SEE ALSO: Beans, History & Nutrition
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - April 9, 2008 - Mark R. Vogel
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Of the many achievements that George Washington Carver is known for, one of them is somewhat obscured by his other, higher profile accomplishments, namely the promotion of the black-eyed pea. Carver encouraged the propagation of black-eyed peas not only for their auspicious effects on the soil, but also for their nutritional benefits for mankind. Black-eyes peas are a good sources of calcium, folate, iron, potassium and fiber. Their namesake derives from the black spot which conspicuously rests on the one end of their beige colored body. They are available fresh, dried and frozen.
Black-eyed peas are a sub-species of cowpeas, which they’re sometimes referred to as. In a word, they’re legumes; plants with pods containing edible seeds. They originated in either Africa or Asia, depending on the source you consult. But, given that there are many sub-varieties of the cowpea, who could possibly keep an accurate track of which ones started where and which ones were transported there?
Africa however, whether the source of their provenance or not, certainly seems to be the location from which they were introduced to America, for it was the slave trade that prompted the black-eyed peas’ transatlantic journey. Black-eyed peas subsequently became popular throughout the West Indies and the American south and thus became a regular fixture in southern cuisine and soul food.
Black-eyed peas can be utilized much like any other legume. A simple and popular approach to enjoying them is to sauté them with onion, some kind of pork product, and seasonings. But if you add rice to that you will produce the quintessential black-eyed pea dish: Hoppin John. Hoppin John is especially popular on New Year’s Day since according to tradition, consuming it then bodes well for the future. Interestingly, the belief that black-eyed peas are a symbol of good luck in the New Year originates in the Babylonian Talmud from the early centuries AD. A Talmud is a compilation of rabbinical discussions outlining Jewish law. There is evidence that Jewish immigrants to the American south were another source of proliferation of the black-eyed pea. And while everyone’s jumping on the black-eyed pea credit bandwagon, let’s acknowledge the Union soldiers too, though not out of benevolent intentions. It was not uncommon for Union soldiers, after conquering an area of land, to destroy or steal the crops. The Yanks however, considered common beans, peas and corn inferior products, suitable only for animal fodder. Subsequently, these items were often sparred depredation. This oversight, in addition to helping sustain the southern population, allowed for the continued popularity of black-eyed peas.
So there you have it: centuries old Jewish tradition, the evils of slavery, the genius of George Washington Carver, and the ignorance of the Union army. Who could have possibly conceived that such a bizarre and discordant compilation of forces could foster something as simple as the black-eyed pea? How humbling that something so simple, so easy to take for granted, can embody such a magnitude of history’s cultures, icons, and tragedies.
CHICKEN, CHORIZO, & BLACK-EYED PEAS
For the sauce:
• 1 (14.5 oz.) can chicken broth
• 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
• 1 large, long Italian hot pepper sliced
• 4-5 cloves garlic
• 6-7 sprigs cilantro
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon chopped marjoram
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 (8-oz.) can Goya® tomato sauce
For the chicken and chorizo:
• 2 poblano peppers, roasted, skins and seeds removed, and cut into ¼-inch strips
• 2 whole chicken legs, (leg and thigh attached)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Olive oil as needed
• 1 large onion, sliced
• 8 oz. chorizo sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
• 8 oz. frozen black-eyed peas
• 1 large handful chopped cilantro
• Flour tortillas for dipping in the sauce
For the sauce, combine all of the ingredients except the tomato sauce and bring to a boil in a covered saucepan. Then reduce to a simmer and cook for eight minutes. When cool add the tomato sauce. Add just enough water to the can of tomato sauce to loosen the remaining sauce and pour this into the mixture.
Set the sauce aside.
Roast and cut the poblanos while making the sauce and then set aside.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sear both sides in a deep straight-sided skillet or a pot in hot olive oil. Remove and set aside.
Add the onions and chorizo and sauté, adding more oil if necessary until the onions are softened. Add a little more salt and pepper. Add the black-eyed peas and sauté for a minute. Return the chicken to the skillet and add the sauce. Cover the skillet, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the roasted poblano strips and simmer for 10 more minutes. Add the cilantro when finished cooking.
Serve with the tortillas.
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