Funny thing about blackeyed peas…they’re not peas at all!
The blackeyed pea, also called cowpea, crowder pea or southern pea, is actually a member of the bean family. They grow best in warm climates, making them ideal for Southern United States agriculture. Typically, blackeyed peas are shelled and cooked, although immature pods are sometimes broken (snapped) in pieces and cooked in with the shelled peas. These are called snaps.
The earliest evidence of cultivation appears in western Africa around 4000-3000 BCE. As far as their history in North America is concerned, blackeyed peas were first brought over on slave ships in the 18th century. This explains their extensive growth and importance in the cultural history and cuisine of the southern states.
As with other legumes, blackeyed peas are high in protein. They are also a great source of dietary fiber, are loaded with folate, magnesium and iron and are low in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat.
So…how to cook these delicious, nutritious imposter peas?
Cooking fresh blackeyed peas is easy as can be. Simply place shelled and rinsed peas in a pot and cover them with fresh, cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pot. Simmer the peas, covered, until they are tender. Your definition of tender and mine may differ, so check the peas after about 15 minutes. If you like them softer, simmer a little longer. Don’t add salt until your peas are done to your liking.
Cooking dried blackeyed peas is a little more involved, but still easy. It seems as if everyone who cooks dried legumes has a different theory about soaking (hot or cold, for how long, etc). While most dried bean varieties need to be soaked overnight or parboiled and then soaked, dried blackeyed peas don’t require presoaking. If you would like to shorten cooking time, you can, however, boil them in water for 3 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow it to sit for an hour to an hour and a half. At the end of their soak, drain and rinse the peas and cover with fresh cold water. Add seasonings such as bay leaves and fresh thyme, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer for an hour, or until the peas are tender.
Let’s Talk Recipes!
While I love a big bowl of blackeyed peas just as they are with a nice piece of cornbread on the side, there are also many wonderful ways to incorporate them into recipes. Traditional Southern cooking is full of them, even if most require meat (usually pork, such as ham or bacon). Of course we don’t do that here at Vegetarian Zen, but there are still plenty of ways to make super-tasty blackeyed pea recipes completely meat-free.
Need a little luck?
Over the centuries, blackeyed peas have established a reputation as bringing good fortune when eaten on New Year’s day. Hoppin’ John, a classic New Year’s Day dish in the American South, is made with ham hocks or bacon, onions and rice. Vegetarian Times offers New Year’s Black Eyed Peas & Greens as a delicious alternative. It features healthy kale (or substitute spinach or other greens), tomatoes, green onions and fresh herbs. Although rice is not a part of this recipe, I think serving it over cooked brown rice would be amazing.
Some Asian flair
Similar to the peas and greens recipe above, this Korean-Inspired Black-eyed Peas & Kale Bowl adds a little spice as well as traditional Asian flavors including ginger and tamari or soy sauce.
There are lots of blackeyed pea salad recipes out there. This one for Black-Eyed Pea and Caramelized Onion Salad caught my eye because of the caramelized onions and fennel flavor combination. Yum! Because this is served at room temperature, it is easy to prepare ahead of time for potlucks and picnics.