02 January 2011

I Dub Thee "Bouncin' Gumbo"

Take a good, long look at that there bowl o' goodness.  It's not just a bowl of beans and greens, it is a Grand Slam of New Years' Day feasting wonderfulness.  I'm happy to say I made it myself, and it was excellent.

There are a lot of ritual foods to celebrate New Years Day, not the least of which is Hoppin' John, that traditional Southern rice and beans dish which is supposed to bring a prosperous New Year if eaten on the first day.  While I have never had a true version of Hoppin' John, the idea of it has never been far from my mind, especially this year.  I told myself I would make it, or a version of it, because I liked the idea of a ritual.  Plus I was hungry.

Problem is, I had no black-eyed peas or field peas (for the true Low Country experience), and while at the grocery store, discovered they were all out.  I didn't want to try it with canned peas (not yet, anyway), so I reckoned I could rig up a substitute of sorts with the bag of pinto beans I had in the pantry.  This was diversion #1.

Diversion #2, I wanted some greens in my beans, something I believe is more of a side to accompany the Hoppin' John.  But I had the idea of gumbo z'herbes rattling around in the back of my head, so the greens were going in the pot.  Problem:  The grocery store was also out of most of the greens that would have been appropriate for the dish.  The best I could come up with was a big bunch of red Swiss chard.  I reckoned I could combine the chard with a small head of romaine lettuce I had in the refrigerator.

Finally, I found the last pack of smoked ham hocks in the meats section.  Seriously, they had one left*.  So I took that, figured I was done and went home, treasures in hand.

On New Years Day, the weather was looking a little gray, so it seemed perfect beans weather.  After soaking the pintos in water for a few hours, I simmered the hocks for ten minutes in my dutch oven, in about 6 cups of water.  I put in the beans, half a large onion, and two small bay leaves.  I let them simmer for about 1-1/2 hours, at which the beans were just about the right kind of tender.  I cut the chard and the romaine into bite-sized pieces, put them in the pot along with a liberal sprinkling of cayenne pepper, and let them cook down for another 10-15 minutes.

Let me tell you, this pot of beans taught me a lesson.  I've cooked beans before, written about that experience even, but I realize now what I thought were good beans were really just okay beans.  Ladies and gentlemen, I must have done something truly right, because this pot of beans and greens was out-of-the-park good.  I've often read that beans cooked just right have a nice firmness until the exact moment you bite down, then they sort of collapse into melty goodness.  I know now what that means.  I hit it.  The beans, they are beautiful in the mouth.

I suppose if I hadn't forgotten to make some cornbread, the meal would have been truly complete.  But as it was, it was still so good "ya hurt yaself".  Something about it was exactly what I wanted, and a great, great way to start off the New Year.  The beans were perfect, and the greens were a tonic for my thin winter blood.

Pretty high bar there, 2011: you've got some work to do!  Now, about that cornbread...

*I did my shopping on the afternoon of December 31st.  Apparently a lot of other folks had the same idea about a good luck dish for New Years Day, because the shelves were bare in a few key areas.  Next year, I'll lay in some supplies on the 30th!


  1. Looks good! BTW, the best black eye peas are Allens purple hull...you find them in the frozen foods dept.

  2. Yum, that DID look good! Ate our Texas Caviar here today, so fer shur, I'll have me some good luck. With a dish like yours to start out the year with, you are assured an awesome 2011. :-)

  3. We ate Toddler Party leftovers. Not even close to the deliciousness you describe, but they can be carried around by very small hands without hitting the floor.

  4. Makes my leftover pizza seem kinda lame, ya know.

  5. I saw others used lentils in place of the southern traditional peas, but hey I feel like calling it 'Just Hopin Johns' LOL we can only hope we have more months out of the year filled with good luck...as my sister says...if it was not for the bad luck, we would not know what good luck was...she has some wisdom!

  6. YUM!

    Cheers to 2011 bringing you good health, laughter, peace, love and more happiness than your heart can hold!

  7. you know how to improvise in the kitchen, Irish. A good use of the ingredients you had on hand and the photo is luscious looking. I often use bagged greens (mix) to throw into dishes, but the chard and lettuce seemed to have done the trick. Good on ya. Here's to more fine eating (and posting about it) in 2011.

  8. Boy, that looks yummy!!!

    On NYD, I worked and had a sandwich later in the evening.

  9. It's the first year that I haven't had Hoppin' John. I was on the boat and there were no field peas and greens. Sigh...


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