This is good luck food, and as with anything that has to do with luck, you better arrive with an open heart and be a willing participant or it will pass you right by. Take a few minutes to enjoy the moments of making this dish. It’s humble. It’s nourishing. It’s tasty. If you stop to notice its abundance, you might feel like the luckiest bastard in the world. I’ve made this a vegetarian recipe, just because. If you have a ham hock and its stock, by all means, throw them in. Happy New Year!
The night before you want to cook the Hoppin’ Johns, place the dried black-eyed peas in a medium bowl and cover with lukewarm water. Leave at room temperature overnight to swell and come back to life. Let this process unfold in the same way that you will let your year unfold. Let it do its thing, but take some time to notice what is happening. These beans are transforming and you’re along for the ride.
When you’re ready to turn these ingredients into the magical dish that they will be, drain the beans from the water and set aside. Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions and a smattering of salt & pepper to season. Let the onion soften and sweat out that lovely smell that fills the house. Before it takes on any color, add the celery, green pepper, garlic, and paprika. Cook until this all marries together and the mixture becomes soft and starts to get brown on the edges. This will take about 15 minutes. Stir often, but only to check in like a loving partner. Give it some space to do what it needs to do. Add the drained tomatoes and let it cook a little, just until you smell that first whiff of the sweet, acidic sugars that tomatoes give off when they feel the passion of heat beneath them. Add soaked beans, stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes until the beans are toothsome and the liquid is born anew from mere “ingredients” into something that is round and kind of heady, so much so that our forebears gave it the raunchy honorific of “potlicker”. I have talked to many an old man who gets a lusty look in his eyes when he talks about soaking up the potlicker with his cornbread when he was a boy. You might hate this cooking liquid, who knows? But think for a moment about what food puts that greedy-inked moment in your eyes, and then consider giving it a try. Just saying.
Serve in a bowl topped with scallions. Hoppin’ Johns are often served with white rice, and if you want to try it that way, I’d suggest Carolina Gold. There’s no white rice better. That said, I take the advice of old men from the south as often as possible, and I serve this dish with cornbread. You know, it soaks up that liquid like nothing I’ve ever known.
Eat and enjoy your good fortune. Happy New Year!