Recipes for Good Luck: Greens, Cornbread and Hoppin’ John Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
We Southerners are a superstitious lot.
Beyond not stepping on sidewalk cracks or avoiding black cats, we’ll do almost anything to ensure good luck: carrying around acorns in our pockets, throwing spilled salt over our left shoulders, saying “bread-and-butter” if we have to quit holding hands. If some of these rituals don’t sound familiar, I can all but guarantee good Southerners know about New Year’s Day food traditions and will testify to their powers.
Growing up in Atlanta, my parents had friends who held a massive 12-hour fete each New Year’s Day. Invitations arrived in early December and made note of every bowl game kickoff; we timed our arrival by team allegiance. Stepping in from the cold, and no matter what time we arrived, the house was abuzz with revelry and conviviality. It felt like there was food in every room of the house and the menu always included whole suckling pig, splayed out for all to see and eat from. As a child, I schemed about hosting similar parties when I grew up. I swore to replicate these annual feasts for my own coterie of friends.
Fast-forward a couple decades and I now recognize what an undertaking that party truly was.
To my way of thinking, a good New Year’s day menu provides a little something for everyone: simple fare that can be prepared without a lot of fuss, perhaps inexpensive so as to feed a crowd, substantial enough for those who might have overindulged the night before. While I still relish that open house feel on New Year’s Day, my menu is decidedly more simple.
This year, I plan to make the Lee Bros. version of Hoppin’ John, substituting black-eyed peas for the field peas they originally called for. In their 2006 Southern Cookbook, the brothers note, “Hoppin’ John enthusiasm bubbles over around the first of January, because the dish is believed to bring good luck in the New Year. We get excited about hoppin’ John all year long. In fact, during times of stress, or on mornings after a late party, we seem to crave it. Nutritionists tell us that’s because peas and rice mixed together contain all fourteen amino acids our bodies need to form a complete protein.” And I just think it tastes delicious.
In place of the traditional collard greens signifying money, I make braised cabbage with mustard and cream. Starting this dish with a little bacon fat adds to the distinctly Southern-appeal. There is always pork for the entrée but that can mean anything from plain broiled ham slices to fancy grilled whole pork tenderloins. I suppose it all depends on the weather and how flush we are feeling after Christmas.
Cornbread cooked in a cast-iron skillet fills the house with a toasty comforting smell and I have found I am partial to one by Edible Piedmont publisher, Fred Thompson. He calls his Fancy Cornbread or Cornbread for Yankees. I just call it downright tasty.
All of these recipes are easily doubled (or tripled, should you be so lucky) to feed a crowd. Feel free to make variations, to suit your own New Year’s traditions. Just promise you’ll keep the one constant: being surrounded by friends and well-wishers. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
New Year’s Day Menu
The Lee Bros. Hoppin’ John
Time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus soaking time
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, picked clean
3 ounces bacon (2 to 3 thick slices)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (¾ cup)
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ cups long-grain rice
1) Rinse the dried peas in a strainer, then put them in a medium bowl. Pour in enough fresh water to cover by an inch or more, and soak for 3 hours.
2) In a 4-quart pot, fry the bacon slices over medium heat, flipping occasionally, until most of the fat has rendered out and the bacon is beginning to crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Eat the bacon on the spot or reserve for another use. Add the oil and onion, and cook until the onion is softening and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and the red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.
3) Drain the peas, add them to the pot, and boil gently over medium to medium-high heat, uncovered, until they are tender but still have some bite, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the rice to the pot, stir once, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until most of the broth has been absorbed but the rice and peas appear very moist.
4) Remove the pot from the heat and allow the hoppin’ John to steam, covered, until all the liquid appears to have been absorbed, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.
5) Fluff the hoppin’ John with a fork, transfer to a serving dish, and serve immediately.
Cabbage in a Creole Mustard Cream Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium head of cabbage, finely shredded
¾ cup low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Creole mustard (like Zatarain’s)
salt and pepper
1) In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2) Add the shredded cabbage and chicken stock; stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and steam until the cabbage is wilted, about 20 minutes.
3) Add the cream, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and heat until warmed through. Serve immediately.
Fancy Cornbread or Cornbread for Yankees
From Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides: 250 Dishes That Really Make the Plate. Copyright © 2012 by Fred Thompson. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. www.uncpress.unc.edu
Serves 6 to 8
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour, preferably soft wheat all-purpose flour
1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tablsepoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1) Preheat oven to 425*F.
2) Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan
3) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, beat together the milk and eggs until they foam. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture. Mix until just combined. Don’t overmix, and expect the batter to be lumpy. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20- 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out dry. Let cool slightly and invert onto a plate. Cut into whatever portion sizes you desire.
Southern food and lifestyle writer Christiana Roussel lives in Birmingham, Alabama. When not enjoying the occasional biscuit festival or bourbon tasting, there are four chickens, three dogs, two children and one husband who keep her very busy.
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