Last year, a cold made me feel so miserable that I didn’t even think of having my traditional New Year’s black-eyed peas until a few days into the new year. This year I was determined to have them on New Year’s Day, despite the fact that a sizzling, burning short in our breaker box had knocked out most of the electricity to our all-electric house. Though last year had turned out perfectly fine despite the delay, this year I wasn’t going to take any chances, even if it meant cooking on our little Coleman camp stove.
All right, all right. Actually, I’m about as superstitious as a pair of old boots. And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really big on traditions (or maybe I just like to pick and choose the traditions I follow). The truth is, I just like black-eyed peas, the long-simmered kind you make from dried beans, not the canned variety (which are fine for ordinary meals but nothing special), and the beginning of the year reminds me to go ahead and make them. When I was growing up, my mother made black-eyed peas, greens, and corn bread for lunch every New Year’s Day, and carrying on the tradition brings back good memories. Even though I probably turned up my nose at it at the time, these days it’s a meal that epitomizes comfort food to me.
My mother isn’t fond of heavy seasoning (and truly, black-eyed peas are flavorful enough that a minimalist treatment is all they need), so she would probably never think of adding so many ingredients to her peas. But she grew up in Alabama where she learned the art of plain cooking, whereas I grew up in Louisiana and fell in love with embellishments: the “trinity” of onion, bell pepper, and celery and the heat of a little cayenne and hot sauce. In this “Creole” take on black-eyed peas, the seasonings combine in a nice, thick gravy that envelops the peas like a cream sauce and actually isn’t spicy at all, as long as you keep the hot sauce to a minimum. Even my mother would approve.
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 rib celery, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups dried black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
- 5 cups water
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke flavoring
- Heat a large pressure cooker over high heat. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to brown; add the bell pepper, celery, and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed to prevent sticking. Add the black-eyed peas and water, seal the cooker, and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to come down naturally.
- Once the pressure is down, open the cooker and add all remaining ingredients except Liquid Smoke. Return to the heat and simmer for 15-30 minutes, until peas are completely soft and thickened. Add the Liquid Smoke and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve hot over rice with more hot sauce on the table.
- To make without a pressure cooker, soak the peas overnight in cold water. Drain. Follow the directions for sautéing the vegetables. Then add all ingredients except liquid smoke to the pot, along with enough additional water to cover the peas by one inch. Cook until peas are completely tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adding more water as necessary. When they’re tender, add the Liquid Smoke, cook for 5 more minutes, and serve over rice.