Eating Southern

I have a confession to make. I really don’t like New Year’s. To me, it’s an artificial thing. Don’t get me  wrong, I love the IDEA of it–a new start, wipe the slate clean and begin anew. What’s better than that?

The problem is that we seem to take all our problems, resentments, wounds into the new year. We can’t seem to leave them behind. We try to feel as if it’s a brand new year, but if we’re honest with ourselves, nothing is different, is it? At midnight we say HAPPY NEW YEAR! and we pop corks and throw confetti and set off fireworks and we try to feel as if something is different, something is new. But it really isn’t. At least for me.

I wonder what would happen if this year we all decided to leave the old stuff back there in 2011 and only bring into the new year the good stuff: the love, the friendships, the kindnesses we’ve experienced. What if we just left the rest behind? Dan likes to tell me that if I water the flowers I won’t have to pull so many weeds. I wonder what would happen if I could do that this year? I think I’ll try.

When I was growing up we always ate black-eyed peas on New Years Day. It was supposed to bring us luck. We ate them with rice in a traditional Southern dish called Hoppin John. The recipe is as varied as the cooks who make it: there are always black eyed peas, there’s always rice, there is always pork in one form or another. After that, it all depends on the humor of the cook–or more likely the hometown of the cook!

For almost every January 1 of my life I’ve eaten black-eyed peas in one form or another. I’m not superstitious, you understand, not at all. It just never hurts to be careful…

Here in Belgium, the custom is to eat sauerkraut on New Years Day. It’s supposed to bring luck and wealth (if you put a coin under your plate). It’s always served with pork sausages, maybe a ham hock, mustard, and lots of mashed potatoes. It’s a perfect winter dish. The only thing missing IMHO is black-eyed peas.

Needless to say, when I was thinking about what to cook for New Years Day this year, the first thing on the list was black-eyed peas, and more specifically Hoppin John. We decided, though, since it was to have a Belgian slant, that we’d call it Hoppin Jean, which is pronounced almost the same, but has a little bit of a French accent. Like our lives. I have to add here that I have not succeeded in finding black-eyed peas in Belgium–I have to bring them back with me from visits to my home country–The South. In The South black-eyed peas are cheap and plentiful. In Belgium they’re unknown. Or rather, not exactly unknown, but if you ask for black-eyed peas in a shop they’re likely to send you to the music store.

But this year I also wanted to make sauerkraut. It’s not that I’m superstitious, mind you, but  it never hurts to be careful! So I bought sauerkraut and a jambonneau de porc, which I think is maybe a ham hock. In any case, it’s perfect with sauerkraut. I cooked it for a long time in the sauerkraut with some juniper berries and then just pulled the meat off the bone. With some good German mustard it was perfect.

The Hoppin Jean was a little more work. I’ll give you the ‘recipe’ that I used, but please know that it’s one of those dishes that you can make with whatever you have. In the end it’s beans and rice. I think there needs to be some pork with it, and I used some little sausissons that I can buy here that are a little spicy. These are dried sausages, like pepperoni or salami. I also add some chili because I like spicy food. You can modify this in any way you like. All measures are approximate–this is really a ‘handful of this, pinch of that’ recipe…

Hoppin Jean

200 g / 1 cup dried black-eyed peas
200 g / 1/2 lb spicy sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1/4 fresh chili, chopped
1 cup / 200 g rice
Salt and pepper

  • The night before you want to eat this, sort through the black-eyed peas and discard any that are brownish or broken. Rinse them well in cold water and leave them to soak overnight.
  • The next morning, drain the peas and wash them well.
  • Chop the spicy sausage and cook it over medium-high heat in a large pan. It should render some fat. If it doesn’t, then you’ll want to add a little bit of oil.
  • Chop the onion and add it to the pan. Stir.
  • Chop the carrots and celery and add them as well. Stir well.
  • Add the dried chili flakes and stir some more.
  • Add the drained black-eyed peas and stir well. Cover with water and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the peas are starting to become tender.
  • Add the chopped fresh chili.
  • Add the rice and more water if needed. Stir well.
  • Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the rice is tender.
  • Add salt and pepper as needed.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.

NOTES:

  • If you want to add a little zing to it you might squeeze a lemon into it after the beans are cooked. You could also add the zest of the lemon with the dried chili flakes. I wish I’d thought of this yesterday.

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Photos: Kate McNally
Kate McNally

Kate McNally

Born and raised in Atlanta, with degrees from UGA and UT Knoxville, Kate never lived above the Mason-Dixon line. That is, until she moved to Belgium. She now lives in the Belgian Ardennes, near Germany and The Netherlands, in an area where three cultures clash and co-exist. She used to have a stress-filled life, living in Washington DC and working as a management consultant all over the US and Canada. About 9 years ago, Kate and her husband Dan quit their jobs and moved to Europe. Now they teach English as a second language to business people there. They went there for two or three years. They're still here. Kate loves to cook, to travel, to paint and to write. She tries to do all of those as often as she can, and she shares tales of her life there in her blog. Kate says, "My blog is called 'Serendipity'. That pretty much sums up our life here in Belgium: serene with a little ‘dipity’ added. You’ll find here tales of our life as we sometimes struggle with other languages and other ways. You'll also find some paintings. And more than a few recipes, because I love to cook. My husband loves to eat. Perfect!" You can find her blog at http://serendipity-kate.blogspot.com/