Monday, March 4, 2013

Black Eyed Peas and Rice (For Lazy People!)

Any Southerner worth their salt knows that you simply must ring in the new year each and every year with a steaming bowl of Hoppin’ John, otherwise known as Black Eyed Peas and Rice.  It’s bad luck to eat anything else but the southern delicacy with a healthy dose of hot sauce and some cornbread slathered with butter.  Traditional Hoppin’ John is made with the bone of the Holiday Ham, and is probably about as good a choice as I can think of to ring in the new year.  It uses up the leftover ham, it is packed with fiber, and has just enough complex carbs to soak up any New Year’s Eve sins!  Plus, it is very affordable and a great contrast to the over-indulgent holiday foods we’ve all gouged ourselves on by the time New Year’s rolls around.

I grew up in a “split” household, meaning my mom was a Yankee (hailing from the great state of Pennsylvania), and my father came from L.A. (that’s Lower Alabama to you Northerners).  Mom’s New Year’s tradition was pork and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes (which by the way is also a pretty good post-holiday choice for the same reasons!).  We rotated our annual traditions and had the succulent pork and briny kraut in odd-numbered years and celebrated my father’s traditional Hoppin’ John in even years.  While I enjoy both, it was the simple beans and rice that I craved today on this cold and grey Sunday.  Somehow, I missed doing either this year and maybe that explains the run of bad luck I’ve had in these first few months of 2013? (Note the cast on my leg at this point!)  

I decided to throw together some beans and rice for my family today, but honestly, did not have the forethought to soak the dried beans or cook all day.  So, here is my cheater’s version.  It is fairly quick. Ridiculously inexpensive, hearty, and so delicious; I’m writing this at 3 pm and my deal hubby has already had 3 bowls!  Don’t get yourself all worked up if you don’t have all the ingredients.  You can substitute ham or bacon for the turkey legs, leave out the thyme and/or bay leaves, and you could probably skip the celery.  This is a totally low-stress dish – have fun with it and make it your own!   

Here’s how mine came together:

2 smoked turkey legs
2 stalks of celery with tops
2 carrots
2 small or 1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
8-10 whole peppercorns
1 48 oz. container of low-sodium chicken broth
About 4 cups of water
1 tsp hot sauce
1/3 cup ketchup (I know, weird right? Trust me on this!)
3 cans of black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup of long grain uncooked white rice
4 green onions, thinly sliced

Chop the onion, carrots and celery into good-sized chunks and throw them in a large dutch oven or stock pot with the turkey legs, sprigs of thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic cloves. Pour in the chicken broth and add enough water to cover everything.   Stir in the hot sauce and ketchup.  This amount of hot sauce will not make the soup very spicy – you can always season to taste later, but it will add some nice vinegary complexity and a touch of heat and flavor to the soup.  I am normally not a huge ketchup fan, but it is the perfect condiment to add to this broth as it imparts a great color, body, sweetness, acidity, and spice to the broth.  It really does give it a complex flavor that you cannot get from adding diced tomatoes or tomato paste.

Heat the soup over high heat until boiling, then reduce heat to medium low and cover.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove the cover and raise heat to medium and simmer for another 20 minutes, allowing the broth to reduce a bit and the flavors to concentrate.

Remove from the heat and strain the broth through a colander, removing all of the cooked veggies, herbs and turkey legs.  Return the broth only to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the uncooked rice, and reduce the heat to low.   Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.  While this is cooking, toss away all the mushy veggies and herbs, keeping the turkey legs.  You were really just using all that other stuff to flavor the rich broth. 

Using a small knife, remove all the meat from the legs, being sure to separate it well from the tendons and tough skin.  This should yield about 2 cups of turkey meat, which you’ll want to cut into very small pieces.

Remove the cover from the large pot and stir the soup, which now will have the cooked rice in it.  You’ll notice that the broth will have nicely thickened at this point from the starch released in cooking the rice.   Add the cut-up or shredded turkey meat, and the three cans of drained/rinsed beans and return heat to medium, simmering uncovered for about five minutes before serving.  Add the sliced green onions just before serving and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce as needed.  The soup is now quite thick and really more of a stew.  If needed, add a bit more chicken broth or water if you like a broth-ier version.  

This whole dish comes together in about an hour and a quarter, and will keep your belly warm, and your year lucky!  The flavor is even better the second day on this one and it freezes pretty well too.  You don’t need to serve anything else with this dish, except a nice slab of cornbread smeared with butter (not the sweet cornbread, but the southern-style savory version), and a glass of sweet tea or a cold beer!  Enjoy!

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