Hopping John on New Year’s Day

Black eye peas and rice and homegrown scallions

I first encountered black-eye peas years and years ago, when a housemate introduced us to the custom of eating Hopping John, or black-eye peas with ham hocks and rice, on New Year’s Day. Aside from the inherent virtue of such a simple dish, I was amazed at how good beans can taste. I’m still amazed every time.

Since my collard plants only began to show themselves today, I had to buy some greens. I chose turnip greens, and now I’m amazed at how good they taste! And by how they stay green even after cooking for a good half hour. For home-grown greens, I pulled up two ginormous scallions from the frozen ground.

The turnip greens I cooked pretty much the way I handle collards, only in much less time. I think they were tender in about half the time they cooked, while I put the peas and rice together.

I used to cook the peas and ham hock together, but the peas would always turn to mush long before the hocks softened enough to take the meat and the lovely gelatinous skin off the bones. This time I cooked them separately. After an overnight soak, black eye peas only need an hour to cook. The hocks took about an three hour simmer. Then I pulled the skin and meat off the bones and cut them up. Next time, I want to cook the hocks first and use the broth to cook the peas in.

The steam over a pot of turnip greens

To prepare the greens:

Wash and slice up a bunch of turnip greens, removing the hard stems up the middle of the leaves. Put into a saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil. They will turn bright green very quickly. Turn the heat down and add 1/2 teaspoon salt, plenty of ground black pepper, and 1 slice bacon, diced. Let them simmer. When it’s time to eat, add a Tablespoon of white vinegar. (Doing this always reminds of my father adding vinegar to greens.)

To assemble the peas and rice:

2 cups cooked black-eye peas
the meat and skin from 2 ham hocks, simmered for a few hours, and then pulled off the bones and chopped
2 cups dry long grain rice
4 cups of bean broth, hock broth, and water, however it comes out
maybe tablespoon or two of lard
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed onto the cooking onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (could have used more)
2 slices of tasso, chopped
2 scallions, whites and greens, chopped

Heat the lard in a charismatic orange pot and sautee the onion until it start to brown. Crush the garlic into the onion and add the the rice.  Add the broths, hock meat, skin, tasso, salt, and red chile flakes. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Stir up the rice and scatter the scallions on top. Cover again and steam for another 5 minutes.

Good eating all winter.