Learn about the Southern New Year’s Day tradition involving black eyed peas and then enjoy them in my flavorful and hearty vegetarian Hoppin John recipe.
New Year’s Day hosts the most important meal of the entire year for Southerners. Deeply rooted in tradition, superstition, and hope for the future, we have definite must-have dishes, which even those of us who might not be as superstitious as others dare not shirk on this day.
Southern New Year Traditions
I’ve told this story before, but it certainly bears repeating in reference to this meal. Back in the days of civil war, Union troops swept through the south, confiscating crops and livestock to use as provisions for their troops. Southerners who weren’t off fighting were left with precious little, save for peas and greens. These dishes became cherished and appreciated as what saved many a family from starvation during those times and the tradition of celebrating these dishes on the new year was born.
There are three things every southerner must eat on New Year’s Day: black eyed peas, greens, and hog jowl or fastback. Black eyed peas are said to bring luck in the coming year, with many traditions holding that you must eat at least 365 of them. We never had a number, but the more you ate, the more luck you were supposed to have so Mama always makes plenty!
Hog jowl is very tough and extremely salty. It looks just like a thick slice of bacon but is more difficult to chew. As one of the cheapest cuts of meat, it rose rapidly in popularity during the depression era of the South. Eating this is said to ensure good health in the coming year and I must say, it is delicious.
Greens can be either turnip, collard, or a mix of greens or a “mess” as we call them. They are said to bring wealth in the new year and as with black eyed peas, the amount of wealth you have is directly proportionate to how much of them you eat! Tomorrow, I’m bringing you a greens tutorial.
Black Eyed Peas and Hoppin John
Now you know more about our Southern tradition, it’s time to get cooking! I’ve got two recipes for you today. First, I’ll show you how to make delicious cooked black eyed peas. Then we’ll take that recipe and use it to create a vegetarian Hoppin John dish.
Hoppin’ John has been around for ages in the south as well. Classic soul food, it was yet another way to piece meager rations together and make a filling and nutritious meal. It is believed to have originated in African cuisine and carried over to the states, where it was eventually adopted as a southern staple. Flavored with crushed red pepper, garlic, and onion, it’s a hearty and comforting meal that’s guaranteed to warm you up in the cooler months.
- Dried black-eyed peas
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Granulated sugar
- Vegetable oil
- Black pepper
How to Make Black Eyed Peas
Just as I did with my pinto beans, you need to sort through your beans. Sometimes there are little stones in there, so you want to just pour them into your hand before you put them in the bowl and check a handful at a time.
After they are all in a large bowl, cover them with water and then about two inches. These will need to soak overnight.
There are quick soak methods as well, but I find the greatest success when I soak mine overnight. If I ever forget to soak my beans, I’d rather wait until the next day instead of doing the quick soak method.
This is how they look the next morning.
Drain off this water and discard it, then place peas in a large pot.
Add an ample amount of water so that they don’t cook down.
We’re going to cook these for a few hours at least. You can let them simmer all day if you like.
Now we need to season our peas.
Normally for the non-vegetarian version, I would put in a large piece of country ham, maybe even a ham bone with a little meat left on it.
For this tutorial, though, I am leaving that out in order to make this a vegetarian dish.
So instead, we are going to add one tablespoon of sugar.
And about a tablespoon and a half of salt.
I prefer two tablespoons but I am giving you this measurement as a rule of thumb. When salting beans, it really needs to be to your taste. Start with a tablespoon and a half and taste them when they are close to being done, adding more if you prefer.
Add about a tablespoon of pepper.
Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Stir that up and turn on the stovetop and bring it to a boil.
Then reduce heat and simmer for two to three hours (or more if you like).
When the peas are tender, they are done!
You can now serve them as is, straining out your peas into a serving bowl.
If you are going to serve them like this, I really suggest you put a piece of ham in them at the start and then shred it up into them before serving (unless you are vegetarian. In that case, I really recommend you don’t do that).
- Cauliflower (riced using a food processor but you can use regular rice too).
- Lemon juice
- Minced garlic cloves
- Crushed red pepper flakes/chili flakes
- Hot sauce
How to Make Vegetarian Hoppin John
Making Cauliflower Rice
Melt butter in a skillet.
Then add your minced garlic and cook until fragrant (should only take about 30 seconds).
Next, add salt, pepper, and cauliflower to make my cilantro lime cauliflower rice.
Click that link for detailed instructions, but you basically want to cook and stir the ingredients every once in a while, until the cauliflower rice is crisp-tender and starts to turn light brown in places (about 7 to 12 minutes).
Then you want to take the cauliflower rice off the heat and add your lemon or lime juice…
And the chopped cilantro.
Vegan Hoppin John time!
Now set that aside while we prepare the rest of the vegetarian Hoppin John.
