Hoppin’ John – Not Just for New Year’s Anymore

Recently a friend inquired about my “death row meal.”  I didn’t list Hoppin’ John, but I might have to add it to the list.  This has everything going for it today.  It’s cool and gloomy out so this is a perfect comfort food.  Black-eyed peas are in season so I got them fresh at the farmers’ market on Saturday when I got the turnips.  Of course when you get turnips at the farmers’ market they come with the greens still attached – bonus!  The pepper plants around here are still producing – another check mark for South of the James market.  Dinner scores high on the “buy local” scale.  It’s mostly veggies and rice so it scores high on the cheap scale too.  I used smoked turkey instead of ham hock so it’s not bad on the healthy scale either.  Hoppin’ John is a good luck food for New Year’s, but maybe it will bring a little luck to the beginning of October too.

If you take a look at my New Year’s version of this dish you’ll note that it takes a couple of hours to put together.  This is a Monday and not a holiday so I didn’t have 2 hours.  It’s hard to rush the pot liquor, but I decided that 45 minutes was long enough.  In that time I was able to get all of the stemming and chopping of the greens and the chopping of the peppers and onions done.  A few things worked in my favor too.  The black eyed peas were very fresh – just a few days out of the field.  The fresher they are the faster they cook.  And the turnip greens were a little wilty so they cooked quickly also.  I used white rice instead of brown so that’s half time there too.  I cooked the rice in the black eyed pea water so it was almost boiling when I started.  I know, now I’m reaching, but I was hungry!

One note about this.  If you’re going to bother to make the pot liquor and stem and chop greens do lots of them.  You can always freeze the leftovers or eat them plain at another meal.  Ditto with the black eyed peas if you’re using fresh ones.  Go ahead and cook them all.  Mash the leftovers for black eyed pea cakes or serve them as a side dish.

My only complaint about Hoppin’ John is that my kitchen is a disaster. It takes four pots to put this together:  one for the greens, one for the rice, one for the peas and one for the peppers and onions.  You can use that last one to combine everything at the end.  It’s a great combination of flavors (earthy, green, smoky, sweet and salty) and textures.  Serve it with a little sweet cornbread and plenty of butter on the side.  And, of course, a big pitcher of tea.

Good? This is a favorite food of mine so it’s much better than good.
Easy? Not exactly. There are lots of things happening simultaneously.
Good for company? Absolutely. Who doesn’t need a little extra luck?
Special shopping? Nope, if you’re lucky you’ll hit the farmers’ market jackpot like I did.

Hoppin’ John

Ingredients

1-1 1/2 gallons of water
1 smoked turkey wing
2 T salt
1/4 t cayenne
greens from one bunch of turnips, stemmed and chopped
2 T butter
1 C fresh black eyed peas
1 T olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 C cooked rice

Directions

In a large pot heat the water and turkey wing to a boil. Add 2 T salt and cayenne. Simmer 45 minutes. Add chopped greens and 2 T butter. Simmer until greens are soft. Remove the turkey wing and pull the meat from the bone. Chop the meat finely. Discard the skin and bone.

In a small pot cover black eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until peas are tender, but not mushy. Keep warm.

In a medium stock pot heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add peppers, onions and garlic. Saute until tender, but still crunchy.

Use a slotted spoon to dish 1/2 of the greens into the peppers and onions. Repeat with 1/2 or more of the black eyed peas. Add the rice and chopped smoked turkey. Toss gently to mix. Serve with Tabasco.

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