Hoppin' John

2017 is here. There's been a lot of talk about bidding good riddance to 2016, what with its devastating election results and long list of beloved celebrity deaths. But for those of us who have had aching pits of fear and disgust in our stomachs since the orange monstrosity won on November 8th, the scary truth is that it will get worse before it gets better. (Uplifting, huh?)

When I saw Rancho Gordo's black-eyed peas at their Ferry Plaza store last month - billed as "Super Lucky 2017 Black Eyed Peas" - I couldn't resist. I'm taking all the luck I can get my hands on this new year, particularly if it's packaged in beautiful, delicious heirloom beans!

I made up this Hoppin' John-inspired recipe as I went, using what I had in my pantry. Traditional Hoppin' John includes some sort of pork - a ham hock, sliced bacon, or rendered lard. To achieve a similar smoky-salty flavor profile, I loaded mine up with smoked dried chipotle chiles. We inhaled warm bowls of this improvised Hoppin' John after walking Honey in the brisk night air earlier today, and I could not in that moment imagine something more flavorful, rich, and homey. I'm a bit gun-shy when it comes to heat (though I'm getting better!). This recipe has just enough heat to make my throat tingle deliciously but not enough to have me reaching for the kleenex. Adjust to your taste, of course.

So here's to 2017. May it be even half as comforting and Super Lucky as this bowl of beans!

Hoppin' John

Serves 6-8 as a main course.

For the beans:
1 lb dried black-eyed peas, preferably Rancho Gordo's Super Lucky 2017's
1 yellow onion, peeled and halved
5 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 bay leaves
2 dried smoked chipotle chiles (I'm lucky to be able to buy incredibly fresh ones from the Everything Under The Sun at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, though others will certainly work!)

For the soup:
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more to drizzle on top for serving
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 ribs of celery, cut in half length-wise and sliced
1 bay leaf
4 dried smoked chipotle chiles
5 medium cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
1/2 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
10 cups vegetable broth
12 oz rainbow chard, inner stems removed, torn into ribbons
Kosher salt
Ground pepper

For the rice:
1.5 cups of sushi rice
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Rinse the black-eyed peas and put them in a pot that is at least 5 quarts. Cover them in plenty of cold water and soak for 12-24 hours before cooking.

Drain the peas and cover with 3 inches of fresh water. Add the onion halves, garlic cloves, bay leaves, and 2 of the chiles and bring to just shy of a boil. Lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and let simmer for 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the freshness of your beans and how long you soaked them. Taste for doneness every 20 minutes until they are cooked through but not mushy - the skins should still be intact and fairly firm. Discard the onion and garlic, and drain off the liquid. Put the beans, bay leaves, and chiles in a large bowl and set aside.

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in the same pot you used to cook your beans. Add the onion, carrot, celery, remaining bay leaf, and remaining 4 chiles to the oil with a few large pinches of salt, and stir to combine. Let them cook, stirring every few minutes, for 10 minutes, while you prep the rest of your ingredients. Add the garlic, oregano, and another few large pinches of salt, and cook for another 3-5 minutes. By now, the mixture should be quite soft and fragrant, but not browned or burned. 

Add the beans to the pot, along with a few large pinches of salt, and stir to combine. Let the mixture cook for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the broth to the pot. If your broth is unsalted, add a few large pinches of salt with it. If your broth contains salt, only add additional salt if need be. Grind some fresh pepper over the top and raise the heat to bring the soup to a low simmer. Simmer together, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add the chard to the pot, a handful at a time, each handful with a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust seasonings. Continue to simmer for 5 more minutes, then turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let stand until you're ready to serve.

While your beans are simmering and before you add the chard, put the dried rice, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and 2 cups of water in a small pot and cook until done, about 15 minutes.

To serve, put a scoop of rice in the base of a bowl, ladle soup over top, and drizzle generously with olive oil.

Enjoy, and happy new year from my family to yours!