Friday, January 05, 2007
Happy New Year!
In the southern US, we celebrate the New Year by eating certain foods that will ensure good health and wealth in the coming year. The dishes vary slightly depending on the region and where a family originated from. Generally speaking, we eat some form of green, some form of bean, and some kind of pork. I have friends of German descent who eat pork sausage, sauerkraut and leave the beans out. In South Carolina, I hear they eat hoppin' John with collards and corn bread. A very typical version in Central NC (where I'm from) is hog jowls, collard greens and black-eyed peas. My family substituted a pork roast for the hog jowls but kept the black-eyes and collard greens.
You absolutely MUST eat some of each item. Greens for folding money or cash, beans for coins or change and pork for health. It was non-negotiable. Growing up, I remember dreading the New Year's meal. The problem for me was not the change (peas) or the health (pork)-it was the cash (greens). Everybody loves cash right? Sometimes cash is a little hard to swallow. See, my mom really didn't know how to cook greens and only made them once a year anyway. She managed to turn a side-dish into a torture implement by cooking them and cooking them until there was this slimy, unseasoned sludge in a pan. Miserable. I admit I was wary of cooked greens well into my adult life and substituted spinach salad or cabbage for my greens every New Year.
Ab0ut 6 years ago, I met a cooked green that changed my mind. K. and I were in Miami and wandered into an unmarked lunch buffet run by Argentineans or Brazilians-it's unclear their exact nationality. The only thing posted was the price and no one spoke any language that K. or I knew. It was probably the best buffet I've ever been to-loaded with rice and pork and beans. All fresh and tasty with spice combinations I hadn't experienced until then. The dish that kept me going back were these sautéed greens loaded with some kind of salted pork, spices, oil and a little twang of vinegar. I still don't know exactly what green they were-some kind of kale I think. From that day on, my affection for greens has grown to a minor obsession (I know, this just doesn't seem like me to be obsessed with one thing.....). Anyway, I will try almost any green now. I still meet the occasional collard that's been cooked beyond recognition and is not worth eating. But, I also meet garlicky chard that's warm and crunchy or traditional southern collards cooked as intended (which are also very good).
This year, we started the New Year's eating pork chops with apples and onions, Hopping John, and sautéed red chard. It was my first attempt at making Hopping John from scratch and I meant to use the recipe from the big yellow Gourmet cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/Gourmet-Cookbook-More-Than-Recipes/dp/0618374086/sr=8-1/qid=1168004555/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-0007210-3186346?ie=UTF8&s=books). But, I basically didn't read it fully and wound up making my own recipe. It turned out tasty anyway so I thought I'd share.
Just a note about authenticity, most Hoppin' John has the rice cooked in with the beans. The Gourmet Cookbook recipe called for cooking them separately so that's what I tried. I like the results but I still don't feel quite right calling it Hoppin' John.
4 cups of soaked Black Eyed Peas
2 smoked ham hocks (pork shanks)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
8-10 cups of water
Basically, throw it all in a pot and let it simmer away for 2 hours or until the beans are soft. Go shopping and leave your husband to watch them-he might take a nap and forget to check the water level. You will come home to an *ALMOST* disaster that turns into the best tasting beans you've ever made. Serve over rice.