The new year brings to many a promise of a new chapter, a turning of the page. Maybe a glimmer of hope for a better you and a prosperous new year for your family.
My family has always blended these desires for achievement into a yearly tradition, rooted in my father’s southern upbringing and my mother’s flair for culinary extravagance.
The tradition is simple: Have your most lavish meal on New Year’s Eve, ending the year on top. Then start the year on the bottom with your poorest meal, ensuring there was no place to go but up. After an evening of rich foods, there is something comforting about a simple bowl of black-eyed peas with potluck gravy and a side of collard greens.
With my parents long passed, continuing this tradition brings a sense of identity and a way of keeping memories alive, leaving them a metaphorical seat at the table.
Besides keeping up traditions, beans have also been there to feed us in a time of need. During a particularly rough financial time, we depended on a 100-pound sack of red beans. The burlap sack was compromised with a tear and could not be shipped for export. My husband, a longshoreman, covered the hole with duct tape and brought it home. Dried beans can last forever and these red beans provided many nutritional meals for years on end.
Beans are inexpensive, healthy and easy to make. A trifecta of goodness that should be embraced throughout the year.
Black-eyed peas are a legume popular in southern states. To make beans like a Southerner, rinse your beans, put them in a large pot, and cover with water to soak overnight. The next morning, drain off the water and add fresh water to cover a couple of inches above the beans. Add a ham hock, a chopped onion, and diced red and green bell peppers. Finally, add salt and pepper and red pepper flakes. Cover with a lid at an angle to let out steam. Slow cook all day until the beans are tender. Add more water if needed. Take out the ham hock bone, shred and return meat to the pot. Adjust salt and pepper and add a few dashes of Tabasco for a kick.
Another family favorite is slow-baked black beans. I do this for a large crowd, so I like to use a large foil pan. Double everything: 2 pounds of beans, 2 ham hocks, 2 onions, 2 red peppers, 2 green peppers, and 12 cups of water. Add 8 cloves of minced garlic, a handful of fresh chopped parsley, 1/4 cup ground cumin, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 10 hours in a 275-degree oven.
If you like a corn muffin on the side, here is a favorite hack. Buy a Jiffy cornbread mix and a yellow cake mix. Mix them both together with their required ingredients. Liven it up with thinly sliced jalapeño or a small can of green chilies, a cup of fresh corn kernels, or some cheddar cheese. Pour the mix into a greased muffin tin and bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
If you have leftover beans, try your hand at making a vegan burger. Mix 1 cup of beans, 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup brown rice, and 1/3 cup caramelized onions. Add herbs like basil, cilantro and parsley. Throw in spices like garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, paprika and salt and pepper. Make patties and bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Flip patties and broil for 5 minutes on the top rack. Serve with your favorite toppings.
Bean dip is also great for leftovers. Sauté 1/2 cup of onion in a tablespoon of oil. When translucent, add 2 cloves minced garlic. Add 1/2 cup of diced canned tomatoes, 1/3 cup of salsa, 1 cup of cooked black beans, and 1 teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder. Heat until thick, stir- ring constantly. Remove from heat and mash the beans if you like. Add 1/3 cup of shredded Monterey jack cheese, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro and a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Stir until the cheese melts. For chips, cut up tortillas and heat in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.
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