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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hoppin' John, Southern Memories, and a Recipe for Mexican Black Beans

Dried black-eyed peas cooked with a hamhock

Hoppin' John, Southern Memories, and a Recipe for Mexican Black Beans
by Victoria Challancin

My mother, who was from Georgia, seems to  permeate my home with her unseen presence during the Holiday Season, particularly in my kitchen and at the table.  As those memories rush in, I realize that although I may reside far from my own Southern roots,   Southern memories do indeed guide me through the rituals of my life.

Take New Year's Day, for instance.  Although I have lived out of the US for basically the last 35 years, when my parents were alive I did return for Christmas with my family as often as I could.  I love my family.  I love our own rituals.  And one of those timeless rituals that we observed every January 1st was the eating of hoppin' John and greens.  

In my family it was the one time of the year we used dried black-eyed peas.  The rest of the year we had fresh ones, either straight from my Father's garden or right out of our ample freezer.  On New Year's Day, however, my Mom cooked dried black-eyes, as self-respecting Southerners call them, and served them with white rice.  Unseasoned white rice.  As for the greens, in the Challancin family, they were either turnip greens or mustard greens (a mixture of curly- and flat-leafed mustard greens), again right from my Dad's garden.  The seasonings?  For the dried black-eyed peas, it was a smoked hamhock and for the greens Mom used "streak-o-lean," that wonderful pork fatback that appeared in many of her dishes.  An additional kick was given to the greens by pepper vinegar--cider vinegar poured over tightly packed tiny hot green chiles, aged in the bottle.  My mouth waters at the thought.

This year I am in Mexico where the markets and grocery stores have so many types of dried beans, but nary a black-eyed pea.  Nary a one.  Dried or fresh.  So I am cooking up a pot of Mexican black beans instead, content to look at my photos of Hoppin' John, greens, and cornbread from January 1, 2010, at my good friends, the Hamiltons, in my hometown.  Yum.

For a rather fun history of the custom of eating Hoppin' John on New Year's Day, check out this article and recipe on What's Cooking America.

Cornbread, Black-eyed Peas, and Greens, January 1, 2010

A rather silly weeble-wobble glass of Ed's not so silly homemade dessert wine.  Yum, again.

My husband, a yoga teacher and health enthusiast, caught me before I could start the black beans this year.  At his  behest, I am changing the recipe to a non-fat version, although I am still using the avocado leaves I just picked from our neighbor Luci's tree.  Thank you, Luci.

For my traditional Mexican black beans recipe, click here.  For a slightly healthier version, try the one below.  Will this new recipe produce the best, most authentic Mexican black beans ever?  Absolutely not.  Try the earlier recipe for that.  Will it give you a very tasty new bean dish with hints of Mexico?  Yes, yes, yes.

Healthy, No-Fat, Non-Traditional Mexican Black Beans with Avocado Leaf
Recipe by Victoria Challancin
Cook's Notes:  If you have time, soak the beans overnight or use the quick-soak method and adjust the cooking time accordingly.  The tomatoes are a completely non-traditional addition requested by my husband.  If you can't find the avocado leaf, simply leave it out.

500g black beans, washed and picked over
1 or 2 fresh avocado leaves (optional)
Water as needed

1 large white onion, diced
1 bell pepper of any color, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 to 3 serrano or jalapeño chiles, left whole but with several small slits cut into the flesh
1 can chopped tomatoes with their juice, (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
Salt to taste

For serving (choose the toppings that you like--or improvise):
Mexican sour cream, regular sour cream, or natural yogurt
Chopped green onion
Chopped tomato--or use pico de gallo or any preferred Mexican-style salsa, red or green
Grated cheese of choice (Manchego, Asadero, Oaxacan, Menonite, or Monterey Jack--see my article on Mexican cheeses here)
Chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped avocado
Green lime wedges
Fresh corn tortillas  (serve hot or make quesadillas for an even more complete meal)
Cooked brown rice or quinoa (another totally non-traditional suggestion)

Place the beans and avocado leaves, if using, in a large pot.  Cover with water to a depth of 3 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Once the liquid has reached a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and allow to simmer for 2 to 3 hours or until the beans are cooked (Note:  cooking time will depend on the age of the beans).  Stir occasionally, adding additional water if necessary.

When the beans are tender, add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chiles, tomatoes (if using), cumin, oregano, and salt.  Mix well, return to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.

Serve hot with desired toppings.


If you would like to know more about using avocado leaves in cooking, you might enjoy this post:

And here is another on Understanding Mexican Cheeses (and substitutes):

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun International Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.


Ben said...

I just learned about Hoppin' John today on another blog and I must confess that I want to try it. I understand what you say about keeping your traditions. Even though I only lived in the States for 10 years, I picked up a lot of traditions that I never want to let go. Happy 2011 friend!

Dimah said...

The flavor combo sounds amazing!