When my daughter was born 11 years ago, I felt strongly that I needed to create a new family tradition to honor my mother who died when I was nineteen. But, what could I do that would be a tribute to her at the same time it celebrated our new family? Food immediately came to mind.
Once I decided to use cuisine as a way to remember my mom and introduce her heritage to my children, I needed to find the perfect dish that would accomplish this complicated goal. My mom was African American, born and raised in Joplin, Missouri. She was Southern, but loved Los Angeles, where I grew up.
Browsing through recipes, one of my favorite pastimes, I came across a recipe for “Hoppin’ John” in the now defunct Gourmet Magazine.
I’ve read many sources which suggest that Hoppin’ John likely originated with African slaves on Southern plantations. The dish is thought to bring good luck on New Year’s Day.
“There has been much debate over the strange name of this rice and bean combination. One theory suggests that “Hoppin’ John” is a corruption of pois a pigeon, French for pigeon peas, with which the dish as originally made in the French colonies of the Caribbean, where it was likely created. (Gourmet,1998).
This was it! It seemed like the perfect dish to remember my wonderful mom who never had a chance to meet my two kids or my husband. But first, I had to test the recipe.
Shopping for black-eyed peas, rice, and sausage, I couldn’t wait to get home and start cooking. Soaking the peas, chopping the onions, garlic and jalapeno pepper, I could barely stand the suspense. Would this turn out to be THE family tradition I was hoping for?
Spooning piping hot black-eyed peas with chunks of kielbasa sausage over white rice was a mouth-watering experience.
“Here, you taste it first,” I told my husband. “Incredible,” he responded.
It was love at first bite. The dish is delicious. It’s bold and flavorful, with a hint of heat from the jalapeno. One bowl is never enough.
I’ve been making this recipe for 11 years, always on New Year’s Day for good luck and even during the winter months. It is that good. Sometimes, I substitute turkey sausage or double the recipe for leftovers since the kids love “Hoppin’ John.”
I think my mom would touched that we’ve created a family tradition in memory of her beautiful, Southern spirit.
Hoppin’ John (Black Eyed Peas With Kielbasa) Gourmet, Jan. 1998
1 cup dried black-eyed peas
6 ounces smoked kielbasa sausage
1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
2 celery ribs
1/2 fresh jalapeño chile
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
Accompaniment: cooked rice
Quick-soak black-eyed peas. Pick over peas and in a saucepan cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil and boil peas 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Soak peas 1 hour. Drain peas in a sieve.
Quarter kielbasa lengthwise and cut quarters crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop onion and mince garlic. Cut celery crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Wearing rubber gloves, seed and mince jalapeño. In a 3-quart heavy kettle cook kielbasa, onion, garlic, celery, jalapeño, and bay leaf in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened. Add peas and broth and simmer, covered, 20 minutes, or until peas are tender. Discard bay leaf and stir in coriander and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve Hoppin’ John spooned over rice.
Christina Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She blogs at www.beyondthebrochure.blogspot.com