Black-eyed peas.

A while back, when I decided not to be religious, I realized superstitions wouldn’t jibe with my newfound atheism.  I had, afterall, never quite believed in throwing salt over your shoulder (it made such a mess) or not letting a black cat cross your path (I had one named Midnight); it had all felt very half-hearted.  Nonetheless, there are a few superstitions that stuck with me; I’ll always take a sip after a cheers, I tend to knock on wood—and I eat black-eyed peas for the New Year.

Not quite on the New Year however; I can’t seem to get myself to eat beans on a day that I associate with my last holiday calorie-filled hurrah.  I’ll buy the peas for New Years, sometimes with an honest intent to make them, but never do, giving in to roast chicken and potatoes, or braised pork.  I’m weak-willed.

Though when New Year’s Day is over and the diet begins, black-eyed peas help me with the transition.  They remind me that fat- and carbo-loading isn’t the only way towards delicious.  Especially this recipe, coming from Daniel Boulud, which pairs the earthy peas with (the herb I now consider its true love) dried oregano.  Bacon is added because, come on, it’s a transition to health—not a nosedive.  And finally, most importantly, a good dose of hot sauce keeps things exciting.  Without that, you’re just full of beans.

Southern-style Black-eyed Peas with Bacon

from Daniel Boulud’s Braise

makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 5 ounces slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 2 red onions, peeled and sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

The day before you plan to serve this dish, put the peas in a bowl, cover with water by at least 2 inches, and refrigerate.  The next day, drain well before using.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275ºF.

Place the bacon in a small cast-iron pot of Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, oregano, and black pepper and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes.  Add the drained peas, bay leaves, salt, and 6 cups water.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Braise until the peas are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes*. Stir in the Tabasco, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

*For my taste, it was closer to an hour and forty-five minutes.

Sick-day soup.

When I’m sick (yes, I got sick—my body’s way of  saying look, you’re on the couch anyways…) I like to eat foods that are acidic and spicy.  No noodle-soup, give me something to wake up my nasal passages and energize my stuffy head. And if nasal passages and stuffiness doesn’t get your tummy growling… this tomato & black bean soup will do the trick.

It’s more acidic than my regular black bean soup, with equal parts tomato and black bean.  Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce lend a spicy smokiness that screams earthy, complex… sexy. (Because who doesn’t need a bit of sexy in their sick-day soup?)

If you can, find some fresh oregano to use for the soup.  Fresh and dried oregano are really different animals. Dried oregano is too piney, akin to thyme, and gives off a deep, woodsy flavor—great for a sauce but, as I didn’t want to feel like I was eating a bowl of marinara, too strong for this soup.  Fresh oregano, on the other hand, is mild (depending on the type of fresh you have, some are pungent, mine was mild) and citrusy, with a touch of bright bitter.  If you wrap up a bunch of fresh oregano and drop it into the soup,  you’ll add a taste that will seem clean on the palate, a bright flavor that’s non-acidic.  It’s a way to counterbalance the tomatoes without adding a dairy, and I think it gives the soup that hidden-flavor mysteriousness that I like to call the sumthin’-sumthin’.  And, since this recipe is almost entirely made from canned goods, herbs elevate it into freshness.  If you don’t have fresh oregano, go for marjoram or cilantro or even nothing at all; just don’t substitute dried.

If you’re short on time, you can serve the soup after about 15 minutes of medium-heat simmer time, but I like to simmer low and slow—over low heat for about 45 minutes—before pureeing the soup a bit with the immersion blender and serving.  If you don’t care for thick soups, you can nix the pureeing for a more minestrone-consistency.  You could also add some grated cheese and sour cream to garnish but if you’re eating this during a cold, eat it plain.  Your nasal passages will thank you.

Smokey Tomato and Black Bean Soup

serves a few hungry people as a first-course or lunch

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • half of one (7 oz.) can of chipolte peppers in adobo, with sauce
  • 1 (30 oz.) can black beans, drained
  • 1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted whole tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 small bunch fresh oregano
  • salt, pepper

Take half of peppers out of the can, split them open with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds.  Discard seeds. Chop peppers.

Add oil into a big saucepan or medium dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onions, cooking until they begin to brown.  Add garlic and chilis and about half the adobo sauce.  Cook for a few minutes.

Add black beans and tomatoes with liquid and water.  Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, leaving them in chunks.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off the foam if you are particular like that, and then lower the heat.  Add fresh oregano and simmer gently for the flavors to meld, 15 minutes if you are famished, 45 minutes if you can wait.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.