Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Luck and Wealth in the New Year

For me, January 1 is about endless bowl games, half-hearted promises to clean the house, a mental fog earned by staying up as late as possible the night before, and the quintessential Southern New Year’s meal – black eyed peas, smothered cabbage, corn bread and a bit of ham. Eat all this and you will not only be lulled into a fairly sizable food coma, but part of a tradition that is said to bring any eater wealth (that's where the cabbage comes in) and good luck (that's the black-eyed peas).

When I was a little girl, I remember how my mother used to have the peas and cabbage simmering on the stove by the end of lunchtime, guaranteeing that for the rest of the day my sister and I would dread the thought of eating vegetables slow-cooked in pork for dinner. Mom always cautioned us against turning our noses up at her handiwork; if we didn’t eat this, she said we’d have a pretty miserable year.

“Me? I’m not taking any chances,” she’d say, taste-testing a spoonful of black eyed peas before sprinkling a bit more salt into the pot. Full of youthful bravado, my sister and I decided we would take every chance possible to avoid what seemed to be a none-too-appetizing meal.

As I grew older and, one would hope, wiser, I decided that a little bit of ritual never hurt anyone, and in doing so, I came to enjoy what generations of people in my family have eaten on January 1. Though I failed to cook these dishes last year (and 2007 was about as unlucky as it gets), I made a point of doing it yesterday, serving myself a big heaping plate of this salty, comforting goodness.

And I have to say: I’m already feeling pretty lucky, thank you very much.

Here’s what you’ll need to feel lucky too:
1 package of cornbread mix, or ready-made cornbread
1 baked ham or slices of country ham

for the cabbage and black-eyed peas
¼ cup of vegetable oil
½ package of diced cooked bacon, smoked ham or sausage (preferably andouille, if you can find it)
2 onions, diced
1 head of cabbage, cored and chopped
chopped garlic to taste
1 pound of black eyed peas
1 cup of chopped green onions
cooked long grain rice
black pepper
cayenne pepper

Smothered Cabbage
1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat, then add ½ of the cooked bacon, onion and garlic. Stir until the onions are translucent.
2. Add the cabbage to the pot, and up to three cups of water. Stir the mixture, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for a half hour.
3. Uncover the pot and season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add ½ cup of chopped green onions before covering the pot and allowing it to cook for another 30 minutes or until fork tender.

Black-Eyed Peas
1. Combine the peas, onions, garlic, 1 quart of water, salt, black pepper, Tabasco and diced bacon in a large heavy pot. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low until the peas are tender, at least 45 minutes.
2. Stir in parsley and ½ cup of green onions and cook about five more minutes.
3. Serve hot over white rice. Here’s what it looks like on a plate, piled high with cabbage, cornbread and country ham:

No comments: