That's my buddy, Wimi, on the right, hanging out with her Charleston friend, Keke. They get together once a year to reconnect.
One thing they do is compare notes on Hoppin' John, the savory beans and rice dish served on New Year's Day to bring good luck in the coming year. Charleston lays claim to originating this tradition, but it's spread pretty much across the South nowadays.
The day after Christmas, I pull out my cookbooks to find my favorite recipe. This year, I looked in The Joy of Cooking (the good, early, version), Remembering Bill Neal, Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant (I know the restaurant is in Ithaca, but there's a special Southeastern United State section) and Seductions of Rice. I also checked out Gourmet's special issue on Southern Cooking
I scanned likely suspects that surprised me by not having Hoppin' John recipes: Not Afraid of Flavor, Dori Sanders' Country Cooking and North Carolina & Old Salem Cookery.
And after all my perusing, here is what I discover: It is a ridiculously easy recipe, involving black-eyed peas, water, a ham hock, red pepper and rice. There can be some spices added, depending on how fancy the cook wants to get & whether or not they use the flavorful ham hock. And there is some dissent about whether to serve the black-eyed peas over the rice or cook the rice right in with the peas.
And here is what I do: I take a pinch of one recipe and a dash of another, then come up with my own variation.
My feeling about the ham hock varies from year to year. This year, I don't like it, so I boosted the flavor a bit.
So here's what I did: dumped two bags of frozen black-eyed peas in a stock pot with water and brought it to a boil. Then I put it into the Crock-Pot (I like to give it a jump-start like that). Then in a measuring cup (A measuring cup? my Joe exclaimed when I told him, thinking maybe I'd been abducted by aliens. No worries -- I didn't actually measure anything), I splashed in some soy sauce, Texas Pete Hotter Hot Sauce, a bit of honey and a spoonful of Garam Masala from the Charleston Tibetan Society (a gift fom Keke to Wimi). I added a ladleful of hot bean water to help blend it, then poured it over the beans in the cooker.
It's all in the slower cooker now. I'll be serving it over rice, gilding the lily with a sprinkling of cheddar and a dollop of sour cream. With, of course, collards on the side. Good for bringing wealth.
How do I fix my collards? Oh, we don't have that kind of time ...