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Vertamae's Hoppin' John

Vertamae Grosvenor's book of Afro-Atlantic recipes, <I>Vertamae Cooks in The Americas' Family Kitchen</i>.
Vertamae Grosvenor's book of Afro-Atlantic recipes, Vertamae Cooks in The Americas' Family Kitchen.

Hoppin' John has been the centerpiece of the Southern holiday table for generations. NPR's Vertamae Grosvenor says it's unthinkable to not have the black-eyed peas and rice dish for New Year's, and offers this recipe, excerpted from her cookbook, "Vertamae Cooks":

Just exactly who was John? The answer depends on whom you talk to and what you read. Some say John was a servant who made a dish of black-eyed peas and rice that was so good, everyone asked for seconds. That meant he had to keep hopping around the table to accommodate the diners. Others insist that children would hop around the table in anticipation of John's great creation. And still others say that the name comes from the sound the peas make as they pop and hop around the pan.

For some people, Hoppin' John is peas and rice cooked together. For others, it's the peas over the rice. It doesn't matter. Anytime a black-eyed pea meets a grain of rice, it becomes Hoppin' John.

Traditionally, smoked pork is the seasoning meat, but these days people are using smoked turkey or no meat at all. One New Year's, I made a Hoppin' John salad with peas, rice, garlic and herbs for seasoning, so be creative.

The recipe:

2 1/2 cups (1 pound) dried black-eyed peas

1 pound smoked sausages of your choice

8 cups stock, any kind

Salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes to taste

Serve with rice of your choice

Pick over the black-eyed peas, discarding any misshapen peas or grit and rinse in cold water. Place in a large bowl with water to cover generously. Let soak overnight.

The next day, cut the sausages into slices about 1/2-inch thick. In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat the sausages until nicely browned, five to 10 minutes. (You probably won't need any oil, as the sausages give off their own.) Drain the peas and add to the saucepan along with the stock. Season with the salt, black pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer uncovered until tender, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before the beans are ready, cook your favorite rice, white or brown. Serve the beans over the rice, with a side of greens, such as collards, turnip or mustards, or in combination. And don't forget the cornbread!

Serves 6 to 8.

Recipe from "Vertamae Cooks in The Americas' Family Kitchen."

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Vertamae Grosvenor

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