Bonnie: My love for beans grew when I penned a cookbook by that name with my friend and co-author Joanne Lamb Hayes. We created recipes using beans in every possible way — including white bean ice milk! And during that time, I had bean-tasting parties to sample the foods that I was testing. I needed testers as oddly at that time — in the early ’90s — neither Bryan nor Eric ate beans.
Blackeyed peas are a medium, kidney-shaped, off-white bean with a purplish-black color in its keel. They have a sweet pea-like, earthy flavor and buttery smooth texture. And these new steamed and ready-to-eat blackeyed peas make enjoying them as easy as opening the refrigerated bag. Use these blackeyed peas in salads, soups or any dish where you generally use other beans, as I do find most beans interchangeable.
I love them as a base for a simple Bean Salad. Just finely chop 2 scallions, a seeded jalapeño pepper, a seeded red bell pepper and fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, and combine with the juice of half a lemon, a splash of light vinegar, some extra virgin olive oil and the blackeyed peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.
Or make the classic Hoppin’ John, a spicy Southern favorite customarily served on New Year’s Day, but delicious anytime. Here’s a recipe adapted from my cookbook, “Beans.”
Hoppin’ John — Heat a teaspoon olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add 4-ounces diced andouille or other smoked pork sausage, and stir occasionally until cooked, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add 2 minced cloves garlic and 1 sliced onion, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup brown rice, and 1/4 cup wild rice, stir for 1 minute to coat with oil. Add 1 package blackeyed peas, 1 t Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, 1 t salt, 1/4 t cayenne (ground red) pepper and 1 3/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until the wild rice grains open and the brown rice is tender (45 to 50 minutes). Fluff with a fork, taste and adjust seasoning then serve topped with chopped fresh parsley.
Bryan: I often do a bit of background research on the food products we review on Bite of the Best. I am a foodie at heart, intrigued by the nutritional value of different foods, their cultural significance, history, etc. I just find that a better understanding of a food at its core gives me a greater appreciation for the unique variations and presentations I get to sample… whether it’s foie gras, Kobe beef, a beet, or in this case, a blackeyed pea.
My research this time, into the history of blackeyed peas, was humorously belabored by the current cultural significance of the Grammy award-winning group by the same name. Google is far kinder to the many music fan pages than to the legume itself.
And hey, I needed to do my homework: Blackeyed peas are not exactly a staple in my kitchen. It’s not that I’ve got anything against beans; it’s just that they are generally a real pain to prepare. It’s the whole starch problem again; side dishes that need prolonged hydration are simply too much of a time commitment for me, but that’s why man created vacuum packaging. We’ve touted the merits of quick rice before, and now I’ve got to say that I’m all about presteamed beans.
Melissa’s is a fantastic food company. I’m a fan of most of what they do and their blackeyed peas are no exception. The beans are preshelled and steamed before being vacuum sealed in a pouch. They are ready for amazingly quick preparation with no preservatives or additives, and a shelf life of six months. These are the beans you want if you don’t want to cook beans (period).
Okay, a quick black-eyed pea history note, and one that I thought had particular importance to me with my current home being Atlanta… Unbeknownst to me, many Southerners have a deep-seated tradition involving their New Year’s Day meals. Apparently, superstition dictates the inclusion of certain ingredients on this day to ensure success in the new year: greens, pork (generally jowl or fatback) and blackeyed peas! Blackeyed peas are the essential element as well, said to bring luck, with some traditions even noting that you must eat at least 365 of them!
Though there are a few stories of origin. The most popular is from the days of the Civil War. Union troops confiscated crops to use as provisions, leaving Southerners with little food except for peas and greens, as the soldiers considered these only as animal feed. As a result, the dishes became cherished, symbolizing salvation from starvation. A tradition was born — or was it? Oddly enough, the tradition of eating blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day actually stems from as far back as 500 BCE!
Eating blackeyed peas for good luck at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is apparently recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, with the custom continuing to be followed by Sephardic and Israeli Jews to this day. In fact, an alternate theory on the traditional Southern dish stems from an early wave of Sephardi Jews who arrived in Georgia in the 1730s. The practice of eating black-eyed peas was apparently adopted by nonJews around the time of the American Civil War.
Food… read all about it.
Eric: It’s ironic, but the diet of a hospitality worker (i.e. restaurant employee, hotel clerk, banquet server, etc) is not comparable to those of the people they are “serving.” The combination of long hours and short breaks leaves little time for a healthy diet; sandwiches, coffee and the occasional piece of fruit seem to be the standard staples, as well as the cause of any malnutrition.
I like to believe that the day microwaveable “steamer” technology was introduced, the two groups that rejoiced the most were non-stay-at-home parents and hospitality workers. This technology allowed for an entirely new approach to a meal; within minutes, time-intensive foods (rice, vegetables, legumes) went from freezer/cupboard to plate, and provided the canvas for myriad quick meal fixes. Melissa’s Blackeyed Peas are a nutritious and delicious powerhouse, and at 11:30 PM when I get home from work, they are the main component of a quick-fix meal that I can depend on to satisfy my hunger. Welcome to “Generation Steam!”