Thursday, January 3, 2019

Black-eyed Peas with Kale, Kielbasa & Rice

Even though I have ancestral roots in the south, I did not grow up eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I was an adult before I heard that, according to Southern tradition, a meal of Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice), greens, ham/smoked pork and cornbread on New Year’s Day was supposed to bring good luck during the year to come.  Even after I heard about it…and even though I love Southern peas (and had cooked Hoppin’ John during my restaurant days)…I never made a move to prepare this traditional meal on the first day of the year. I guess I’m just not very superstitious. But I do like good food.  So this year, when I discovered that I just happened to have all of the components of this traditional meal on hand, I decided to participate in the tradition (I can always appreciate a tasty food tradition).    


Black-eyed peas are basically the same pea as my beloved pink-eyed, purple hull pea that I get every summer at the farmer’s market.  Since I freeze some of these every year, I have never had any reason to purchase dried black-eyed peas.  But when I was at the last farmers’ market before Christmas, I saw that one of the growers had brought dried black-eyed peas (in anticipation of New Year’s demand, no doubt), so I grabbed a bag.  I knew they would be better than anything I could get at the store.  And I’m sure it crossed my mind that maybe…just maybe…this would be the year I would eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

As I was planning my meal for the first day of the year, it occurred to me that I had everything on hand to make a pretty fine meal out of my spontaneous purchase. I always keep rice in my pantry (so I could have made a basic dish of Hoppin’ John).  But at the same market when I purchased the peas I had also picked up a lovely bunch of Tuscan kale (which, when fresh, stores for an amazingly long time, covered with a towel and sealed inside a Tupperware container).  I had also purchased Kielbasa from a local grower at this same market earlier in the month.  If I had had nothing else but onions and garlic in my kitchen, I would have had the makings of a fine meal.

But as I thought about what kind of dish I wanted to make with these items I thought a little tomato (not too much) would be nice.  I could of course have opened a can and used part of it, but last fall I decided to experiment with freezing whole/unprocessed tomatoes from the market (I just didn’t have the time to make them into sauce).  I had read that all you needed to do in preparation for the freezer was core them and put them in freezer bags or air-tight containers.  Then, when you wanted to use them, just take out the number that you need and thaw them…



the skins would slip off and the flesh, while having a distinctively unpromising look, would be usable just like fresh tomato pulp for cooking. 



I’m happy to report that this process worked beautifully!  The flesh didn’t even look as unappetizing as I had assumed it would.  The thawing tomatoes did however produce a ton of liquid, so thawing on a plate is a must.  Also, when you chop them up, make sure you scrape up and use all the liquid.  I will be freezing tomatoes like this every fall from now on.  (If you didn’t happen to freeze any tomatoes last fall, but you do have a local winter farmer’s market, one of the growers may have frozen tomatoes for sale.  I know there is a grower who does this at my market.)

My final dish was delicious…simple and satisfying (after a season of complex tastes)…and oh-so warming on what turned out to be a bone-chilling first day of the year.  I have no illusions that consuming it will bring me luck.  But having a dish like this in my repertoire for the coldest and darkest days of the year will bring sustenance and comfort…making me more able to be about the business of living (with all of its ups and downs). 

Happy New Year.

  
Black-eyed Peas with Kale, Kielbasa & Rice

For local (Kansas City) followers, you can find the list of where I purchased my ingredients on my Brookside Farmers' Market page.

1 1/3 c. (1/2 lb.) black-eyed peas, soaked over-night
4 T. olive oil, divided (plus more as needed)
2 or 3 well-branched sprig of thyme
8 oz. Kielbasa (or other garlic sausage), sliced cross-wise 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick—see notes if your sausage is not pre-cooked
1 large onion, finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/8 t. cayenne (or 1/4 t. chipotle chili powder)—add more or less to taste
1 c. chopped peeled tomatoes (use canned or 8 oz. fresh—see text for instructions)
1 bunch Tuscan kale, leaves stripped (discard the stems—you should have 3 1/2 to 4 oz. trimmed greens) and cut cross-wise into 1 1/2-inch wide ribbons and thoroughly rinsed
1 c. chicken stock/broth or water
3/4 c. Basmati (or other long grain rice), cooked as you prefer (see notes)
Minced green onions (white and green portions), for garnish
Hot sauce, optional
Cornbread, optional

Drain and rinse the peas. Place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface. Add 2 T. of olive oil and the thyme. Cook the peas at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until they are tender. Or, place the soaked, drained peas in a shallow gratin or baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and add the thyme. Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil. Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender. Depending on your source and the freshness of the peas, they will take anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours to cook. Add salt to taste when they are half cooked.  They may be cooked ahead.  Because of the unpredictability of the cooking time, it might be best to cook them in the morning (or the day before).  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid.

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven set over moderate heat.  Brown the sliced sausages.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate and set aside.  Add the onion and garlic along with a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until they are tender and translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the cayenne and cook for another minute or two.  Add the tomatoes and cook until reduced and thick.  Add the greens along with a good pinch of salt and cook until they begin to collapse.  Add the chicken stock, cover the pot and simmer until the greens are tender (about 20 to 30 minutes). Taste and salt as necessary.

Remove the sprigs of thyme and add the peas, along with their liquid, to the greens.  Add the sausage (scraping the plate well to get all the fat and juices).  I think this dish is all about the beans, greens and sausages, but if you want it to be more brothy (or if the beans, greens and sausages aren’t moving freely in the pot), add hot water (or stock) to obtain the ratio of liquids to solids that you prefer.  Simmer gently for a few moments to allow the flavors to blend.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne.

Serve by placing a large spoonful of rice at the edge of each bowl, followed by some of the beans and greens.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and scatter the scallions over all.  Serve, passing warm cornbread and hot sauce if you like.  Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetites.

Notes:  
  • The Kielbasa I used when I made this was from a local grower.  Unlike most commercially available Kielbasa, it was fresh (not smoked or pre-cooked).  Since most people using this recipe will have access to the commercial, pre-cooked varieties, I have written the recipe for that style of sausage.  If, however, you have a fresh sausage, this is how you should proceed:  Place the sausages in a shallow pan and cover with cold water.  Bring the water, slowly (over a moderate flame), to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer gently until the sausages feel firm and springy to the touch—about 6 to 8 minutes.  Let the sausages cool in the cooking liquid.  Lift out and chill until ready to use.  Don’t throw the poaching liquid out!—use this to cook the black-eyed peas (supplementing as necessary with plain water so the peas are covered by an inch or two of liquid).  When you are ready to continue with the recipe, brown the whole sausage links in the pot in which the onions and greens will be cooked.  Lift them out and let cool before slicing into 1/4-inch thick rounds. 
  • You may cook or steam the rice however you prefer.  My preferred method is as follows:  Place the rice in a heavy bottomed sauce pan (for 3/4 cup a 2- to 3-quart size is fine).  Add a cup and a half of water along with a good pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil or pat of butter (about 2 t.).  Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Allow the rice to boil (undisturbed) rapidly until most of the water has evaporated (if you tilt the pan, you shouldn't see any water) and the surface of the rice is covered with steam holes.  Cover the pan.  If you have an electric stove, transfer the pan to a burner set at the lowest setting.  If you have a gas stove, simply reduce the heat to the lowest setting.  Allow the rice to steam for 12 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit (covered) for another 5 minutes.  Uncover and fluff. 

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