Of this year’s cookbooks, “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert (Gibbs Smith 2012) is at the top of every list of the year’s best. I’ve already shared the story of my sideways connection to Ms. Dupree in an earlier post: http://www.chewingthefat.us.com/2012/11/skillet-lemon-chicken-with-spinach-and.html. I’ve barely skimmed the surface of this fascinating book and it’s 600 plus recipes. Now, with New Year’s Day approaching, I want to share another of Nathalie’s recipes, which is particularly timely. And I hope it has the intended consequence. Because in the South, it’s a hard and fast rule that eating black-eyed peas at New Year’s, the basis for Mississippi Caviar, will bring good luck and prosperity for all of next year! So here’s our New Year’s gift to you! And if you’re wondering how the humble black-eyed pea rose to such exalted status, you may be very surprised at the answer.
A Rosh Hoshana Seder: apples (for sweetness),
dates (for peace),
black-eyed peas (for prosperity),
pomegranate (for mitzvahs),
pumpkin (for happiness),
beet leaves (for freedom),
leeks (for friendship)
and a head of lettuce (for leadership).
In biblical times, the ‘good luck’ tradition of eating black-eyed peas at Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish New Year, appears in the Babylonian Talmud dating from 500 BC. Along with other symbolic foods, black-eyed peas are referred to as “good luck symbols, you should make a habit of (seeing) on your table on the New Year.” In the United States, the first Sephardic Jews arrived in Georgia in the 1730s and they have been a continuous presence in the South ever since. There’s speculation that the Jewish practice of eating black-eyed peas on their New Year’s was adapted around the time of the Civil War. And it may have been as much out of necessity as it was out of a concern for having good luck, then in very short supply in the South. Union troops, led by the dreaded General William Tecumseh Sherman, stripped the countryside of all the food that was stored, burned crops and killed livestock, destroying whatever they could not carry away. All that was left behind in this incredibly grim chapter of American history were “field peas” and “field corn” which Northerners used only for animal fodder and hence left alone in their deadly march to the sea. Having black-eyed peas may have been having the good fortune to have something to eat instead of nothing at all.
Whatever their history, the black-eyed pea is still a rich part of a Southern New Year’s celebration. And whatever its history, “Mississippi Caviar” is a delicious and incredibly healthy way to start any New Year. Nathalie’s recipe is pure vegan, gluten-free and luscious as an appetizer served with tortilla chips. I’ve also used it as a bed for a grilled pork chop. I must confess to some deviation from the recipe. If any of the chopped fresh ingredients equaled more that the quantity called for, I just put the entire lot into the bowl with the black-eyed peas. And I didn’t really mash the beans as requested. I loved this dish. It’s colorful and a wonderful way to wish everyone good luck for 2013. Here is the recipe:
Recipe for Mississippi Caviar from “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” courtesy of Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert.
3 (16 ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
3/4 cup finely chopped hot peppers
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup drained, chopped pimento
1 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Pita or Tortilla chips
In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil and mustard and pour over the bean mixture; mix well. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce.
With a wooden spoon or potato masher, mash the bean mixture slightly.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Drain the “caviar” well and serve with pita or tortilla chips.