January: Lookin' for Luck? Try Hoppin' John

Filed under: Mealtime, Activities: Teens, Family Time

Our family celebrated the holidays recently in the north Mississippi town of Holly Springs, and as the New Year approached, I happened upon a stash of Southern cookbooks that helped rekindle memories of my upbringing in this lovely antebellum town. It's a place where local food tends to be buttered, deep-fried or drenched in the "pot likker" of a salty, smoky ham hock.

So, with the New Year at hand, there was one dish that our family had to have on the menu: Hoppin' John. This quintessentially Southern concoction is a ham-hock-infused combination of black-eyed peas and rice, typically eaten with cooked greens and cornbread, all in the name of securing good luck for the New Year.

Hoppin John

Good food = good luck? Credit: Deborah Kloha

Now, truth be told, we're not big believers in luck, but we do love our traditions -- particularly those that remind us of who and where we've been over the years. And Hoppin' John does just that for many families who want to start off the new year with savory, simple fare -- the type that their forebears may also have eaten as they celebrated the start of a brand-new 12-month cycle.

Our daughter, Anna, who is my cooking partner in crime, is not usually a rice-and-beans (or peas) fan, but she, too, appreciates the culture of food and the sense of place it conjures. With that in mind, she dove into the prep work of quick-soaking and rinsing dried peas, trimming greens and keeping a watchful eye over the simmering pot of meat and vegetables. And as we occasionally lifted the lid to see how things were stewing -- OK, there were a few teen breaks for Facebook and texting -- we got to talk over our thoughts on the seasonings (she wanted less garlic) and our questions about how Hoppin' John got its name.

We speculated plenty, but never answered the question of who this Hoppin' John guy was, but what good luck we had to have found a few hours this month to spend some time together in the kitchen, in the shared pursuit of meal preparation.

Hoppin John

Get your ingredients prepped before you start cooking. Credit: Deborah Kloha

Hoppin' John With Greens from KitchenDaily

Ingredients:
1 bag (16 oz.) dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
2 smoked ham hocks, split
2 cups chopped onions
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 lbs kale, collard, or turnip greens, rinsed, tough stems removed, leaves cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
2 t. salt
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice

Directions:
To rehydrate the dried peas before cooking, use one of the following methods. Quick soak: Put peas in a large pot with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse. Long soak: Put peas in a bowl with cold water to cover by 2 inches. Let stand at room temperature at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse.

Put ham hocks, 8 cups water, the onions, garlic, bay leaves, and black and red pepper in a heavy 5-quart pot. Bring to a boil; skim off and discard foam from top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in soaked peas, the greens and salt. Simmer, uncovered, 1 hour 15 minutes or until meat and peas are tender. Remove bay leaves and discard. Remove ham hocks and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile ladle 2 cups "pot likker" (cooking liquid) into a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir in rice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Remove meat from ham hocks. Cut or shred into very small pieces. Add meat and rice to pot with peas. If mixture is soupy, continue cooking until liquid is absorbed, but mixture isn't dry. (Cool, cover and refrigerate at this point if making ahead.)

To serve: Add up to 2 cups water (rice and peas will continue to absorb liquid). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 8 to 10 minutes.

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