These are Zipper Cream Peas, a variety of field pea or cowpeas, so called because they were traditionally fed only to the cows. But the cows were laughing all the way to the bank, I suspect. Because they are wonderful. Black-eyed peas have their place in the world, but there are many wonderful varieties of field peas to try and I aim to try as many as I can…for several reasons.
First, beans and peas are neat. They come in an abundant variety of colors and shapes and flavors. They are also one of the last remaining foodstuffs where you can search about for exotics and heirloom varieties and not get poor in the search. We love beans. Dry, canned, presoaked…whatever…we like them. I have favorites and I have not-so-favorites. But, our family is on a minor bean binge right now. Keep the jokes to yourself, thank you.
But they are so good for you, and, onto the second point, they are so darned cheap for the most part. This pot of beans cost about $18 total. And that is an extravagance because I bought pre-soaked peas, and more broth than is strictly necessary. My neighborhood grocery store had three varieties of pre-soaked “grown in Texas” field peas in the vegetable case and I couldn’t pass them up. They are called zipper cream peas because the folks who un-zip them just crack the end and zip the string up the seam and the pod opens up to reveal the zipper peas. I think this type is also called creamer peas, generically, likely because it has a creamy texture. And forgive me if I get lazy with my bean/pea science and use the names interchangeably. Shortcuts.
Third, beans and peas, have a hollowed place in American history and culture. They are tied inextricably to stories of the south, slavery, wars, poverty, migration, agriculture, and socio-economics. But today, they are just dinner. Having a taste for the southern foods, I like these cooked in butter and salt pork for flavor. I also cook them in broth. The potlikker (or soup, given how much I plan into the pot) is simply wonderful.
Because I am calling this “healthy” even with butter and salt pork, I have taken to throwing in a giant handful of chopped kale right at the end of cooking. The kale barely wilts and still has a little bite to it. A few shakes of Tabasco and I am in heaven. It is filling and has the body of a long simmered and loved-on dish. It is a perfect winter dinner. Kale has been around for ages, but given its current star-studded reputation and “it” status amongst greens, I feel like this dish resembles a great-grandmother and a toddler sitting on a park bench talking about ladybugs. These are old style peas cooked in a very traditional way, with a little freshness mixed in. The fact that you throw in the kale at the absolute last minute eliminates any timing issues. I like that. Simple. Simple.
If you can’t find (or find silly the notion of) pre-soaked beans, find some dried and soak them overnight in salted water. Or, throw them in a pot un-soaked and plan for a longer cooking time. Field peas are also a great farmers market find. You can find a local variety and get them fresh. Beans are done when they are done, so whatever the variety or type you choose, don’t be in a rush about it and just simmer them ’til they are happy. Bean lore and opinion run rampant…fascinating stuff really…about when to salt and when to soak and when to brine. There are also major variables like the age of the dried beans or peas you choose and the minerals in your tap water that truly do affect the toughness and cooking time of beans and peas. I just cook mine ‘til they are done. I may have to try the brining notion since I soak anyway, for other dried beans. But honestly, cook them ‘til they are done or ‘til you can’t stand it any longer and move on down the road. Besides which, since I start my beans with salt pork whenever possible, it sort of throws off any experiment about salt timing. And, I don’t see me giving up the salt pork any time soon. So, I’m just not engaging in the “when to salt” summit. But see the end of the post for some great links on that topic and some great posts about field pea history. And feel free to comment with your wisdom on cooking beans. The more ideas, the better.
|Zipper Cream Peas and Wilted Kale|| |
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ounces salt pork, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 (15 ounce) cans of low sodium chicken broth (4 cans for more liquid)
- 24 ounces pre-soaked creamer peas
- 2 to 3 packed cups chopped kale
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Place the butter in a heavy stock pot and allow it to melt on low to medium-low heat. Add the chopped salt pork to the butter and allow the pork fat to render slowly for at least 5 minutes. If the pork is browning quickly, reduce the heat.
- Increase the heat to medium and add the chopped onions. Saute the onions with the butter and salt pork until the onions are translucent and beginning to turn golden, about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the creamer peas and cook until the peas and liquid begins to bubble again. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow the peas to simmer until they are softened to your liking, about 1 to 1½ hours. Add the salt.
- When the peas are thoroughly cooked, turn off the heat and add the chopped kale to the peas. Stir the kale into the hot liquid and allow the kale to wilt slightly.
- Serve in bowls, accompanied by hot sauce.
If you start with dried beans and soak them yourself, you will need fewer beans to start with. But given that I don’t know the equivalent amount of dried creamer peas, I’m just going to advise you to buy a few extra cans of broth or add a little water if you end up with too many soaked beans. Leftovers are great, of course.
And if you want to look into ordering some cool beans: