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New Year’s Food Traditions: Peas and Greens

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Eating Hoppin’ John, a dish made of peas and rice, with greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day is a Southern tradition. Folklore says the combination of eating peas and greens will bring luck and money in the upcoming year. Typically, the dried peas are black-eyed peas and there is generally a hunk of meat bobbing in the pot. In my family, we traditionally don’t mix the peas and rice, but cook them separately. And, while my mother and grandmother typically cooked their peas and greens with meat, I often keep my New Year’s Day feast vegetarian.

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What are Cow Peas and Field Peas?

The term “cow peas” comes from the farming practice in which the remnants of the plants from the pea harvest were left in the field for grazing cattle. Cow peas are also sometimes called field peas. The importance of field peas in Southern foodways cannot be overstated. They were eaten fresh in the summer and dried for use in the winter. A simple dish like Hoppin’ John is one of the cornerstones of Southern cuisine. Field peas became a staple food among Southerners, rich and poor, black and white, in the deep south as they are drought resistant and easily adaptable to varying types of soils.

Although called peas, they are actually beans. Cowpeas are very easy to grow and very popular in the Southern US, Africa, and Asia. They originated in Africa, and tolerate heat, drought, and humidity much better than common beans do. Common examples include Black Eyed Peas, Crowder Peas, and the more rare heirloom cow pea known as the Sea Island Red Pea.  The Sea Island Red Pea was likely the original pea used in Hoppin’ John, and was once grown along the Georgia and South Carolina coast. (Read more about field peas in this NYT article by Kim Severson.)

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How to Clean Greens

I love greens. Collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, cabbage — you name a green and I love them. All these greens are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. When buying greens look for brightly colored crisp leaves free of brown spots and yellowing edges.

My mother used to wash big hauls of sandy greens in the washing machine — without soap, of course! 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.

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Greens Recipes for New Year’s Day

Below is a collection of some of my Greens Recipes for you to try. Heads up, I often keep them vegan so it’s one pot for everyone — and less pots for me to cook! And, I promise, no one will miss the meat!

 Vegetarian Hoppin' John on www.virginiawillis.com


Pea Recipes for New Year’s Day

I’m sharing my recipe for a Vegetarian Hoppin’ John and her recipe for a more traditional Hoppin’ John. Still need more ideas for dried peas? Check out these recipes for a Black-Eyed Pea Paella

Best wishes for a healthy and Happy New Year! You can guarantee I’ll be having peas and greens on New Year’s Day!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis 


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Sandra Gutierrez ' Hoppin' John 

Serves 6
Prep Time2 hours
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time2 hours 45 minutes
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: hoppin john, new years' day, peas
Servings: 6
Calories: 188kcal


  • ¼ pound bacon or smoked ham
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • ½ large green bell pepper cored, seeded and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • ½ pound cooked black-eyed or cowpeas or red peas (about 1½ cups)
  • 2 cups water
  • teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  • Place the bacon in a 3-½ to 4-quart Dutch oven, set over medium-high heat. Cook until the bacon renders and begins to brown and get crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion and bell pepper; cook until they begin to soften, about 2-½ to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant or about 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir well to coat all the grains with oil, about 30 seconds. Add the water and stir the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the peas, salt, cayenne, and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil; cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the rice for 20 to 25 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed.


Calories: 188kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 774mg | Potassium: 183mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 61IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 1mg

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained chef Virginia Willis has foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and executed the food styling for a Super Bowl commercial seen by over 160 million people. She is a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and chef for Food Network Kitchen. Virginia lost 65 pounds and has kept if off for over 3 years. Her health journey has been documented in Eating Well, as a cover story for Woman’s World, Allrecipes, and AARP. Virginia has embraced her new outlook on life and has become a cheerleader for those wanting to make their own life changes, “If a French-trained Southern chef can do it, you can, too!” Her cookbooks include Fresh Start: Cooking with Virginia My Real Life Daily Guide to Healthy Eating and Weight Loss; Secrets of the Southern Table, Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra, and Grits. She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart, 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 Alex vs America, The Rachel Ray Show, Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Virginia has also been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52. She has contributed to Eating Well, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. Fans love her down-to-earth attitude and approachable spirit. Learn more about Virginia and Good and Good for You Living, a real life health and wellness approach for mind, body, and spirit that includes food, fun, and fitness at www.virginiawillis.com

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