Black-eyed peas, also called cowpeas and cousin to the smaller field peas, probably came to America via the slave trade. They had more use as animal fodder before coming to the table of the two-legged. The beans themselves are beige in color, but have a black “eye” that gives them the name. You can buy them canned, fresh (frozen) or dried.
Although more popular in the South, make these potassium and protein rich, fiber-filled peas unique to your own diet by spicing them with your favorite flavors. As with many legumes, they are neutral in taste and easy to enhance with seasonings. In the South folks like to add the flavor of crisp crumbled bacon, along with red or green bell peppers, chopped onions, chili powder and black pepper. To be authentic you should use ham hocks (or a ham bone) or fatback to aid in flavoring. It is the pork’s fat and salt that add that special flavor.
There are many recipes for the famous Hoppin’ John dish served to celebrate a prosperous New Year. Here are some ideas and things to consider to get you experimenting no matter what the season. If you want to avoid the salty canned peas and avoid the pre-soaking, frozen is the way to go. Otherwise try the easy-to-store dry variety.
If you buy peas dry, you can quicken the cooking time by using a pressure cooker. They may take one to one and a half hours of simmering on a stove top (as do the frozen peas) compared to ten to eleven minutes in the cooker. Don’t forget to soak dry peas overnight, but use fresh water before simmering. Cooked peas should be tender enough to squash with a fork. Check them after forty minutes, since some have thinner skins than others, and you don’t want mushy peas.
Mix them with rice (half as much rice as peas) for a full meal and serve them with ham. Cook the rice separately fifteen minutes before adding it to the beans if simmering. Or you may cook the rice in a different pan while using a pressure cooker for the peas. Either way let the combined rice and peas simmer and blend their flavors together for an additional five minutes.
Other spices you might try with black-eyed peas are thyme, oregano, cayenne or red pepper flakes. Diced tomatoes and celery are often added. A Cajun or Creole spice blend is a great way to heat things up. Paprika or Liquid Smoke will give it that smoky flavor as will a tablespoon of molasses. Or add spices that you know you like either for their taste or nutrient value, such as cinnamon or cloves.
Many spices supposedly reduce gas, including bay leaves, thyme, cumin, ginger, caraway and mint. Some swear that throwing a carrot in the pot will reduce the side effects, others drink orange juice with the meal. If you eat beans often enough, your body creates the enzymes that aid in digestion and, thus, reduce gas. The good news is black-eyed peas are one of the least problematic of the legumes as far as “gas production” is concerned.
Think of black-eyed peas as you do any bean and consider using them in salads, with Mexican dishes, on nachos or in any hearty stew or chili. Who knows? Yours just might be the winning entry in this summer’s chili cook-off.