Hoppin John: Ringing in the New Year with African Culinary Traditions
In the American South where I grew up—specifically Fayetteville, North Carolina Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia—food was the center of my African American family’s gatherings and celebrations.
Traditionally, Southerners prepare a variety of foods that they believe will usher in good luck and prosperity in the New Year, including black-eyed peas, rice, cornbread, pork, and collard greens. While Southerners of all races and ethnicities now enjoy these foods, it’s important to note that the gastronomical roots of these foods are directly linked to the culinary traditions the enslaved Africans brought to this region when they were trafficked here, and also from the Indigenous people who were here prior to the U.S. government’s forced removal of them from their lands.
My favorite New Year’s dish, which incorporates many of these auspicious foods, is Hoppin John. Hoppin John combines black-eyed peas, rice, and smoked bacon in a hearty dish that fills your belly, a symbol for a year that is equally full of abundance.
In this dish, black-eyed peas are cooked with bacon, onions and spices, combined with rice, and served with buttery cornbread.
Understanding The Symbols
The black-eyed peas are symbols for money, specifically coins.
The peas are cooked with pork fat, in this recipe bacon, which is a represents looking forward.
Rice represents abundance and good luck, which is why it’s thrown at weddings.
The dish can also be served with cornbread, which represents gold. Especially when served with my homemade butter.
Stewed collard or mustard greens can also be served with Hoppin John, which represent money.
1 pound of dried black-eyed peas
6 cups water (plus an additional 6 cups of water)
½ large onion, pulled apart into pieces
2 slices of raw bacon
8 pieces of bacon, chopped and cooked until crispy
reserved bacon fat rendered from cooking the bacon
½ large onion, chopped
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups long-grain white rice, uncooked
3 ½ cup of pea cooking liquid (and/or fresh water)
Salt and black pepper (you will season to taste, see recipe for exact measurements).
1. Quick Soak Dried Beans: Rinse 1lb bag of dried black-eyed peas with cool water. Drain water. Add peas to a saucepot and cover with 6 cups of water. Turn flame to medium-high heat and bring to a rapid boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Cover with a lid and let sit aside for 1-2 hours. This step hydrates the beans so that plump and double in size.
2. Cook Bacon: Take 8 pieces of bacon and cut into small pieces. Cook over medium heat until bacon is fully cooked. Remove bacon and set aside. Place remaining bacon grease into a dish to use in future steps in this recipe. This bacon will be used as a garnish on the final Hoppin John.
3. Drain Peas: Drain peas and discard liquid.
4. Cook Peas: Add drained peas, 5 cups of fresh water, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 2 pieces of raw bacon, onion pieces, and 3 tbsp of bacon grease into the saucepot. Turn to medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, or until peas are tender.
5. Drain Cooked Peas: Remove pieces of onion from the peas. Drain peas from the cooking liquid but reserve pea cooking liquid to use for cooking the rice. Set aside peas and liquid.
6. Saute Onions: Dice remaining ½ of the onion and sauté in 3 tbsp of bacon fat for 1 minute. Add 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp black pepper, 2 tsp onion powder, 2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder and sauté another minute.
7. Add Peas to Onions: Toss peas into onion mixture and remove from heat. Squeeze ½ lemon on peas and toss. Set aside.
8. Cook the Rice: Rinse uncooked rice under cool water and strain. In a large sauce pot add 2 cups of uncooked white rice, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp of bacon fat, and 3 1/2 cups of the pea cooking liquid (or use whatever amount pea cooking liquid you have and supplement with fresh water for a total of 3 ½ C of liquid). Bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Stir rice and place lid on top. Reduce heat to low and cook for 18 minutes. Remove pot from the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes, then remove lid. Fluff rice and let steam release for an additional 5 minutes.
9. Combine Rice and Beans: Fold the rice into the black eye peas mixture, being careful not to mash the peas.
10. Serve: Spoon the Hoppin John into a bowl, and top with crumbled bacon. You can add fresh lemon juice and hot sauce “to-taste” for the traditional “southern tang”.
Here’s hoping you get more and more good luck and prosperity with each bite of Hoppin John!