIGH 20 minutes or until boiling, then stir well and continue to microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 17 to 21 minutes, until peas are firm but tender. Mixture will be very moist. Let stand about 10 minutes to allow rice to absorb more liquid and for flavors to blend. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Traditional Hopping John may be varied by adding celery and/or bay leaf before cooking. If desired, add dash cayenne pepper. Other versions include cut up fresh or canned tomatoes, although tomato variation is not traditional in South.
QUICK HOPPING JOHN
4 slices bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (16-ounce) can black-eyed peas
1 cup instant rice
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dice bacon slices with scissors and place in 2-quart microwave casserole. Cover with paper towel. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, until very crisp. Without draining fat, add chopped onion. Stir well. Microwave, uncovered, at HIGH 2 to 4 more minutes.
Add black-eyed peas, rice, water, salt and pepper. Cover with casserole lid or vented plastic wrap. Microwave at HIGH 8 to 10 minutes, until rice is tender and ingredients are well blended. Let stand covered 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 to 7 servings.
Note: To use regular rice, substitute 2 cups cooked long grain rice and reduce water to 1/2 cup. Check for doneness after minimum time.
Another good luck food in the South is cabbage, usually served with ham, pork chops or spareribs. The recipe that follows is a favorite combination of cabbage and flavorful cheese sauce. Some people like to garnish this dish with crisp bacon bits and chopped French-fried onions.
COOKED CABBAGE WITH CHEESE SAUCE
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 medium head cabbage (about 2 pounds), cored and finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Dash cayenne pepper
Place 1/2 teaspoon salt, water and cabbage in 2-quart microwave casserole. Cover. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 9 to 13 minutes, stirring cabbage after 5 minutes, until tender. Drain cabbage and set aside, covered.
Place butter, flour and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in 1-quart microwave casserole. Microwave at HIGH 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes, until mixture is blended and somewhat dry. Gradually whisk in milk. Microwave at HIGH 3 to 5 minutes, whisking every minute, until sauce is bubbly and thickened.
Whisk in cheese and cayenne and microwave 1 to 2 minutes longer, until cheese is melted. Pour sauce over cabbage and mix well. Makes about 6 servings.