A Recipe for Good Luck: Black-eyed Pea Cakes with Collard Greens and Sweet Potatoes

black-eyed pea cakes

Black-eyed peas grace our New Year’s table every year. Black-eyed peas and collard greens, too.  Not only do I enjoy a particular fondness of these hallmarks of traditional southern cooking, I love myth and superstition and ritual.  They promise good fortune, you see, and who am I to argue with that sort of age-old wisdom? I cling to old things, myth and ritual.  And, for what it’s worth, I never sweep on New Year’s Day either, lest I sweep all our luck straight out the door.

This year we’ll serve Black-eyed Pea Cakes – blended with collards and sweet potatoes, then spiked with cayenne pepper and smoked paprika.  I like them wrapped in bacon and served with a simple mayonnaise or with leftover gravy as the lean Black-eyed Pea Cakes want a little creaminess.

If the snow keeps up, and it looks like it might, we’ll pack up the cakes with a thermos full of hot apple cider and head outside toward the river to play in knee-deep snow.

Black-eyed Peas

Native to West Africa, black-eyed peas traveled across the globe to Asia and to the southern United States.  Before soy became ubiquitous, black-eyed peas provided fodder for animals to supplement what they would receive at pasture.  While pulses have been considered lucky foods, it was at about the time of the civil war that the humble black-eyed pea began its lucky streak.  Legend holds that as union armies swept through the south, they confiscated food but left the black-eyed pea and other animal fodder alone.  Whether it’s true, I haven’t any idea, but it’s a romantic story for a little dry pea.

Black-eyed peas, like greens, bring good fortune and wealth for the coming year when eaten on New Year’s Day as they represent coins.

Collard Greens

Collard greens, like black-eyed peas, are another transplant from Africa, both having found their way to the South with the slave trade. The large, sturdy green leaves symbolize dollar bills.  And while I love collard greens in this simple Black-eyed Pea Cakes, my favorite way to serve them is in Creamed Collards.  Though this recipe for Southern-style Collards with broth and bacon sounds divine.


Lastly, we always plan to eat a little pork on New Year’s Day.  Pigs move forward as they root around, symbolizing progress to come in the new year.  And if bacon-wrapped black-eyed pea cakes don’t work for you, try this dish of Pork and Sauerkraut.

black-eyed peas in a bag

Black-eyed Pea Cakes with Collard Greens and Sweet Potato

black-eyed pea cakes

By Jenny Published: December 27, 2012

  • Yield: 6 cakes (6 to 8 Servings)
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 1 hr 25 mins
  • Ready In: 15 hrs 35 mins

A bit of cayenne pepper and smoked paprika provide a little brightness to counterbalance the earthy flavor of pulses and sweet potato in this classic recipe for Black-eyed Pea Cakes. Collard greens add a touch a color.


  • 1/2 pound dry black-eyed peas
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 medium sweet potato or garnet yam (peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons bacon fat (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
  • 1 small yellow onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 cups finely chopped collard greens
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 6 slices bacon


  1. Pour the black-eyed peas into a large mixing bowl, stir in a pinch of baking soda and cover with warm water by two inches. Allow the peas to soak for 12 to 18 hours, then drain, rinse well and set the peas to boil in a large pot until soft - about 1 hour. Drain them once more, and set them aside.
  2. Toss sweet potato with oil and roast at 425 F for 45 minutes, until tender. Turn once or twice.
  3. While the peas boil and the potatoes roast, melt 2 tablespoons bacon fat in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions and fry until translucent and fragrant - 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in greens and continue cooking until tender - about 8 minutes.
  4. Combine peas, collards and onions with arrowroot powder, paprika, cayenne and salt in a food processor and process until they form a uniform mash. Fold in the roasted sweet potato.
  5. Take the mash by hand and form it into 6 patties about 4 inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick. Wrap them in bacon.
  6. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons bacon fat in a cast-iron skillet. Fry the patties in batches, about 5 minutes on each side. Serve hot with a good sauce, gravy or mayonnaise.

