My husband created a monster of sorts this past Christmas by gifting the Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by Chef John Folse to me. The book is nearly 900 pages and weighs a ton. It is full of history, recipes and gorgeous photographs of the culinary Mecca in our country that I have written about a number of times. I can’t seem to put this book down. I’m even inspired to attempt a New Year’s resolution of preparing a new recipe daily (so far so good but most of you know I will struggle with this self-induced challenge due to time constraints).

The inspiration began on New Year’s Day with a recipe for black-eyed peas. I always thought they were to be eaten on this day for good luck but I also read they are to be eaten for good health ~ superstitions, yes, but fun myths just the same. The legend of luck is believed to date back to the American Civil War when soldiers left behind food supplies with black-eyed peas for the Southerners to forage. They considered themselves lucky with any found food as it helped them to survive the winter. Good health is most likely due to the peas’ nutritional value.

Black-eyed peas, also known as the cowpea, are actually an African legume that was brought to our lower South around the time of slave trade. Obviously, the peas transported well as a non-perishable item. Thomas Jefferson also introduced them in Virginia via France after the American Revolution. Later, after the American Civil War, planting of the crop was used in African-American gardens to promote its soil building qualities ~ it is very high in nitrogen. The peas were harvested before the crop was tilled under as compost into the soil.

I surprisingly had the peas in my pantry but didn’t have all the other ingredients in Chef Folse’s recipe for Cajun Black-Eyed Peas. So as I always do, I made his recipe my own. A rather rustic looking dish but remarkably delicious and the preparation launched a whole new respect for the pea/bean and of course thoughts of what else I could create.

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Ali’s Black-Eyed Peas with a Kick

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. black-eyed peas
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 T. butter
  • I large onion, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. Andouille sausage
  • 1/2 lb. prosciutto*, cut as thick as possible
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4-6 cups water
  • Sea salt and Cajun seasoning to taste
  • Fresh parsley for garnish, if desired

Preparation:

  1. Soak the peas in water overnight. (definitely cuts down on the cooking time)
  2. Drain peas and rinse.
  3. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat.
  4. Sauté onion, celery, garlic, sausage and prosciutto until tender.
  5. Add peas, bay leaf and water to cover peas 1-2 inches.
  6. Bring to a low boil and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
  8. Smash all the peas with a potato masher for a creamy texture.
  9. Season to taste and garnish with parsley.

*Most Southerners would cringe at the thought of using ‘Italian’ ham in this dish. I wanted to prepare this on New Year’s Day for the luck (LOL!) and all I had was prosciutto. The ham added a wonderful special saltiness with that ‘cured’ taste. It was outstanding if I may say so myself and I may continue to prepare it this way in the future. Smithfield ham cubed would be divine as well.

The dish made enough to feed an army. We rarely waste leftovers ~ too many starving people in this world ~ so I served it over rice for lunch. A Hoppin’ John of sorts without adding a single ingredient. Some cooks might consider this dish a gruel of sorts; however, we enjoyed it and I would not hesitate to serve it again – my husband loved it.

In addition to the leftover dish served over rice, it evolved into a soup recipe for me. This leads me to the next recipe, black-eyed pea soup with okra; which in Louisiana is called ‘Good Luck Soup’. The ‘holy trinity’ in Southern cooking includes red bell peppers and it should theoretically be used in this soup. I use them sparingly or not at all as they give both of us tremendous heartburn. Frankly, I have never missed them in a recipe (except of course for color). I use okra quite frequently, especially in summer recipes ~ I grow it, freeze it and love it ~ please refer to my archived post July 2015 for more okra recipes.

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Ali’s Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Okra*

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • ½ c. red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. smoked ham, cubed
  • 1 T. fresh thyme, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 16 oz. dried black-eyed peas, rinsed well
  • 1 pint canned tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lb. fresh okra, sliced and sautéed quickly to char
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

Preparation:

  1. Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Sauté onion, celery, red bell pepper and garlic until soft.
  3. Add ham and thyme and sauté an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Add stock, peas, tomatoes and bay leaf; bring to a boil.
  5. Cover and simmer for about one hour. When peas are soft, smash them with a potato masher to thicken the soup**.
  6. Add okra, sea salt and simmer 20-30 more minutes.
  7. Add hot sauce*** to taste and garnish in individual bowls with parsley.

*I originally made this recipe with my leftover Black-Eyed Peas with a Kick. Basically all I did was add my canned tomatoes, chicken stock and okra. Quick and simple. Serve with cornbread.

**If you need to thicken the soup more, add a teaspoon of gumbo filé. Conversely, if it is too thick for your liking, add a little white wine that you would drink; well, because everything is better with wine.

***My friend Jon Ingersoll makes fresh hot pepper sauce every year from his garden bounty. It is very spicy but we like it that way. Just a little dab will do ya!

I have another recipe that I want to prepare that was printed in the January 2017 issue of Cooking Light magazine. It is black-eyed pea stuffed acorn squash. I will make it my own as I always do but don’t want to post a recipe that I have not created yet. The dish will make a nice vegetarian option as it does not include meat. If you happen to look it up, one change I would make would be to use Panko breadcrumbs in place of whole wheat bread to start. I have made 3 different recipes this week with black-eyed peas (I’m a bit tired of them now) so I will prepare this later in the winter and perhaps post it on my Facebook page.

Bon appétit and good luck/health in 2017!

Ali

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