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New Year’s Day Luck and Money: Peas & Greens

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The peas are simmering on the stove top fogging up the windows with ham-scented steam. It’s cold out and rather than face the snow, I’m ready to snuggle in and build a fire. I’ll cook the greens and cornbread a bit later today. Some folks make Hoppin’ John – we’ve always just had peas. I think I will actually make a pot of creamy grits instead of rice….

I think there was one New Year’s Day in my whole entire life, other than perhaps the one that was 2 days after my birth, on which I did not have Black Eyed Peas and Greens on New Year’s Day. Most of y’all probably know, but on New Year’s Day Southerners consume peas to bring luck and greens to bring money in the New Year.

I repeat. One.

I was in Paris, France January 2001. Actually, I had located a Soul Food Joint so that I would not miss out on “Luck and Money”, but when we at long last arrived by Métro in the banlieue, or Paris suburb, it was closed. So I went without peas and greens, popped in a bistro, for lunch and gave little thought to it.

Well, in 2001 I was stuck in NYC on 9/11 while the towers burned, lost my job with Epicurious, and had a major back injury that resulted in a herniated disc that had wrapped around my sciatic nerve. Ouch.

Suffice to say I will not miss out ever again. So, I am far North of the Mason Dixon line for this New Year’s Day, but fear not, I brought a bag of peas with me and made sure to get the collards at the health food store a couple of days ago. I’m not making that mistake again.

And, better yet? Already, on Day One I am happy, contented, and joyful.

Please find a selection of recipes you might enjoy this New Year’s Day. Wishing all of you and your families blessings of good health and good fortune for the upcoming year.

Thank you again for your support.

Happy New Year & Bon Appétit, Y’all

Black-Eyed Pea and Ham Hock Soup
Serves 6

In the summer, we’d sit on the porch shelling the black-eyed peas that Dede had picked that morning. The purple hulls dyed our fingers smoky violet. I’ve used frozen black-eyed peas to prepare this soup, but don’t use canned, as they are too soft. If using frozen peas, reduce the cooking time according to the package instructions or until the peas are tender. Note that the dried peas must soak overnight or have a quick soak. Don’t skip the essential step of simmering the ham hocks in the chicken stock. The flavor and aroma are what makes this soup extraordinary.

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, washed and picked over for stones
4 to 6 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth, plus more if necessary
2 smoked ham hocks
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bunch collards, tough stems removed and discarded, leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade (see page 197)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the peas in a large bowl and add water to cover. Soak overnight. Or place the peas in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from the heat and set aside for 1 hour. Discard any floating peas and drain before cooking.

In a pot, bring the stock and the ham hocks to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until the flavors have married, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Drain the peas and add to the pot. Add the red pepper flakes and ham hocks with stock to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the peas are tender, 2 to 21/2 hours.

Just before serving, bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Add the collards and stir to combine. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve immediately.

Kim O’Donnel’s Smokin’ Meat-less Hoppin’ John

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked in enough water to cover, for at least two hours, and drained.
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup medium or long-grain rice
water or stock of choice

In a large stockpot, add peas and enough liquid — about one inch above beans — and bring up to a lively simmer. Cook at a boil for a five minutes, then reduce heat, cover and simmer, until beans have arrived at desired tenderness. This could take a minimum of 35 minutes and a maximum of one hour. Season with salt, about 1 teaspoon. Add minced chipotle. For smokier results, substitute with ½ teaspoon smoked salt.

Add rice, plus 1 additional cup of liquid, return lid, and cook for 20 minutes over low-medium heat, without lifting lid.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion and garlic until softened and golden, 6-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and if you’re craving even more smoke, try about ¼ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper.

Lift lid of bean pot. Rice and peas should be moist, with but not super soupy. Add skillet mixture. Stir to combine and taste for salt and other seasonings. Add more smoked salt if desired.

Old Fashioned Greens
Serves 6 to 8

Southerners love their greens. In the South, a large quantity of greens to serve a family is commonly referred to as a “mess”. The exact quantity that constitutes a “mess” varies family to family. Typically, greens are served with corn bread to dip or sop into the pot-likker. Pot likker is the highly concentrated, vitamin-filled broth that results from the long boil of the greens.

5 cups water, homemade chicken stock, or reduced fat low sodium chicken broth
1 ham hock or 8 ounces fatback, diced
2 pounds collard greens
Pepper vinegar, for serving
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot, bring the water or stock and the ham hocks or fatback to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until the flavors have married, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill the sink with water. Add the greens and agitate in the water so the dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Remove the greens and drain the sink. Clean the sink and repeat the process until no dirt remains. Cut away heavy ribs and discolored spots from leaves. Chop the greens into bite-size ribbons.

Add the prepared greens to the simmering ham hock broth. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until very tender, 45 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow with plenty of the pot likker.

Tangle of Bitter Greens
Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

I once demonstrated this recipe on a local morning TV show. Aunt Louise was watching and told Mama later, “She took those greens out of that pan just like they were done!” You won’t believe how fast they cook, either.

The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium cloves garlic, mashed into a paste (see sidebar)
1 medium bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded, and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and slightly damp ribbons of greens; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Garlic Paste
To prepare garlic paste, place the broad side of an unpeeled clove of garlic on a clean work surface and give it a whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the top of the clove. Halve the garlic lengthwise and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps chop the garlic.) Then, using the flat side of a chef’s knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the garlic, crushing a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

I couldn’t find a recent shot, but wanted you to get the idea.

Buttermilk Cornbread
Makes one 101/2-inch skillet bread

I could make a meal out of just buttered cornbread. Except perhaps for barbecue, cornbread is as close to religion in the South as any particular food gets. At the top of the list of cornbread sins is adding sugar. You will notice a complete lack of sugar in this cornbread recipe. Sugar is more often found in what is referred to derisively as “Yankee cornbread.”

Adherents of white versus yellow cornmeal are like Methodists and Baptists: some think you’re going to hell if you follow one path and not the other. I am of the white cornmeal sect. The theory is that white corn was less hybridized and closer to the original grain than yellow. Plain white cornmeal can be surprisingly tricky to find, even in Atlanta; most of what lines the grocery store shelves is a mix or self-rising, which already contains the leavener that makes the cornmeal rise. Although yellow and white cornmeal are interchangeable, plain and self-rising cornmeal are not.

Warming the skillet and bacon grease or butter in the oven prepares the skillet for baking and melts the fat. Most often, I use butter. I like to let it get just barely nutty brown on the edges. The brown flecks give the cornbread extra color and flavor.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or bacon grease
2 cups white or yellow cornmeal (not cornmeal mix or self-rising cornmeal)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the butter in a 101/2-inch cast-iron skillet or ovenproof baking dish and heat in the oven for 10 to
15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Set aside. In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine.

Remove the heated skillet from the oven and pour the melted butter into the batter. Stir to combine, then pour the batter back into the hot skillet. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

variation: Instead of baking in a skillet, this batter may be prepared as muffins. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Melt the butter in a small pan over low heat or in the microwave. Prepare the batter as directed; after mixing with the melted butter, spoon the batter into a 12-cup standard muffin tin, filling each cup no more than two-thirds full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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