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.
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, 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 Pea Cakes with Collard Greens and Sweet Potato
- 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
- 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.
- Toss sweet potato with oil and roast at 425 F for 45 minutes, until tender. Turn once or twice.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.