Hop to it, baby


A bowl of Hoppin' John and collard greens is a fine way to start 2009.

A bowl of Hoppin' John and collard greens is a fine way to start 2009.

I’ve been in transition for some time now, but things started to fall into place when my moving pod of belongings arrived from Alabama on New Year’s Eve. As we unloaded box after box of kitchen gear, I thought, “Ah, now I can make this. I can make that.”

To pay homage to my former home, and because, hell, we all could use some good luck going into 2009, I decided to make a pot of Hoppin’ John. The Southern Low Country dish is a simple melange of black-eyed peas, rice, tomatoes, and some kind of pork (a ham hock, sausage, bacon, whatever), and it’s supposed to bring good luck to those who partake on New Year’s Day.

For the most luck, you should eat a bowl of the stuff at the stroke of midnight. We were at a party in  a penthouse condo overlooking Marina del Rey at midnight, so I sought my luck in a lychee martini. That meant we had our Hoppin’ John at the end of New Year’s Day, so we may only acquire a little luck. I’ll take it. In any case, I figured a pot of Hoppin’ John and the traditional side of collard greens would have  some curative benefits for my mate, who was feeling a tad delicate after the previous evening’s festivities.

Of course, Hoppin’ John’s good-luck powers are well known beyond the South, but I still figured there’d be no problem finding the ingredients at Whole Foods in Venice on New Year’s afternoon. That’s where my luck started to waver. When I approached the bulk bean bins, I was dismayed to find  the dried black-eyed peas bin empty. Not a lone pea to be found. Uh, oh, a whole lot of folks in the Marina and Venice were eating our good luck. Not to worry, I assumed there must be frozen or canned or some kind of black-eyed pea elsewhere in this vast food temple. 

The last two cans of black-eyed peas in the Venice Whole Foods. Good thing I already had a bag of popcorn rice.

My prize: The last two cans of black-eyed peas in the Venice Whole Foods. Good thing I already had a bag of popcorn rice.

Um, not really. No peas in the frozen section. No packaged dried peas, either. Canned peas were starting to sound really, really good at that point. Of course, the shelf space for canned black-eyed peas was empty. I fished around in the dark recesses of the shelf and came up with The Last Two Cans of Black-Eyed Peas. Eureka!

I had better luck finding  collards in the produce section. I picked up two  gorgeous bunches with giant, fresh, green leaves that bode well for prosperity in the new year. At the very least, we’d get a ton of antioxidants.

So, it was in a somewhat triumphant mood that I returned home to make a pot of Hoppin’ John and a side of collard greens.

Hoppin’ John from a Can

I adapted this recipe from Matt Lee and Ted Lee’s version for The New York Times. Canned beans may not have been my first choice, but since I didn’t have to soak dried beans, this New Year’s Day specialty came together quickly. Louisiana popcorn rice is an aromatic long-grain variety that’s a Cajun speciality; it actually smells liked popped corn. You can use any type of long-grain rice. I had some lovely Black Forest bacon on hand, but you could substitute any bacon, a more-traditional ham hock, or even sausage. Serve with hot sauce–Tabasco would be a natural, but I love the bright flavor of Asian-style sriracha.

3 thick-cut slices bacon, chopped

1 cup chopped onion

2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

3 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teapoon cayenne

6 canned whole peeled tomatoes

11/2 cups Louisiana popcorn rice (or any long-grain rice)

Hot sauce (optional) 

1. Cook bacon over medium heat in a large saucepan for 3 minutes, or until the bacon renders its fat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Add peas, broth, salt, and peppers;. Use kitchen shears to cut up the tomatoes in a bowl or measuring cup; add tomatoes to the pan. Bring to a boil; add rice. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve with hot sauce. Yields 6 servings.

Quick Collards

Traditionally, collards are cooked with pork fat and boiled. For an old-school version, try Southern Living‘s Country-Style Collards. Since my Hoppin’ John was coming together quickly, I opted to chiffonade my collards and saute them. This will look like an ungodly amount greens once you have them trimmed and sliced, but it cooks down, much like spinach. I find it’s easiest to wash the greens in a colander or salad spinner after they’ve been trimmed and sliced .

1 pound fresh collard greens

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1. Trim the center ribs from the collard leaves. Stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar; thinly slice (chiffonade).

2. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add a large handful of collards to pan; cook until collards wilt. Repeat with remaining collards until all of them are in the pan. Stir in salt and peppers; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth; cook 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates and collards are tender. Yields 4-6 servings.




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