HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Growing up in North Carolina, we always ate black-eyed peas and greens at my grandmother's house on New Year's Day. We moved to Wisconsin when I was 10, and I don't remember if my mom continued the tradition for a while but at some point it stopped and I forgot about it. As I got older and more interested in cooking and food history, I remembered and decided to return to this tradition.

Now, every year I make Hoppin' John, collard greens and cornbread on New Year's Day. Hoppin' John, at its most basic, is a mixture of black-eyed peas (or in some traditions, field peas) and rice. According to this history, the dish is primarily associated with the Carolinas, but can be found in Georgia as well and, I believe, Louisiana. The dish is thought to have Caribbean roots, and was most likely created on Southern plantations by slaves originating from that area. According to Wikipedia, the dish dates back to at least 1847, when it was published in The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge. The black-eyed peas in the dish are thought to bring luck and money (the black "eyes" of the peas resemble coins) and the greens are thought to add an extra financial boost. I like to say that we eat Hoppin' John for luck, collard greens for money and cornbread because it's good.

I stole this year's recipe from Emeril, so it has a bit of a Cajun influence. It starts with the Cajun trinity, onions, celery and bell pepper, and incorporates cayenne, which I substituted with a Cajun spice blend. I think Hoppin' John was originally flavored with bacon, and while I used bacon fat to start both the beans and the greens, I used a ham hock as the main flavoring in both. To make these dishes meat-free, you could substitute smoked paprika to get that smokey flavor.

So far, I don't know that making these dishes on New Year's has made me any richer, but it's fun and makes for a good hearty meal on a chilly January day.

HOPPIN' JOHN

1 Tablespoon bacon fat, or vegetable oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, medium dice
½ cup celery, medium dice
½ cup green pepper, medium dice
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup green onion, chopped for garnish
¼ cup red bell pepper, chopped for garnish
3 cups white rice, pilaf or steamed

Heat fat in a large soup pot and sear ham hock on all sides (approx 4 minutes).

Add the onion, celery, green pepper and saute for approximately 4 minutes.

Add garlic, saute until fragrant.

Add vinegar and reduce to au sec (almost dry).

Add black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme and Cajun Seasoning.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes or until the peas are creamy and tender. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock.

Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. You can also chop up the meat from the ham hock to add to the dish if you like.

Garnish with green onions and red pepper. Serve over rice.

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COLLARD GREENS

1 Tablespoon bacon fat, or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, medium dice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 quart chicken stock, or water
salt and pepper , to taste
pepper vinegar (or cider or white wine vinegar and tabasco), to taste for garnish

In a large soup pot add bacon fat or oil, then sear ham hock on all sides (approx 4 minutes).

Add onion and saute until translucent.

Add garlic and saute until fragrant.

Add vinegar and reduce to au sec (almost dry).

Add stock or water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Gradually add greens to pot, allowing time between additions to allow them to soften into the liquid.

Return to a simmer over low heat and cook until tender, approximately 55 minutes.

Season to taste and serve with pepper vinegar or vinegar (cider or white wine) and tabasco. You can also chop up the meat from the ham hock to add to the dish if you like.

You can serve a bit of the liquid, called 'pot likker,' as a dip for cornbread. You can also reserve the liquid to add to a future batch of greens, or add it to an appropriate soup (freeze it if you won't use it right away).