Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hogless Hoppin' John

Each culture has its own traditional food eaten for luck on New Year's Day. In Germany and Italy, it's lentils; in Spain, they eat grapes; in Cuba, roast suckling pig, and there are all sorts of cakes and pastries consumed to assure good fortune the world over. In the southern United States, one eats blackeyed peas to "start the year off right." I've been inventing dishes featuring blackeyed peas every January for a few years now, but this year I decided to rework an ethnic southern mainstay known as "Hoppin' John."

For the original Hoppin' John, the peas are first boiled with ham hocks. Separately, chopped ham, onions, peppers, celery, carrots, and garlic are fried in oil or lard before adding water or broth and chopped collard greens. Then the cooked peas are added, ham hocks and all, and the mixture is simmered until everything is tender. The soup (or stew) is served with cooked rice and chopped fresh tomatoes and scallions.

For my hog-free version, I used a little smoked paprika and smoked salt to give it that smokehouse flavor. Some people like to use "liquid smoke" for this sort of thing, but I'm leery of artificial flavorings, especially ones that don't list their ingredients.

Unfortunately, collard greens were not available where I live (I searched at five markets without success), which was a shame for a couple of reasons--one, they're delicious and a favorite of mine at any time of year; and two, because the stacked green leaves are thought to represent money, eating them on New Year's is supposed to bring big bucks (which I could really use right about now). I switched out the collards for kale--a limp substitute, I know, but a healthy one nonetheless. I grew up in Mexico, where improvisation is a way of life, so this bothered me not one bit.

To keep things light, I skipped the rice at serving time, but kept the tomatoes and scallions. I had used both serrano and jalapeño chiles, but I'd seeded them first, in deference to any tender-tongued guests who might otherwise have encountered too much heat for comfort. To compensate, I passed the ol' Sriracha around.

Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy this classic soul food, and I hope it brings us all good luck. Personally, I don't really believe in luck--at least not the capricious kind that comes in the form of good and bad. I don't believe in bad luck at all, because even the so-called "bad" things that have happened to me have all eventually led to good things, not the least of which is the present moment where I live and breathe. I think bad luck is nothing more than a limited perspective--one that excludes the unfathomable good fortune of being alive in a human body, which, if you have your head screwed on right, is the luckiest possible situation that could ever be. So I guess I do believe in good luck--why? Because I've had it every day of my life.

Happy New Year Everyone!

No comments:

Post a Comment