02 January 2012

New Year's Traditions: Hoppin John

I have a confession to make. I really don’t like New Year’s. To me, it’s an artificial thing. Don’t get me  wrong, I love the IDEA of it--a new start, wipe the slate clean and begin anew. What’s better than that?

The problem is that we seem to take all our problems, resentments, wounds into the new year. We can’t seem to leave them behind. We try to feel as if it’s a brand new year, but if we’re honest with ourselves, nothing is different, is it? At midnight we say HAPPY NEW YEAR! and we pop corks and throw confetti and set off fireworks and we try to feel as if something is different, something is new. But it really isn’t. At least for me.

I wonder what would happen if this year we all decided to leave the old stuff back there in 2011 and only bring into the new year the good stuff: the love, the friendships, the kindnesses we’ve experienced. What if we just left the rest behind? Dan likes to tell me that if I water the flowers I won’t have to pull so many weeds. I wonder what would happen if I could do that this year? I think I’ll try.

When I was growing up we always ate black-eyed peas on New Years Day. It was supposed to bring us luck. We ate them with rice in a traditional Southern dish called Hoppin John. The recipe is as varied as the cooks who make it: there are always black eyed peas, there’s always rice, there is always pork in one form or another. After that, it all depends on the humor of the cook--or more likely the hometown of the cook!

For almost every January 1 of my life I’ve eaten black-eyed peas in one form or another. I’m not superstitious, you understand, not at all. It just never hurts to be careful...

Here in Belgium, the custom is to eat sauerkraut on New Years Day. It’s supposed to bring luck and wealth (if you put a coin under your plate). It’s always served with pork sausages, maybe a ham hock, mustard, and lots of mashed potatoes. It’s a perfect winter dish. The only thing missing IMHO is black-eyed peas.

Needless to say, when I was thinking about what to cook for New Years Day this year, the first thing on the list was black-eyed peas, and more specifically Hoppin John. We decided, though, since it was to have a Belgian slant, that we’d call it Hoppin Jean, which is pronounced almost the same, but has a little bit of a French accent. Like our lives. I have to add here that I have not succeeded in finding black-eyed peas in Belgium--I have to bring them back with me from visits to my home country--The South. In The South black-eyed peas are cheap and plentiful. In Belgium they’re unknown. Or rather, not exactly unknown, but if you ask for black-eyed peas in a shop they’re likely to send you to the music store. 

But this year I also wanted to make sauerkraut. It’s not that I’m superstitious, mind you, but  it never hurts to be careful! So I bought sauerkraut and a jambonneau de porc, which I think is maybe a ham hock. In any case, it’s perfect with sauerkraut. I cooked it for a long time in the sauerkraut with some juniper berries and then just pulled the meat off the bone. With some good German mustard it was perfect.

The Hoppin Jean was a little more work. I’ll give you the ‘recipe’ that I used, but please know that it’s one of those dishes that you can make with whatever you have. In the end it’s beans and rice. I think there needs to be some pork with it, and I used some little sausissons that I can buy here that are a little spicy. These are dried sausages, like pepperoni or salami. I also add some chili because I like spicy food. You can modify this in any way you like. All measures are approximate--this is really a ‘handful of this, pinch of that’ recipe...

Hoppin Jean

200 g / 1 cup dried black-eyed peas
200 g / 1/2 lb spicy sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1/4 fresh chili, chopped
1 cup / 200 g rice
Salt and pepper

  • The night before you want to eat this, sort through the black-eyed peas and discard any that are brownish or broken. Rinse them well in cold water and leave them to soak overnight.
  • The next morning, drain the peas and wash them well.
  • Chop the spicy sausage and cook it over medium-high heat in a large pan. It should render some fat. If it doesn’t, then you’ll want to add a little bit of oil.
  • Chop the onion and add it to the pan. Stir.
  • Chop the carrots and celery and add them as well. Stir well.
  • Add the dried chili flakes and stir some more.
  • Add the drained black-eyed peas and stir well. Cover with water and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the peas are starting to become tender.
  • Add the chopped fresh chili.
  • Add the rice and more water if needed. Stir well.
  • Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the rice is tender.
  • Add salt and pepper as needed.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.


