Visit my mom’s house on New Year’s Day and you will be treated to simple, humble fare — a black-as-midnight cast iron skillet sizzling with buttermilk cornbread, a pot of black-eyed peas and a bowl of greens, usually collards. The peas and greens are usually cooked with pork, such as the leftover bone from a holiday ham. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s is supposed to bring luck in the coming year; greens are supposed to bring green (money) to your pockets.
It’s kind of endemic to the Southern experience that the Way Mom (or Grandma) Cooks is the best and only way to cook. My mother is an excellent cook, and I’ve learned much in her kitchen. At my mother’s apron strings, I learned dishes such as country fried steak and chicken and dumplings. I learned to make layer cakes, pound cakes and cookies. Mom taught me how to put together a meal, cooking the meat and vegetables in order so that everything is ready at the same time. She taught me her way, but she also taught me something else: to try new things. This is the most valuable lesson of all. Even in my suburban Georgia neighborhood, I have an incredible amount of ingredients and technology available to me, plus a world of information at my fingertips. I can choose to cook from my own little world or I can bring the world into my kitchen.
Which is why on New Year’s Day 2011, you will find the traditional black-eyed peas flavored with garam masala, turmeric and cumin at my table. This flavorful and fragrant dish is adapted from Gene Lee, who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and blogs at Eat, Drink, Man: a Food Journal. Instead of cooking the peas entirely on the stovetop, I start them off in a Dutch oven and place it in the oven on convection for an hour or more, for the peas to slowly soak up the spicy goodness.
Oven-Braised Black-Eyed Peas with Indian Spices
- 8 ounces dried black-eyed peas
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 chilies, chopped, heat level of your choice
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch dice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 2 cups water
- Pour peas onto a rimmed half sheet baking pan and pick out stones, debris and off-looking peas. Pour peas into a bowl and cover with water. Swish the peas, then pour off most of the water. Refill with water to cover peas by one inch and leave to soak for a few hours or overnight. Add water, if needed.
- When ready to cook, put a Dutch oven on the cooktop over medium heat and pour in oil. Add cumin seeds, garlic and ginger and stir for a minute. Add dry seasonings – salt, cayenne, turmeric and garam masala. Cook over medium heat for five minutes. If mixture is too dry, add a spoonful of water. Turn up the heat and add onions and chilies.
- Add peas and water and bring to a boil. Heat oven to 300°. Place Dutch oven in real oven at 300° for at least one hour. Check liquid level occasionally. Peas should be done after an hour, but can continue to cook at low heat for several hours — be sure to check the liquid level and replenish with water as needed.