If it's luck you're wanting for the new year, skip the standard charms and chants and concentrate instead on brewing up a proper pot of a Southern standby called Hoppin' John.
That's the advice of John Bolen (for whom it is not named), and we don't argue with the culinary knowledge of a guy who's noted for turning Indian Guide outings into dining experiences.
Bolen, 35, an art dealer who lives in Huntington Beach, is a native of South Carolina and says Hoppin' John is a traditional New Year's Day dish in the South and is reputed to guarantee good luck for the following 12 months.
"Its origins were with the slaves," he says, "but it was also served in the finer homes--and still is."
Bolen's Hoppin' John is a combination of beans, baby clams and pepper, laced with turnips and hot sauce and topped with shrimp, scallops and/or crayfish.
And while its properties as a charm are reserved for one day in the year, its qualities as a main dish make it stand out year-round, says Bolen, who has whipped it up for groups of Indian Guides as large as 50.
His son's particular group has long been the envy of the not-so-happy campers who are lucky to dine on canned stew. "We have a bunch of fathers, including the owner of a restaurant, who really enjoy cooking," says Bolen, "so the camp-outs have almost become cooking contests. We've done things like blackened swordfish and scampi . . . maybe even gone a little overboard sometimes."
But, he says, those days are over now that his only son has reached the age of 9 (Indian Guide membership is limited to boys between the ages of 5 and 8). So, the Hoppin' John luck moves to his 6-year-old daughter and her Indian Princess group.
While both Bolen and his wife, Lynne, work on the art business out of their home, he does almost all of the cooking all of the time. "She's a great cook," he says, "it's just that I enjoy it more."
It's something he has enjoyed since his teens after he moved to Las Vegas and worked in a small restaurant operated by his grandmother. "She had this absolutely wonderful cook," says Bolen, "a fellow named Jim Touche who today is the private chef to a big casino owner.
"I learned a lot from him during the regular hours, but it was after work that I really got into cooking, because that was when he would cook for us and without any customers around could show me the finer points, especially of Southern cooking."
JOHN BOLEN'S HOPPIN' JOHN PEPPER BEANS
1 pound dried red beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 two-inch strips fatback
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
8 dashes Worcestershire sauce
10 1/2 ounces canned whole baby clams
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
6 green onions, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 turnips, thinly sliced, chopped
6 plum tomatoes, quartered
Louisiana hot sauce
1 pound cooked shrimp, scallops and/or crayfish
Cover beans in large pot with enough water to cover tops by 2 to 3 inches. Bring to boil and boil 3 minutes. Cover, remove from heat and let sit for 1 hour. Heat vegetable oil in large heavy pot and lightly brown fatback. Drain beans and add to pot. Add enough water to cover beans by 2 to 3 inches. Add thyme, black pepper, white pepper, Worcestershire sauce and salt to taste. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender (about 1 hour).
Drain clams, reserving liquid. Mix liquid with enough liquid from beans to make 4 cups. Cook rice in this liquid.
Drain beans. Remove fatback. In a Dutch oven, combine beans, rice, green onions, parsley and clams. Place turnip wedges in a circle near outer edge, then tomatoes in a circle inside turnips. Sprinkle top generously with paprika and Louisiana hot sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, top with shrimp, scallops or crayfish and continue cooking another 10 minutes. (Serves 8.)