Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Eyed Peas, Rice & Burnt Onions

I discovered black eyed peas this week. I'd thought they were the kind of beans you had to soak overnight, which of course takes more prior planning and forethought than I usually put into dinner. But lo and behold, you can just throw these cuties into a pot, cook for 45 minutes, drain and go!

Black eyed peas are, of course, a staple of Southern cuisine. They were originally cultivated in West Africa and brought through the West Indies to the Southern United States by Africans; by the 1700s the crop was widespread through the South. It's very drought and heat-tolerant, which makes the plant easy to grow in the American South. The planting of crops of black-eyed peas was promoted by George Washington Carver because, as a legume, it adds nitrogen to the soil and has high nutritional value. Those little suckers have a TON of protein (9 g. per serving), fiber and calcium, and they're very low in fat! Yay!

When I was a child, my grandmama would cook the traditional black eyed peas and rice (they expand in water - just like your prosperity throughout the year) and collard greens (they're green, like all the money you'll make!) on New Years Day, for good luck. These "good luck" traditions supposedly date back to the "Recent Unpleasantness," or "The Wawar," as it was still known in my great-grandmother's household. The story goes that Sherman's troops would strip everywhere they went of all food, crops, and livestock, and sow the soil with salt - they'd burn and destroy everything in their path. BUT they wouldn't touch the black eyed peas - called "field peas" - or the corn, because that wasn't fit for human consumption anyway, just as cattle fodder.

(Side note: my mother would "clean my room" for me about once a year, which she called a "Sherman's March" - where she would throw away everything that was on the floor or out of place. She probably burned my sheets, too. I wasn't a very clean child. )

I found this recipe through one of my favorite foodie sites, Cheap Healthy Good. This recipe has also been sighted in this New York Times column by Mark Bittman; the emphasis is on the burnt, crispy onions. I like to think of the black eyed peas as being the star of this dish, but apparently burning onions creates a magical cacophony of flavor bursts in your mouth, so don't skip on 'em. I also spiced it up a bit - added two cloves of garlic, some fenugreek and fresh basil. You can tweak the seasonings as you see fit. This recipe is easily expandable, and black eyed peas and rice freeze well.


1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked black eyed peas
1 medium onion, sliced thin (or 2 onions, if you REALLY like onions)
2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (or you can mince them, but I like the more solid presentation in this dish)
2 medium carrots, diced
a couple of handfuls of baby spinach (about a cup)
2 T. torn fresh basil leaves
1 T oil (I used olive oil, but whatevs)
3 T balsamic vinegar, or to taste
Salt n' Pepa (no, not the band)
1 t. ground fenugreek
1/2 t. Vietnamese chili garlic sauce* or to taste (optional)

Heat yer oil in a pan over medium-high. When it’s good and hot, add the onions (they should sizzle). Add a little salt.

Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. Lower the heat a little, and keep cooking, stirring more frequently.

In the meantime, combine black eyed peas and rice in a big bowl. Add S&P to taste. Add balsamic vinegar, fenugreek, and chili garlic sauce, and set aside.

When the onions are pretty shriveled, about 15 minutes or so, add the garlic and carrots, and cook until onions are blackened and blistered in spots. (Add your carrots earlier if you like them more cooked.)

Stir in spinach to the onions, garlic & carrots, just until it’s wilted (like, 30 seconds. Seriously. Don't leave the stove.)

Add veggies to rice and beans mixture as a topping.

Say "Omnomnomnom!" as you wolf this dish down.

*Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (NOT sriracha! That stuff's for wimps. I mean this savory-spicy goodness) is one of my favorite not-so-secret ingredients. Go easy on it; it's got a kick that will sneak up and bite you on the tuchus if you're not very judicious in its application. I like it in everything from spaghetti sauce to eggs. Just...not ice cream. Wouldn't go well with ice cream. Blech.

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