Black-eyed peas are not the most popular legume, but maybe they should be. They are far easier to prepare than most dried beans; they don’t require an overnight soak, like many beans do. They are nutritious and a great source of fiber, protein, iron, and other beneficial nutrients. I like to prepare black-eyed peas at home, rather than buying canned. Home preparation is economical, and you won’t have to worry about the excess sodium and BPA in many canned beans.
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 fact, a few years back I made a recipe for Black-Eyed Pea Burgers in honor of this tradition.
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.
Cooking black-eyed peas is a little different than cooking other dried beans because they don’t need to be soaked, which can be a great benefit if you are pressed for time. The method below uses a ratio of 10 cups of water per pound of dried black-eyed peas, if you plan to use a different amount, please adjust accordingly using this ratio.
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- 1 lb dried black-eyed peas (please refer to instructions below if you plan to cook more or less)
- 10 cups water, plus more for quick soaking
- salt (optional)
- The method below uses a ratio of 10 cups of water per pound of dried black-eyed peas, if you plan to use a different amount, please adjust accordingly using this ratio.Quick soaking your black-eyed peas isn't a must, but I recommend it for speeding up the cooking process. Place your dried peas in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the peas to soak for 1 hour. You may notice that the water level has decreased and the peas have grown in size, indicating that they have absorbed some of the water. This is a good sign!
- After soaking, drain the peas and give them a good rinse.
- Place the beans in a large pot and cover again with the same ratio of fresh water. It is important to use fresh water for boiling; the soaking water contains oligosaccharides, released from the beans during soaking, that can lead to digestive discomfort. Add salt to the cooking water if desired to give the beans more flavor (I use about 1 tablespoon salt for every 10 cups of water). Place on the stovetop and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until you reach desired tenderness. I recommend stirring the beans a few times throughout the cooking process so that the beans at the bottom of the pot don’t soften before the beans at the top.
- Drain the peas in a colander. They are now cooked, prepared, and ready to use in recipes or however you'd like. If you plan to freeze the beans, allow them to cool first. You can speed up this process by rinsing them with cold water. Then transfer them to a freezer safe container, I recommend resealable bags, and freeze until needed. I like to measure out 1 ¾ cups of beans in each bag, which is equivalent to the amount in a standard sized can. They will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- When ready to use your frozen black-eyed peas, remove them from the freezer and thaw. They can be reheated on the stovetop, added to soups and stews or used however you would use canned black-eyed peas.
Black-Eyed Pea Recipe Ideas: