I used to get really excited about New Year’s Eve. The parties, the fireworks, the ball drop, the kiss at midnight… it all seemed so fun and romantic and exciting. I also loved the opportunity that New Year’s Day represented– a sort of clean slate, to start fresh with new goals for the coming year. Nowadays, I’m a little more jaded about the whole thing. That’s not to say I don’t look forward to the new year. It’s just that I don’t plan to “party like a rock star” to welcome 2013. I’ll probably be watching the back of my eyelids instead of the ball drop this year. I plan to be in bed by 10:30, fireplace lit, snug as a bug in a rug. That said, I’m all for celebrating the symbolism of the day… especially when it comes to food! Black-eyed peas are traditional for New Year’s Day, and I’m not just talking about Hoppin’ John. Interested? Read on!
Black-eyed peas are culturally and historically significant during the celebration of the New Year for both Sephardic Jews and those living in the American South. The Jewish tradition comes from the Babylonian Talmud in which Abaye lists nine foods that should be eaten during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Each food listed is representative of a wish to come in the New Year. The black-eyed peas are said to be a symbol for good fortune for several reasons. In Hebrew and Aramaic they are called “rubiyah” and in Arabic “lubiya”, both related to Hebrew words “l’harabot” and “harbeh” meaning “to increase” and “many.” When you eat black-eyed peas at the Rosh Hashanah Seder, you are inviting wealth and fortune in the coming year. Black-eyed peas are also a reminder to multiply your mitzvot (good deeds) in the coming year.
In the South, black-eyed peas have been a symbol of good fortune since the Civil War. This American tradition originated in West Africa, where black-eyed peas were domesticated over 5,000 years ago. They made their way to America on slave ships, and were planted in the colonies in the early 1700’s. Known then as cowpeas, the plant became an important part of the slave’s diet. During the Civil War, when William Sherman’s troops swept in, destroying and stealing the majority of Southern crops, the black-eyed peas were left behind. Though they may not have been anyone’s first choice, black-eyed peas proved to be an important source of nutrition for the starving Confederate soldiers. Here, black-eyed peas are often eaten with other foods that symbolize growth and wealth. For example, golden cornbread and greens that swell when they are cooked representing both paper money and wealth.
It is possible that these Sephardic and African American traditions commingled during the 18th century, when many Jewish homes in the South had African American cooks. The dish is now popular during both New Year’s Day and Rosh Hashanah celebrations.
I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never loved black-eyed peas. Well, I take that back. I did try a Southern-inspired recipe once several years ago that was awesome, but it involved cooking the peas with ham hocks, bacon, and more bacon. That recipe was delish, but for obvious reasons I won’t share it here. My other attempts to make black-eyed peas have turned out rather boring. I’ve tried several Sephardic preparations over the years, but none I loved enough to share on the blog. Even so, I decided to revisit black-eyed peas for New Year’s Eve 2013. Since it’s traditional for Sephardic Jews to eat these funny little peas for the Hebrew new year, and it’s also traditional for Southerners in America to eat them for the secular new year, I couldn’t resist finding a way to turn them into a tasty kosher treat. By golly, I think I nailed it! It took a few tries, but I’m really happy with this new recipe, a creative riff on the New Year’s theme… vegetarian Black-Eyed Pea Burgers.
I’ve taken cooked black-eyed peas and processed them with a combination of sauteed vegetables, eggs, fresh herbs and spices. I’ve added a lot of smoked paprika to the mix, a kosher way of incorporating the smoky bacon and ham flavors of Southern dishes like Hoppin’ John. I used panko breadcrumbs to help bind the burgers, because they help the exterior of the burger fry up crisp and golden. If you don’t have panko, any light unseasoned breadcrumb will do. These burgers are most tasty when topped with your favorite burger fixings. I like mine with smoked paprika mayonnaise, avocado, and sliced dill pickles on a warm, toasted burger bun. Good stuff!
Eating black-eyed peas represents our hope for good fortune, abundance, and the good deeds we wish to accomplish in the coming year. Since today is “Meatless Monday” and also New Year’s Eve, these vegetarian Black-Eyed Pea Burgers seem like the perfect choice for dinner tonight… especially if you’re planning on a low-key celebration at home, like I am. Netflix, anyone?
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- 1 lb. dried black eyed peas
- 1 3/4 tsp salt, divided
- 4 shallots, chopped (about ¼ cup chopped)
- 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped
- 5 eggs
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs (or more if needed)
- Grapeseed or olive oil for frying
You will also need
- Food processor
- Rinse and sort the black eyed peas in a colander, removing any stones or impurities. Drain.
- Add the peas to a pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let the peas soak for 1 hour.
- Drain the peas and rinse them in cold water. Return them to the pot and cover again with 3 inches of water along with 1 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer the peas for 30-40 minutes till soft but not mushy.
- Drain in a colander; shake the colander to get rid of as much excess water as possible.
- Return the peas to the hot pot and let them dry out a bit while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Heat 1 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and sauté for 3-4 minutes till they begin to turn golden. Add the chopped carrots and continue to sauté for 4-5 minutes till softened. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 more minute till fragrant. Add tomato paste to the skillet and stir, blending with the other ingredients, for 1-2 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
- Place the vegetables in a food processor along with the cooked, drained black eyed peas, flat leaf parsley, fresh dill, eggs, ¾ tsp salt, and spices. Note: if your food processor is on the small side, you may need to process the mixture in batches.
- Pulse for 30-45 seconds, scraping the sides of the processor periodically, to form a thick, crumbly paste similar to a roughly textured hummus. Don’t over-process!
- Pour the black eyed pea mixture into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs with a fork.
- Form the mixture into compact patties using ½ cup of mixture per patty. If the patties aren’t holding together well, add more panko till they do.
- Pour olive or grapeseed oil into a nonstick skillet to cover the bottom of the skillet—in my very large skillet, I use about 1/3 cup of oil. Heat over medium till hot enough for frying.
- Fry the patties in batches of 3 for 3-4 minutes on each side, till both sides of the patties are golden brown and crisp.
- Serve hot burgers on warm toasted buns with lettuce, tomatoes, and your favorite hamburger fixings. I really like these topped with mayonnaise, avocado, and sliced dill pickles. A slice of cheese wouldn’t hurt, either, if you don’t mind adding dairy to the mix. Delish!
Other Great Recipe Ideas
The Pioneer Woman: Zannie’s Black Eyed Pea Dip
Weelicious: Eggplant Burgers
Simply Recipes: Hoppin’ John (not kosher, but tasty!)
Leite’s Culinaria: Black-Eyed Peas with Spinach
Kalyn’s Kitchen: Lucky Black-Eyed Pea Soup (to make kosher, use a kosher sausage and broth)