The cold weather came just in time.
For about a month now — since Leah Koenig’s The Jewish Cookbook landed on my desk — I’d been planning on trying a new recipe for Rosh Hashanah. The recipe ticked the key boxes, easy and holiday related.
While not the most popular of the symbolic foods, black-eyed peas are eaten on Rosh Hashanah as a sign of good luck. The source is, like many of the symbolic foods, etymological. The Aramaic word for black-eyed peas is ruvia, which means many or increasing. The blessing recited before eating the black-eyed peas is: “May it be your will Eternal G-d that our merits increase,” again, ruvia relating to increasing.
In an interesting twist, eating black-eyed peas aren’t only a Jewish good luck symbol. Southerners also eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day (Jan. 1), although “Hoppin’ John” as it’s called is cooked with pork, so not quite Jewish! However, one of the theories of origins of this tradition is that it was introduced by Spanish-Portuguese Jews who moved to what is now the southern US starting in the 17th century. (The more typical reason provided is that during the Civil War, when food was scarce, animal fodder — which black-eyed peas were — became human fodder.)
Koenig’s book includes a recipe for a black-eyed pea stew that I could quickly tell would be both easy to prepare and flavorsome. It’s the kind of recipe where nearly all the ingredients are kitchen staples. And using canned black-eyed peas instead of cooking from dry goes a long way to increasing the “easy to prepare” quotient.
A classic mirepoix is prepared, to which tomatoes, tomato paste and a variety of spices are added. The beans are then slowly cooked in this warm tomato-y broth, until you have the ideal autumn stew. The whole thing takes less than 45 minutes to prepare (again, provided one is using canned instead of dried beans).
Here’s where the weather played its part. Had Rosh Hashanah been earlier this year, this dish wouldn’t have been right for 90-degree temperatures. But 40-50 degrees? Perfect. No complaints from me.
I tried this served with rice, as well as toasted flatbread. Both were good, but as the rice I used was a West African Jollof rice dish, itself cooked in a tomato broth, it was the perfect accompaniment.
The symbolism may not come in to play for Sukkot, but I can’t think of a better dish for a cold night in the sukkah.
Black-Eyed Pea Stew
- 2 cups dried black-eyed peas
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 cup 2 fl. oz. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 can 14 1/2 oz. diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 3 1/2 cups 28 fl oz. vegetable stock, plus more as needed
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
- Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for serving
In a large bowl, combine the black-eyed peas (beans), baking soda, and water to cover by about 2 inches. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and soak peas for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, and drain again.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 8–10 minutes. Add the cumin, onion powder, sugar, smoked paprika, ginger and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1–2 minutes.
Stir in the diced tomatoes with their juice and the tomato paste (purée). Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the drained peas, stock, salt and black pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender and creamy, 1 1/2–2 hours. If the pot begins to look dry during cooking, add more stock, 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz.) at a time. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if desired.
Remove the pan from the heat and let rest for about 10 minutes. Serve hot or warm, drizzled with more oil and sprinkled with chopped cilantro.
Please note: This recipe was tested using 2 cans (14.5 oz. each) of drained and rinsed black-eyed peas instead of cooking them from dried. Onion powder was omitted as none was on hand; extra celery and celery leaf were substituted.