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Deep dishes

Eat right on New Year's Day and you’ll be lucky the rest of the year

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Photo: Emily Flake, License: N/A

Turns out that a New Year’s tradition that many of us find familiar, Hoppin’ John, is a sort of good-luck superfood combining all three propitious categories and then some. It’s got the rice, abundant and swelling, with the (reasonably round, more or less coin-like) black-eyed peas, and it is often cooked with a hog jowl – fat meat equals fat bankroll – and served with money-green collards. Some cooks super-size the luck by tossing a shiny dime into the cooking pot; the person who gets it in his or her bowl has extra good fortune coming, possibly starting with the successful Heimlich maneuver performed by their tablemates. This one-pot dish of rice and legumes is an important indigenous staple in West Africa, and was imported to the U.S. along with the slave trade. The more you eat, the luckier you’re supposed to be – only, be sure to leave three peas on your plate: one each for romance, wealth and health. These leftovers supposedly ensure an abundance of each coming your way.

recipe:

Hoppin’ John

The old Southern saying goes, “Eat poor on New Year’s Day and you’ll eat rich the rest of the year. Rice for riches and peas for peace.” Hoppin’ John is supposed to be the first thing you eat in the New Year; since I’m often feeling, let’s just say, not so spiffy on the morning of Jan. 1, I recommend making the Hoppin’ John a day ahead of time. (Anyway, the longer it sits, the better it tastes.) Or try my shortcut recipe involving frozen black-eyed peas, which shaves a couple of hours off the cooking time without sacrificing flavor.

• 16-ounce package frozen black-eyed peas

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 green bell pepper, diced

• 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

• Smoked ham hock, meaty ham bone or 6

slices bacon

• 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (like Tony

Cachere’s)

• Stock (or water) – around 2 cups

• 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies

(reserve juice)

• 1 cup long-grain white rice

If using the bacon: In a deep pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon; reserve. Saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper and Cajun seasoning in the bacon drippings (or just use 2 tablespoons oil) until beginning to soften, three or four minutes. Stir in black-eyed peas and tomatoes, then add the ham hock or bacon and enough stock (or water) to barely cover everything. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. If using ham hock or bone, take it out now, remove meat and dice, and return to pot.

Turn flame back to medium-high and add rice along with reserved tomato juice plus enough water to make 2 cups. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low, cover and cook 15 minutes until rice is done. Taste and add salt if needed – between the Cajun seasoning and ham, it likely won’t. Crumble bacon on top, if you went the bacon route; sliced scallions are nice, too. Serve with plenty of hot sauce, cooked collards and corn bread for a happy New Year (or at least a happy belly).

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