Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Luck Favors the Prepared, Dahling

There are a lot of New Year's traditions bouncing around here in America. This morning, I read about one town that lowers a taxidermied opossum instead of a crystal ball to harken in the new year. I love local flair more than most people, but that's pretty weird.

My family has very few New Year's traditions because few of us are late-night types. One evening in the 1980's, my father, who would go to sleep around 7:30 every night if he could, excused himself from a dinner party hosted at our house with a cheerful invitation to the guests to carry on without him; he was going to bed. My mother felt that this crossed the line of acceptable behavior and brought it up as recently as last night.

I am truly my father's daughter: I rarely stay up past midnight. When we rang in 1990, I sneered at my parents' total lack of interest in celebrating the dawn of a new decade and assured them that I would do them a favor (in my mind) by waking them up at midnight. That didn't happen. I was snuggled under my flowered comforter by 10:45 and woke up around 5:30 with my lights still on.

We do have one New Year's tradition that we'd never think of skipping. For as long as I can remember, my mother has made black-eyed pea salad for New Year's Day. She has fed me platefuls of it at her house, and once she even gave me a spoonful of it on my way to the airport to catch a flight home. "For good luck," she always insists.

Black-eyed pea salad is a Southern New Year's Day tradition. How these funny little spotted peas became lucky is beyond me, but lucky they are meant to be. Traditionalists soak dried black-eyed peas overnight, then simmer them for hours with ham hocks, bacon, or fatback. When the tradition began back in the South's pre-Costco days, all of the ingredients were inexpensive and available during the winter.

Perhaps that's the secret to believing in good luck; the lucky item should be something everyone can have, even during lean times. If we can't even get near our talismans, how could we be expected to believe in them?

Tomorrow morning, I will eat my share of black-eyed pea salad and hope that the new year brings good luck. I hope that you will consider doing the same, and that you have a safe, prosperous and above all, happy and lucky New Year.
Black-Eyed Pea Salad
A Fritter Original

My family eats black-eyed pea salad on its own, but for this recipe, I've served it over arugula, which compliments the buttery taste of the peas. If you don't want to hassle with dried peas, you can substitute 2 15-ounce cans in this recipe, skip the first two paragraphs of the recipe and pick up with the third paragraph. Just make sure that you rinse the peas well first.

For the black-eyed peas
1 pound of dried black-eyed peas, soaked for 8 hours and drained
1 smoked ham hock
2 large carrots, peeled and trimmed at the ends
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small yellow onion, peeled and halved
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 of a small red onion, peeled, trimmed, and cut into narrow half-moon slices
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped, reserving the celery leaves (if available)
10-12 pickled jalapeno slices, chopped (fewer if you don't care for heat)
1 bunch of arugula

For the salad dressing
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of coarse-grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the drained black-eyed peas in a stockpot with the ham hock, carrots, garlic, yellow onion, and bay leaf, and cover with two quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hours until the peas are tender but not falling apart. Stir every now and then to prevent sticking.

Once the peas are tender, drain them well and remove the ham hock, bay leaf, carrots, and onion. Place the black-eyed peas in a container and refrigerate for 30 minutes, until the peas are slightly cooler than room temperature.

In a salad bowl, toss together the red onion, red bell pepper, celery, and jalapeno. When the black-eyed peas are cool, add them to the bowl and gently toss to combine with the other ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the salad dressing until emulsified. Drizzle over the black-eyed pea salad and gently toss to coat. Arrange the arugula on 8 small plates and scoop the black-eyed peas on top in 1/2 cup amounts. Garnish with the celery leaves if they are available, and if not, don't worry; the good luck is all in the black-eyed peas.
Makes: 8 side servings

The outdoor photographs in this post were taken on the snowshoe trails in Solitude Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, where Steve and I mushed around on Monday afternoon. I'm sorry to report that I did not see any meese.

*With thanks to Edna E. Mode of The Incredibles for the title of this post.


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Happy New Year, Sarah! I'll be eating lentils later today. It's the Italian equivalent of black-eyed peas.

Grace said...

it's not new year's day without black-eyed peas in some form--great salad!
and the best kind of possum is a stuffed possum. :)

dp said...

I love that your mom fed you as you're running out the door. Sounds like my mom, except it's usually green curry :-)

Here's to New Year's traditions as well as luck and prosperity!

Marilyn said...

Happy New Year, Sarah - what a lovely and delicious post. And who doesn't love Edna?

Sarah said...

Susan: Thank you, and I'm intrigued to hear that lentils are the Italian New Year's equivalent of black-eyed peas. Hope you ate a good dose and are looking forward to a bright and lucky 2009 :)

Grace: You got it (on both points)!

Dp: A little green curry makes everything better, in my opinion. Happy New Year to you, too!

Marilyn: Edna may be my favorite animated character ever. I just love her, dahling. Happy New Year!

Foodycat said...

Lentils are good luck because they look like little coins - so they bring prosperity. I think that is the theory...

I have no New Year traditions, other than drinking nice booze, eating nice food and avoiding most of humanity. But I do like to jump on the less-pressured Chinese New Year bandwagon and eat noodles for longevity.