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    What people are saying

      • Jenny says

        Oh yes! It is! My recipe plugin has had some issues recently, and it keeps dropping ingredients and reordering steps. EEK! Off to fix it yet again (and look for another recipe plugin!)

    1. Kelly Lovejoy says

      New Year’s Dinner isn’t complete without cornbread, which represents gold, and rice, which represents fertility.

      So at dinner, you’ll have pork—usually ham (progress and abundance), collards (dollars), black-eyed peas (pennies), rice (fertility)—and if rice and peas are mixed, it’s called Hoppin’ Johns— and cornbread (gold). No New Year’s Day is complete without a hearty holiday meal.

    2. Debbie says

      The sweet potatoes seem to be missing in action – how much or how many – I can figure how long to roast them. And #1 seems like it should follow #4.

      Sounds like a great recipe – 12-31 is my son’s birthday and I love to do something special!

      • jenny says

        Oh it’s awful – my recipe plugin keeps having spasms – reordering steps, dropping ingredients. I think it’s fixed now.

        • Rebecca says

          This looks wonderful. At the end you suggest serving with mayonnaise, gravy or a good sauce. Any suggestions on a good sauce to compliment the flavors? Mayonnaise sounds good, but sometimes I need to be kicked in new directions and I’ve never been very good at pairing flavors. :)

    3. says

      Hi, I thought, grains, legumes, etc., where supposed to be soaked in an acidic environment to neutralise phytate’s, etc? Isn’t bicarb soda alkaline. Does this effect phytates? I have seen on some packets of legumes-letnils, etc., to add bicarb to keep the colour in the beans, or something like that, but wondered about how it effected it nutritionally. If you have any info that would be awesome :)

    4. says

      Oh, I adore black eyed peas! So far I’ve only made a ham and black-eyed pea soup. They feel so good in my tummy. :-) I’ll have to try this recipe you’ve posted. I’m stocking up on black-eyed peas for some good winter usage!

    5. Ally R says

      I made this recipe on New Year’s Day (along with NOT sweeping the floor)., and I thought I would have to convince my kids to take a bite for their good fortune in the coming year. I was wrong…they…WE…all ate them up with great gusto. They were the best thing on our plates, and there was a lot of competition! Thank you for the recipe, they were delicious!

    6. Erin Hicks says

      Hi Jenny,
      I love your site and look forward to buying your cookbook. When soaking beans or grains, do you make sure you are using filtered water? The reason I ask is that my only source of filtered water comes from my refrigerator (we use a double filtration system on the water lining running into our fridge to remove fluoride and other impurities), but obviously this water is dispensed cold.
      So I have two choices – warm the cold filtered water for soaking in a pot on the stove, or use unfiltered warm water from my sink.
      Thank you for any advice!

    7. Erin says

      Wow, I don’t know what I did but these did not fry up correctly in my cast iron skillet. The only substitution I made was to use 1 Tbsp bacon fat and 1 Tbsp coconut oil to fry my patties. When I formed them with my hands, they felt so sticky and loose to me – like they needed something more to bind them together (like egg). Do you have any idea what I may have done wrong? Maybe my patties were too big… Anyway, I ended up just turning everything into a big skillet supper – it still tasted good!

    8. Rachel says

      Hi jenny,

      Wondering if you could advise: I followed all of the instructions to a tee (or so I thought), but somehow wound up with a mixture at the end that was hummus-like in consistency, as my husband called it. I couldn’t form the dough into cakes to save my life, and the patty-like shapes that I was able to form and wrap in the bacon didn’t really cook at all. No crispness, just limp and doughy. Not sure what to do with the remaining mash now, or if it’s salvageable. I was thinking of maybe cooking it in the oven now, but my husband is doubtful that that will help matters. Any thoughts? I would hate to throw all of it away!!!! Thanks so much!

    9. John Howieson says

      OMG! Reading about black eyed peas, and other great food, all woven into a wonderful mea; not to forget some basic human US history, and how forebears survived, is a wonderful piece of work.

      Thanks for dropping this in my email box. Looking forward to the next.

      John in Canada

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