Visit my mom’s house on New Year’s Day and you will be treated to simple, humble fare – a black-as-midnight cast iron skillet sizzling with buttermilk cornbread, a pot of black-eyed peas and a bowl of greens, usually collards. The peas and greens are usually cooked with pork, such as the leftover bone from the Thanksgiving ham. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's is supposed to bring luck in the coming year; greens are supposed to bring green (money) to your pockets.
It’s kind of endemic to the Southern experience that the Way Mom (or Grandma) Cooks is the best and only way to cook. My mother is an excellent cook and I’ve learned much in her kitchen. At my mother’s apron strings, I learned dishes such as country fried steak and chicken & dumplings. I learned to make layer cakes, pound cakes and cookies. Mom taught me how to put together a meal, cooking the meat and vegetables in order so that everything is ready at the same time. She taught me her way, but she also taught me something else: to try new things. This is the most valuable lesson of all. Even in my suburban Georgia neighborhood, I have an incredible amount of ingredients and technology available to me, plus a world of information at my fingertips. I can choose to cook from my own little world or I can bring the world into my kitchen.
Which is why on New Year’s Day 2011, you will find the traditional black-eyed peas flavored with garam masala, turmeric and cumin at my table. This flavorful and fragrant dish is adapted from Gene Lee, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and blogs at Eat, Drink, Man: a Food Journal. Instead of cooking the peas entirely on the stovetop, I start them off in a Dutch oven and place it in the oven on convection for an hour or more, for the peas to slowly soak up the spicy goodness.
8 ounces dried black-eyed peas
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 chilies, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into ¼ inch dice
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
2 cups water
I’ve also tried a new method for cooking greens. I happen to think collards are great and consider the work involved – washing, trimming and chopping – a labor of love. But my family? Not so much. My friend Susan’s recipe for Kale with Raisins and Pine Nuts has turned my husband and girls into greens eaters. Susan writes about produce on her blog, Thoughtful Consumption. Here is my adaptation of her recipe.
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup raisins
1 bunch of greens such as kale, washed and trimmed into 2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
I'm not saying that these two dishes should be served together, but either one would make a fine addition to a New Year's feast. Just be sure to add the cornbread, a dish so perfect that there's no point messing with it.
Open Salon: Thank you for making 2010 such a great year for me (as a writer and a reader). I send wishes for a 2011 full of blessings. Happy New Year!
Text & images ©2010, Lucy Mercer.