January 1, 2021
As any Southerner, the week before New Year’s, I start thinking about cooking black-eyed peas for luck and cabbage to ensure financial health and money. Now that I live in the West, I think about this traditional menu weeks before the holiday as fresh dried black-eyed peas can in fact be difficult to find locally. I ordered Camellia brand (the best) once online but I do try to support my local grocery stores, and I start looking early. But not too early as dried legumes can be a challenge to cook in the arid West as it is, much less if they have been on the shelf or in a warehouse for a while.
This year as we dance into 2021 (mostly alone of course while we isolate socially because of the historic pandemic, the first in a century), I think we are all banking on hope, luck, and better finances as we say goodbye to 2020, one of the most difficult years globally in our lifetimes. Because of this, I am more grateful than ever for this tradition.
This year I started on New Year’s Eve soaking the peas for eight hours to hopefully ensure their becoming soft enough in a reasonable amount of cooking time. This is one secret, no matter where you live, for soft and flavorful peas. Here is how I did it:
Near the end of soaking a one-pound package of peas for 6-8 hours (or overnight), sauté ½ - 1 whole onion (depending on size and your taste), along with ½-1 green bell pepper. You can also add some yellow and red peppers and even a finely chopped carrot or two if you have them.
As the onions and peppers become clear, add ½ can of rotel tomatoes with green chilis then at least 32 ounces of chicken stock or water. Add more liquid for a soupier dish. Add salt and pepper and other seasonings liberally, bring almost to a boil then turn down to simmer, cover, and cook until done. If you are doing this the day before like I did, you can simmer for just a few minutes, turn off the heat, let the pot cool, and refrigerate overnight on New Year’s Eve. Then on New Year’s Day, take them out of the fridge earlyish and simmer for a couple of hours. I always add a ham bone from one of the ham specialty stores as well as some sausage, usually Polska Kielbasa sliced, or in cut into three-inch links. I also throw a few ribbons of cut cabbage or other greens into the pot. Vegetarians can omit the ham and sausage, substituting herbs de provence and other seasonings of choice.
Meanwhile I start the cabbage. I attribute this recipe to my late dear friend Catsy Page who always made this unique and tasty dish in days long ago when our “horsey set” would gather at her house in Metairie, a New Orleans neighborhood, for a festive holiday meal after jumping lessons at Jack Rockwell’s Rivendell Farm.
New Year’s Cabbage
Sauté one julienned onion in about 1/3 stick butter in a large stock pot. Add one chopped apple and when these two ingredients are soft, sprinkle with about a tablespoon of brown sugar. Fill the pot with one cabbage sliced into long strips, sprinkle liberally with pepper and a bit more brown sugar, pats of butter and salt. Add a couple cups of water, cover, and simmer until done. The cabbage should be soft but not overcooked. I “borrow” the ham bone from the black-eyed peas and add it to the cabbage pot but again, this dish is good without it for vegetarians.
Serve the peas and cabbage in a bowl like soup or separately with the peas ladled over a scoop of rice. A traditional and yummy side is corn bread, especially cheesy corn bread with green chilis.
Black-eyed peas and cabbage are excellent sources of fiber, calcium, magnesium and a variety of vitamins like A, K, and C.
New Year’s 2021 has come and gone but black-eyed peas and cabbage are delicious any time and I, for one, have plenty in my freezer. 2020 and its darkness and difficulties may be in our rearview mirror but the pandemic and its ramifications are not over. We need all the luck and money and health we can muster.