Cornbread is the color of gold, and eating it supposedly attracts gold to the diner. Greens, whether collard, turnip or mustard, are supposed to represent green folding money. Black-eyed peas or field peas are symbolic of pennies or coins, and the fact that they swell when cooked represents your increasing bank account in 2012. It is also a tradition to leave a coin under the pot when cooking them or under each bowl as you serve them to reinforce the wish.
Other practices include the Spanish tradition of eating a grape at each peal of the bell at midnight on New Year's Eve. I tried this one last year, and I can tell you that it's a Kobayashi-like feat when you've already had a good meal and perhaps a few glasses of Champagne. But if it really does bring prosperity, it's worth forcing them down.
Other superstitions rate both foods to eat and ones to avoid. Pork is traditionally favored because pigs root forward. Conversely, avoid lobster (known to swim backwards) and chicken (known to scratch backwards). No word on delicious, delicious beef, which tends to just stand there and grow tastier.
Around these parts, black-eyed peas and greens dishes seem to be the most popular. Texas Caviar is a dip that seems to be a good way to get some luck into your black-eyed-pea-averse friends. More traditional is the Low Country classic dish called Hoppin' John. Although the origin of the name is still cloudy (some think it's a bastardized pronunciation of the Haitian Creole term for black-eyed peas "pois pigeons"), some variation of beans and rice are popular from Texas to Brazil. Even more full of fortune are those who can prove their frugality by extending their Hoppin' John beyond New Year's Day to make leftovers from them. These dishes are known as Skippin' Jenny. Go figure.
Since Hoppin' John is so close to traditional red beans and rice, I sought out a recipe to share with our Bites readers from a true son of the Big Easy, Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va.. Guas grew up in New Orleans and spent his early culinary career learning his craft from chefs around the city. As an avid sportsman, it wasn't too difficult for Guas to trade the bayous of Louisiana for the marshes of the Chesapeake when he had the opportunity to move to the D.C. area in 1998. Since then, he has worked as a pastry chef in several kitchens until he opened his own Bayou Bakery in late 2010. He is a frequent guest on the Today show and has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Esquire, Oprah Magazine and Bon Appétit.
Although Guas doesn't remember eating Hoppin' John on New Year's as a child, as soon as he heard about the tradition he jumped on the opportunity. "It's always good to give yourself a blessing on the first day of the year." Plus, with cornbread, greens and beans you get the recuperative effects of comfort food. "After the night before, I always feel the need for pork, fat and bread. We basically put out an assorted carb basket."
For the green component, Chef Guas usually prepares braised collards or stuffed cabbage. The latter dish is made by sautéing ground chicken thigh meat and then sweating some shiitakes in bourbon. He folds the mushrooms into the chicken and then rolls them into little balls, which he wraps with steamed cabbage leaves. Finally he prepares a tomato-based vinegar broth and braises the collards in the broth in a dutch oven until he just can't stand it any more.
His collards aren't just for New Year's, since Bayou Bakery customers clamor for them year-round. Since Guas goes through 75 to 80 pounds of Benton's Bacon in the kitchen every week, there's plenty of delicious rendered bacon fat to sweat some sweet Vidalia onions to start the collards dish. After rinsing the greens three times and dunking them in an ice bath, Guas roughly chops or tears the leaves of the greens into uneven-size pieces. He then braises the greens in apple cider, water, chili flakes and a pinch of salt for at least eight hours until they are tender and smoky.
Guas notes that his Hoppin' John is fairly close to his red beans and rice, which has been a New Orleans Monday night restaurant staple for generations. "But on New Year's, it was always black-eyed peas," he mused. "But I guess the most confusing thing would be if New Year's Day fell on a Monday. We wouldn't know what the heck to do."
Fortunately, New Year's is on a Sunday this year, so Chef Guas knew exactly what to do. His Hoppin' John dish is called the "Good Luck Blue Plate." The recipe is fairly simple and uses ingredients that should be readily available in your pantry or at any grocery. I already consider myself lucky that he shared it with us.
If you find yourself in the D.C. area, drop in to the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery for a taste of the Big Easy and a fun, casual dining experience. Tell Chef Guas that Bites sent you and maybe he'll treat you to a little lagniappe.
Good Luck Blue Plate — Black Eyed Peas
Chef David Guas — Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & EateryIngredients
1 pound black-eyed peas, dried
1 each country ham bone, smoked (or smoked ham hock)
8 ½ cups water, separated
1 each medium sweet onion, small diced
1 each medium red bell pepper, small diced
1/2 each green bell pepper, small diced
3 each ribs of celery, small diced
3 each large cloves garlic, halved
1 each bay leaf
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
1 cup long grain rice
2 teaspoon salt, kosher
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 each green onions, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt, kosher
In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks, and 6 cups water. Add diced onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender, 3 hours. Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash some of the peas against the side of the pot until the stewed peas have some body (slightly thick). Add the cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.
Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and lower heat to low and cook until the rice is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve a scoop of rice and then top with the stewed peas.
Sprinkle chopped green onions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot cornbread.