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.
Serve this meal with:
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
Black-Eyed Pea Stew
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.
- 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.