Recipe: Black-Eyed Pea Stew
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Nancie McDermott
Oct 16, 2015
(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

I've loved black-eyed peas since I was very small. Their texture delights me — smooth and plump outside, but creamy inside, endowing their broth with a richness even though each pea holds its shape, distinctly marked with that elegant eye. I disliked butterbeans and limas, and found English peas pretty but not worthy of attention unless they were filling the mashed potatoe mountain we called a bird's nest. Now I love all three of these fellow legumes, but black-eyed peas remain my favorite.

In my Southern childhood, they were among the chorus of side dishes — a bowl passed around with the green beans, candied yams, coleslaw, stewed tomatoes, and squash casserole. Black-eyed peas were a supporting player, never the star. Even in hoppin' john, the popular dish with lowcountry roots, black-eyed peas are paired with rice, co-starring but still without top billing.

When my friend Heather Watkins-Jones shared this family favorite with me a few years back, I knew I would love it before I ever reached for a cooking pot. This dish puts my childhood favorite in the starring role, with tomatoes enriching and coloring the broth, and ham hocks boosting it to main-dish status. To me this dish epitomizes the home-cooking tradition of turning a little into a lot.

Dried field peas can be had for a song, keep indefinitely on the pantry shelf, and need only a little attention to get them started on the road to a satisfying low-and-slow meal. Add the fact that its flavor deepens overnight, and you have every reason to put this dish into your repertoire.

Tester's Notes

As this stew was cooking, my husband came by and asked what was smelling so good, and I had to agree. Pork, onions, garlic, stock, and earthy black-eyed peas slowly cook together into a homey, comforting stew. All that was needed to complete dinner was a side of cornbread!

- Christine, October 2015

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Black-Eyed Pea Stew

Serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 1/4 pounds smoked ham hocks or hot Italian sausage
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 (14-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken stock
1 pound dried black-eyed peas
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a bit of onion sizzles at once. Add the onions and cook until they are fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ham hocks and garlic, turn the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring often so the onions soften and wilt without much browning.

Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes more. Add the stock, black-eyed peas, and 3 cups water. Increase the heat to bring everything to a boil, and stir well. Add the salt and pepper and adjust the heat to maintain a lively simmer.

Cover partially and cook, stirring now and then, until the peas are tender, about 2 hours. Remove the ham hocks and set them out on a plate until they are cool enough to handle. Remove the meat, chop it finely, and return it to the pot. Stir well. Serve the stew hot or warm.

Recipe Notes

  • Use cooked canned or frozen black-eyed peas instead of dried peas for this stew. One pound dried beans equals about 6 cups cooked beans.
  • For canned beans, rinse them gently but well before adding to the pot in step 2. For frozen, add them directly to the pot in step 2; no need to thaw them first. Reduce the cooking time to about 45 minutes and then continue with the recipe.

Reprinted with permission from Southern Soups & Stews: More Than 75 Recipes from Burgoo and Gumbo to Etouffée and Fricassee by Nancie McDermott, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Chronicle Books.

(Image credit: Leigh Beisch)

Find Nancie's Book:

Southern Soups & Stews: More Than 75 Recipes from Burgoo and Gumbo to Etouffée and Fricassee by Nancie McDermott

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