No one is sure where Hoppin’ John black-eyed peas originated. Some believe the recipe may have come from Louisiana and the French Creole name for pigeon peas, which are similar to black-eyed peas. The French Creole term for pigeon peas is “pois a pigeon,” which is pronounced “pwah peeJon.”
This explanation makes great sense to me. In my own family, my grandmother always made a recipe called “John Bazetti,” a goulash dish made in a skillet. As an adult, I discovered an almost identical casserole dish, called “Johnny Marzetti.” It seems obvious to me that my grandmother’s recipe evolved from Johnny Marzetti. So recipe names do evolve and get pidginized (pun!).
Wherever it came from, Hoppin’ John has become an American South/Cajun tradition, eaten for good luck and prosperity on New Year’s Day. Each pea is supposed to represent coins when eaten with greens, representing paper currency. Adding stewed tomatoes to the recipe is said to represent health and wealth. Cornbread eaten alongside the Hoppin’ John represents gold currency. And here I was just eating plain ol’ black-eyed peas for luck all these years!
You might already be familiar with the Cajun holy trinity: celery, bell pepper, and onion. These three vegetables are the base for many Cajun recipes, and Hoppin’ John is no different. Cajun and Creole dishes like etouffee, gumbo, and jambalaya all start from this base.
I had never seen freshly shelled black-eyed peas in the grocery store. This year, Mr. Key Lime found some, so we grabbed them to try. The fresh peas have been pre-soaked, so you can skip that step. They keep in the fridge until you are ready to use them, within a few days. You could also use canned black-eyed peas with this recipe. The cooking time will be shortened, since the beans only need to heat up and not to actually cook.
I have been trying this new “excess water” method for cooking rice, which is like cooking pasta. Try cooking your brown rice this way: put 10 cups of water in your dutch oven or soup pot for cooking two cups of rice. Boil the water, then add the rice. Let the rice cook until tender, then simply drain the rice in a colander.* It’s so much easier! The rice doesn’t get gummy or sticky, and it doesn’t stick to the bottom of your pan if it overcooks. If you try this method, just be sure the holes in your colander are smaller than the grains of rice. Otherwise, hello, sink full of rice!
This vegan version of Hoppin’ John (from Food52) is meatless and made with vegetable broth – a lighter, healthier way to increase your luck. Oh, and it’s also a very tasty meal to start your new year! We ate ours with this Easy Vegan Cornbread.
*Update: I just read on the Celiac Disease Foundation website, if you cook your rice using the above “excess water” method, you can remove 50% of the arsenic from the rice. That’s a good reason to change cooking methods.
GLUTEN FREE OPTION: This recipe can be made gluten free as long as your paprika, thyme, cayenne pepper, and vegetable broth are all gluten free.