Good Luck and Folding Money. I like lucky food. Eat collard greens for folding money and black eyed peas for good luck. Easy enough, right? Not really. I’ve never liked black eyed peas. I have vivid memories of eating New Years’ meals at my Grandma Alma’s. Bless her heart, cooking was not her strong suit and merely heating Mrs. Baird’s dinner rolls often led to burnt rocks. The upside you ask? Rock hard biscuits can easily be hollowed out. And when you have been banished to folding table hell, also known as the “kids table” you can stuff all your black eyed peas into the hollow roll and put the little crust door back on and no grown up is the wiser. Funny how no grown up has ever said, ”you are not getting up ’til you eat that bread!”
I have karma issues.
But, I digress. I don’t know any kids who LOVE greens and black eyed peas. But this year I decided I wanted to be the grown up who loves greens and black eyed peas. I want to love lucky food…and now I do. The secret, you ask…SALT PORK. Salt pork is something that I have rolled right on by at the grocery store for years. It is like bacon, but instead of being smoked or otherwise cured, it is cured in salt. And it is usually very fatty. And it is a friend to all foods. Sweet Heaven above, does it ever transform greens and Hoppin’ John into a feast of decades past. So while you toast the new year and consider all the new adventures you want to have and all of the hopeful wishes you have for the year to come, eat something auspicious and eat it the way it is meant to be eaten.
As I researched how to go about this meal, I read this great article from Saveur Magazine. As I’ve said, Saveur really celebrates food. I like a lot of food magazines, and I cook more from other magazines, but I LOVE reading Saveur. Here, they do a short homage to the food of the New Year, but in it they also reference a fun cookbook that you should know about. A short time ago my friend Allison Montesi, a lovely woman and a neighbor of my mom’s, sent me a copy Charleston Receipts, purportedly the oldest continually printed Junior League cookbook in America. It is a really fun book and has all manner of old Southern goodness in it. It is fun to read. And if you love regional cookbooks and Junior League cookbooks, you should pick one up one of these days…just because. Like Saveur, there are cookbooks I cook from more, but I have thoroughly enjoyed leafing through Charleston Receipts and it is a great reference guide and starting point for some great foods, such as Hoppin’ John. So put the book on your “someday” list and read the Saveur article, because it is good. The Hoppin’ John recipe that I used primarily is from Cook’s Illustrated American Classics. The reason I returned to it over and over in my search is because it uses frozen peas (which I like a lot) and because it is baked for most of the cooking time. And, did I mention that I need to make a lot of rice dishes because my husband and kids bought me a 20 pound bag of Basmati rice for Christmas?
I’m putting all three of these recipes together because they go together. This might not be my forever cornbread, but it is pretty great. And, when cooked in a cast iron skillet, it develops a nice little crispy edge. Get out some butter to soften because you will be slathering this cornbread in soft butter. This feeds 5 people generously with leftovers of the Hoppin’ John. If you really love greens you might consider doubling the greens recipe.
Slice the greens into ½ inch strips. This task is made easier if you roll up the leaves like a big cigar and then slice across it. Melt the butter in a big Dutch oven over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the salt pork and fry it in the butter until it begins to lightly brown. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 additional seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Put all of the greens in on top and mix them around carefully so that they all get good and buttery. Pour in chicken broth until the greens are just covered. Put a lid on the pot and simmer the greens until they are tender. This will take a minimum of an hour and 15 minutes. Under-cooked collard greens are NOT good.
Hoppin’ John (informed by Charleston Receipts and Cooks Illustrated American Classics)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup diced cooked ham
4 slices of salt pork, cut into chunks
3 cloves minced garlic
1-½ cups long grain rice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ to ½ cup finely chopped white onion
2 cups low sodium chicken broth (plus some for halfway through cooking)
15 ounces frozen black eyed peas
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-½” x 11” baking dish. In a big skillet, heat the oil and add the ham and salt pork and cook for about 6 minutes until the fat is rendering nicely. Remove the ham and pork to a plate. Add the onion to the skillet and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
Stir in the rice, thyme and red pepper flakes. Stir thoroughly so that all of the rice is coated with oil, or for about 1 minute. Remove the rice to the baking dish and return the skillet to the stove. Over medium heat, add the 2 cups of chicken stock to the skillet and bring it to a boil, scraping up all of the good bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the frozen peas and ham to the skillet. (I did not add the salt pork back for the finished dish, but you can make that call for yourself). Bring the pea mixture to a boil and then carefully pour it into the baking dish with the rice. Stir to combine.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Check the rice and if it appears dry add a little more chicken broth. Re-cover and return to the oven until the rice is completely tender, about 20 to 25 minutes longer.
Remove the dish from the oven and stir in the chopped parsley. Re-cover the dish and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
This is a very basic Hoppin’ John. Feel free to spice it up, and definitely have some Tabasco sauce at the ready.
Cornbread (adapted from a Land ‘O Lakes recipe)
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted plus more for buttering the skillet
3 Tablespoons sugar
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
¾ of a can of creamed corn
1 cup all purpose flour
⅔ cup yellow cornmeal
1-½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and butter a 10” cast iron skillet (measured across the bottom).
Whisk together the butter and sugar until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Add the sour cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Add the creamed corn and stir until thoroughly combined.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
Pour the batter into the cast iron skillet and bake for approximately 27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Note: Because it is not sound to throw one’s grandmother under the culinary bus as I have, let me simply add that she had many gifts including that she was a good landscape painter, an organ player, and she always had cold grape juice in her refrigerator.
Happy New Year, friends. I sincerely appreciate that you have spent even one moment of your precious lives with me in my kitchen.