Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Delicious Budget Beans: Texas Style Hoppin' John Black Eyed Peas

Beans are incredibly healthy food. They are easy to cook, genuinely inexpensive, packed full of protein, freeze beautifully, and help our digestion work efficiently (one can leave off the expensive fiber supplements if one eats beans every day). Beans are also incredibly versatile, as we have been finding out at our house.

A couple of months ago, we made a decision to focus on a high-protein, high-fiber diet of mostly beans flavored with meat and vegetables. To help his incisions and nerves heal from the surgery, Paul needs a lot of protein.  He cannot use his legs yet, but he is still far too thin, so he needs calories. Others in this situation may need to avoid fats, but they are important for him right now. At his doctor's advice, he also has a snack of 1/3 cup of roasted cashews daily.

Paul isn't usually a fan of leftovers or repetition, so this was a bit of a challenge. By rotating between a few easily available varieties: Pintos, Limas (Butter beans), Navy Beans,  Black eyed Peas, and Black Beans, we have come up with a number of good dinners that taste good until the last spoonful. I thought I would share these recipes here over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Black Eyed Peas, or Southern Peas, grow easily here, and there is time to make a couple of crops of them. Even from the home garden, you can let them dry on the vine to save for use as dry peas, or you can pick them and shell them while green - I will have recipes for the green ones when they come into season.

This recipe is for an old Southern dish called Hoppin' John (or less frequently, Hopping John). The origins of the name are lost to history, but this simple and tasty stew is served on tables all over Oklahoma, Texas, and the rest of the South. It is one of those great home-cooked meals that can vary depending on what you have on hand - or what you can afford.

Texas Style Hoppin' John Recipe

One pound dry black eyed peas, cooked (see below)
1 cup chopped onion
1 Bell Pepper (or other sweet pepper) chopped
3 Tablespoons Bacon Grease
1 Bay Leaf
One pound German, Polish or Cajun sausage
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, to taste (or substitute salt & Louisiana Hot Sauce)
2 cups white rice, cooked separately and kept separate from the peas (see below)

Take a one pound bag of dry black eyed peas, soaked overnight in tap water and drained, then cooked in 8 to 10 cups of simmering water for 2 to 4 hours until tender.  Do NOT add any salt.

If more water is needed, bring it to a boil separately and add the boiling water to the peas (just the same way you add extra water when cooking beans).

In a frying pan, saute the onion and bell pepper in bacon grease until soft and pour all, including juices and fat, into the cooked peas.  Add Bay Leaf to peas and continue simmering.

Slice the sausage into rounds or chop if you prefer. In the same frying pan, lightly brown the sausage and add it, along with its juices and fats, to the pot of peas.

Simmer gently for 30 minutes or so. Continue to resist the urge to add salt, as the Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning has salt in it.

If everyone in your house likes spicy food, add the Tony Chachere's just as you would salt, until it tastes just right. If some people are wimps like me, you can wait and people can add the Tony Chachere's to their own bowl at the table. It won't affect the flavor to wait.

Fill each individual bowl at the stove for serving. Put about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of cooked white rice in a soup or cereal bowl and ladle about 1 & 1/2 cup of peas and liquid over the rice.

Serve with cornbread if you wish.

Do not be tempted to toss the rice in with the peas at any time in cooking or as leftovers. I now remember why I never make soups with rice - the rice falls apart, soaks up the liquid, and turns a lovely dish into a mess of gruel. Not good. So keep the rice in its own container. If there is some leftover, you can refrigerate, then bring it out to get to room temp while the peas are reheating. Pouring the boiling peas & liquid over the rice in each bowl will heat it nicely.

Like all stews, Hoppin John is even better the next day. You can add a little water while heating if it is too thick. It also freezes well - this is a great dish to make and freeze in meal-sized containers, easy to pull out and warm for a wholesome and fast supper during the busy work week.

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