Monday, December 31, 2007

Hoppin' John

It struck me as I was reading your latest journal entry Miss Etta, that some of our readers might not know what Hoppin' John actually is. Ooops, I ended a sentence in a preposition. My English teacher would not be happy.

You're entry took me back to my younger years. In our family, the coin, usually a dime, went into the black-eyed peas. Did you read some of the traditions from other countries on the Fayette Front Page? I think to be on the safe side I'm going to go buy myself a polka-dot shirt and some red underwear. I already have my true love so I won't be wearing yellow!

And, not to ramble, but did you hear that a bunch of rabble-rousers are going to try and disrupt the Rose Bowl Parade? There is a time and place for everything and that is not the place. I certainly hope that tomorrow they will not show the protesters while I am watching it on television. I do so love a good parade, although it is much more fun to be there. I have never been to the Rose Bowl Parade. Have you?

Well, back to Hoppin' John. Here's a saying about eating Hoppin' John on New Year's Day: "Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year. Rice for riches and peas for peace."

Supposedly the Hoppin' John tradition goes back as far as 1841, when, according to tradition, the dish hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was know as Hoppin' John. Another story says that the name came from someone named John who came a hoppin' when his wife called him to dinner. And then there's the one that says it has to do with children hoppin' round the table, which is one it sounds like your family took to heart. Which means in my mind that it's the correct one because I know your family has roots back before 1841.

I have a few recipes so I thought I would share them. Different people make it in different ways. The first one is somewhat more involved than the second. It's just a matter of spices and what you like. After the recipes I've included the lazy way to make it.

Hoppin' John Recipe #1

1 pound dried black-eyed peas
2 small smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bone
2 medium onions, divided
3 large cloves garlic, halved
1 bay leaf
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 can (10 to 14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chili peppers, juices reserved
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 jalapeno or Serrano pepper, minced
2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, sliced

In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks, and 6 cups water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and add it to the pot along with the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf, onion pieces, and garlic.

Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Mince the remaining onion then add to the rice along with the peas, tomatoes, and their juices, red and green bell pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, Creole seasoning, thyme, cumin, and salt. Cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sliced green onions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot sauce and freshly baked cornbread.

Hoppin' John Recipe #2

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
Cold water
1 pound lean bacon or 1 pound meaty ham hocks
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending how hot you want to make it)
4 cups water or chicken broth (some people use vegetable broth)
2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
Salt and black pepper like you like it

Before preparing dried beans, sort through them thoroughly to get rid of the grit. Soak, rinse, and drain dried black-eyed peas. Place black-eyed peas in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and cover with cold water; bring to a boil. Remove the pot from heat, cover and let it stand for up to 2 hours. Drain and rinse beans.

Using the same large soup pot, over medium-high heat, add soaked black-eyed peas, bacon or ham hock, onion, and red pepper. Add water or chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for up to 2 hours or until the peas are tender (do not let it boil as the beans will burst, they just won't taste or look right).

Remove bacon or ham hock and cut it into bite-size pieces. Return the pieces of meat to pot. Stir in rice, cover, and cook 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

There are some who do not like to cook the rice in the same pot. If you're one of those, then by all means cook it separately and serve it separately, or add the cooked rice right at the last minute.

If you're like most of us you're going to add your own special touch to the Hoppin' John. Some people cook it without all the hot spices and serve it with a hot sauce on the side so everyone can fix it up the way they like it. A side dish of pickle relish is a must for some. If you're going to add a dime like my family does don't cook it in the Hoppin' John, add it at the end. Stir it up good and make sure everyone doesn't go rootin' to find it like I used to do.

For those who are utterly dismal in the kitchen, cheat. Buy some canned, already cooked black eyed peas. If you want to make it all yours, saute some onions and maybe cook some bacon and dump it all in a pan. Add some hot sauce or any of the other spices in the recipes above and put it in a pot. Cook it on the stove or in the microwave. Ta da, quick and easy, lazy Hoppin' John.

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