Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman


Happy New Year’s Eve day! Every first of the new year I make a big pot of hoppin’ john—and re-post this recipe—black-eyed peas and some kind of cured pork, yes for good luck, but mainly because black-eyed peas are an underappreciated treasure. Nutritious and earthy and economical and deeply satisfying as frigid weather pushes down on us and we look out at the horizon of winter with no May in sight. David Tanis wrote a good piece on black-eyed peas in the Times and their ancient history. He adds greens (symbol of cash) and suggests serving with cornbread (symbol of gold). But I like it humble, without hope or fear: bacon is the cured pork, tomatoes and onions for flavor, and beans beans beans.

Wishing all a healthy and fruitful new year.


Hoppin’ John

  • 1 pound black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked through
  • 2 large Spanish onions, 1 peeled and halved through the root, 1 medium diced
  • 2 carrots
  • 4 bay leaves
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 8 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 5 garlic cloves, or more, smashed with the side of a knife and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (3 if you like it really hot)
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  1. Put the black-eyed peas, the halved onion, the carrots, and 3 bay leaves in a large pot. Cover it all with about 3 inches of water (you’ll need about 2 quarts). Put the pot over high heat, bring it to a simmer, then turn the burner to medium-low and continue to cook until the beans are tender, 60 to 90 minutes. Add 2 or 3 teaspoons of salt midway through the cooking. (Add more water if the water level goes below the beans.) Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Strain the peas, picking out and discarding the onion, carrots, and bay leaves.
  2. While the peas are cooking, in a pot big enough to hold the beans, cook the bacon over medium-low heat  until the fat is rendered and the bacon is browned. Add the medium diced onion and a three-finger pinch of salt. Cook over until the onion is softened and translucent and beginning to brown, 5 or 10 minutes. Add the cumin, pepper flakes, and black pepper, turn the burner to medium, and stir to combine the seasonings with the onion. Add the juice from the tomatoes. Then add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as if you were furious with them, dashing them, their brains squirting out between your fingers. (You could instead put them on a cutting board, of course, and roughly chop them, then scrape the tomato and juices into the pan with the onion.) Add the last bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or so to reduce and thicken the sauce.
  3. Stir in the black-eyed peas, and cook to heat through. Add some or all of the reserved bean liquid to keep it juicy (add all of it if you’ll be chilling and reheating it). Taste. If it needs something, try a little more salt. Still need something? Try some fish sauce. Want it hotter? Add more pepper flakes. Too salty? Oops! Now you’ll need to make a half batch with no salt and add it to this one! (Actually, I’ve always found the above recipe to be on the money.)
  4. Serve immediately, or if it’s Wednesday and you’re not serving it till Saturday (the case here), cool then chill it in the fridge uncovered, then cover it when it’s cold. Reheat it slowly so as not to burn the bottom; add some water or some wine if it looks a little dry.
  5. Serve with rice and some crunchy toasted and buttered bread, and garnish with pickled chiles if you have them!

Makes about 2 quarts of beans, which will serve about 15.


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© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.