  • If you want to add a little zing to it you might squeeze a lemon into it after the beans are cooked. You could also add the zest of the lemon with the dried chili flakes. I wish I’d thought of this yesterday.


La Table De Nana said...

I am the same about NYE ..and day..We watched Midnight in Paris..just the 2 of us and were in bed by 10.30:) WE went over to one of our daughters NYD to watch Rio w/ them and our little grandsons...Perfect:)

It is nice to hope for better years.. and it is nice to be grateful for what is already there and right:)

Like great food on our tables.. so many go without.
Your post is pretty in red..and thought provoking too.
The red is just so sharp in photos isn't it?

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a lovely read this morning and a great way to start of the first Monday of the year.

I ate my black-eyed peas as a good southern girl should do, but like you, I do it out of tradition.

Speaking of luck, Meakin & I have both enjoyed that fabulous Belgium chocolate you sent our way. We nibble a little at a time, not wanting it to end. Orange was our favorite. Thank you again for your kindness. See, I was lucky in 2011.

Happy new year Kate and Dan.

Robin said...

Love the serving suggestions... 4 if they like it... 10 if they don't! Who wouldn't love this?

Jamie said...

Happy New Year, dear Kate! Yes, NYE is rather low key and some (ahem) don't get into it either. LOL! French pessimism? But I did suggest we have choucroute! But I am so loving the Hoppin John! Gotta look for black eyed peas!

beti said...

I love how the hoppin jean sounds, it looks pretty good

Megs said...

I feel exactly the same about NYE!
Anyhow, So glad I found your blog! I will be subscribing. Feel free to stop over some time. Megs

Hungry Dog said...

I like Dan's suggestion about watering the flowers. Wise man...

Wishing you the best in 2012, Kate!

A Canadian Foodie said...

Now I have to look up the origin and the region where Hoppin John came from as I have never heard of it - but it does look delicious!
SO, funny, Kate. When you get older (and I guess I am that), your hurts get resolved as they happen and you don't carry them with you anywhere, let alone through to a new year. But, I do remember those days. AH! So, I can empathize with you - and I don't really know what changed. I know I did, but if I could write book on how to let things go and how I learned how to, I would make a million. I think it just comes with age. One of the few benefits. Haha!
Now, back to that Hoppin' John research!
Happy 2012 to you!

Kate said...

We are in on NYE also. It is usually too foggy to be on the road and I really hate the special New Year's menu that you get with the special prices! early movie and an early dinner.
I have never had Hoppin' John. I have pork and sauerkraut every year since I can remember. I do love it!

Linda said...

Happy New Year my friend...
What a lovely post. Your pics are wonderful!
We had Pho on New Years Day...long noodles...good luck!
Tonight we had the Kassler Rippchen, sausages, and sauerkraut...very strong German mustard to go with...
Hopefully we will have good luck!
I love the watering the flowers comment....
Wishing you all the best always!

Kathermans said...

Lovely post as always. You can buy black eyed peas (and anything bean/pea-like) in the "Bio-shopping" shop in Malmedy, wonderful selection of treasures (well certainly with my diet) in there. They also have all sorts of wonderful whole rices, even risotto sorts etc. I have some black eyed peas on my shelf so now I'll know what to do with them (but I'll have to leave out or replace the pork).

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Happy New Year Kate. NYE with all the resolutions is overrated but I love it for being able to get together with friends and for the feeling that there is so much new that lies ahead. Love black eyed peas and this looks lovely!

Barbara said...

Unfortunately, we always carry things with us, Kate. The best we can hope for is a better I always think that when midnight comes.
Hoppin John is a tradition, especially in the south and this is a super recipe for it!

Stella said...

Happy New Year, Kate!! This looks delicious. I didn't eat any sauerkraut (that looks wonderful), but I did have my black eyed peas, collards, and corn bread. Hopefully, this will help me leave the bad behind, though I don't want to leave the lessons learned from the bad;-)
By the way, I'm okay (good even-living in Atlanta again for the first time quite a long time). Thank you for writing a while a back asking after me.
Oh, and I hope you and Dan are doing well.
Your blog friend/witch,

Jeanne said...

Late to the party but what a lovely post (and oh my, I LOVE the look of the sauerkraut with pork!!). I don't really do resolutions, but I do love the energy that a new calendar and a clean(er!) slate brings.