First, chop up your onion and saute it in about 2 tablespoons of butter (or any cooking oil if vegan) until tender.
Now strain off your peas.
Put them in a large bowl…
And add your onions.
Then add your rice.
Stir all of that up.
And add about two tablespoons of hot sauce.
Personally, I add more to mine but I do it once I have my serving on my plate so it won’t be too hot for the kids. Two tablespoons don’t really add heat so much as it adds flavor.
And there you have it, a big bowl of delicious vegetarian Hoppin John.
How good does that look?
Enjoy your vegetarian/vegan Hoppin John!
Store Hoppin John leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
- There are oodles of variations on this vegetarian Hoppin John recipe and you can feel free to add or take away as you will. The southern way of cooking allows for making do with what you have and so I am making a more classic Hoppin’ John which happens to utilize what I have on hand.
- Add garlic powder instead of garlic cloves or minced garlic.
- Boost the vegetables and added bell pepper, celery, sliced mushrooms, corn kernels, kale, Swiss chard, and/or carrot when you saute the onions. Cook until tender.
- Add tomatoes or a can of Ro-Tel.
- Boost that smoky flavor Hoppin John is known for by adding 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika to either the peas or the rice.
- Red pepper flakes: you can leave these out completely or add them to the peas while they are cooking for a more subtle flavoring or to the rice while it’s cooking for a bit of an obvious flavor. Depends on what you like. You can also easily substitute them for chili flakes, chili powder, or cayenne pepper. All of these spices add that hint of heat.
- Substitute the cauliflower rice for brown or white rice or quinoa if you prefer. I like to cook the rice in vegetable broth for extra flavor.
What is the difference between Hoppin John and black-eyed peas?
Hoppin John is a dish made with cooked black-eyed peas and rice.
How do you serve vegetarian Hoppin John?
Hoppin John is often served with a garnish of chopped scallions (green onions) or fresh parsley. But if you’re making cauliflower rice with fresh herbs, this isn’t really necessary. Instead, simply serve the traditional way with a side of collard greens and a side of cornbread.
Can I add meat to Hoppin John?
If you’re not concerned with the dish being vegetarian, here are some protein-packed Hoppin John alternatives:
- Saute some sliced andouille sausage after the onion to make a Cajun-inspired Hoppin John. But really, any sausage works. Add half a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning to make the dish sing!
- Fry up some bacon, chop it up, then add it to the Hoppin John.
- Have leftover baked ham? Warm it up then add it to your Hoppin John.
- Alternatively, add a ham hock, piece of country ham, or ham bone with meat on it to the black-eyed peas while they cook for extra flavor.
Is Hoppin John gluten-free?
Yes, this particular Hoppin John recipe is vegan, gluten-free, and healthy to boot!
Here are some more Southern staples you might enjoy:
Black Eyed Peas
- 2 cups dried black eyed peas see notes
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes You can add this to the peas as they cook or to the rice as it cooks.
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp black pepper
Hoppin' John's Vegetarian Version
- cooked black eyed peas
- 1 medium cauliflower riced in the food processor, or any rice you like
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper or to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, cilantro, or basil)
- 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 4 tbsp butter or preferred cooking oil for vegetarians
- 1-2 tbsp hot sauce
Black Eyed Peas
- Sort beans and soak them overnight (see notes). Drain off the soaking water and pour the peas into a pot, covering them with water and leaving enough extra to prevent the peas from cooking down. Add remaining ingredients and cook for roughly two to three hours or until tender. Start cooking rice with the instructions below after about 1-2 hours of cooking the peas.2 cups dried black eyed peas, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp black pepper
Vegetarian Hoppin John
- Heat the skillet and add 2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add the garlic. Stir that garlic around the pan until it's fragrant (20-30 seconds).3 minced garlic cloves, 4 tbsp butter
- Add the cauliflower rice (or cooked rice), salt, and black pepper (more or less depending on your taste). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower rice starts to crisp up and turns light brown in some bits (approx 7 to 10 minutes).1/4 tsp black pepper or to taste, 1 medium cauliflower
- Take it off the heat, and then stir in the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Give it a taste then add more lemon juice or salt and pepper, if you like.1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, cilantro, or basil), 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
- Drain off the black-eyed peas when they are tender. Set aside while you start to saute.cooked black eyed peas, 1 medium cauliflower, 1/4 tsp salt
- In a saute pan, saute onion in the remaining butter or oil until tender.1 small onion, chopped, 4 tbsp butter
- Place the rice, black-eyed peas, and onion in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add 1-2 tablespoons of hot sauce and stir again.1-2 tbsp hot sauce
- You need to sort through your beans. Sometimes there are little stones in there, so you want to just pour them into your hand before you put them in the bowl and check a handful at a time.
- Red pepper flakes: you can leave these out completely or add them to the peas while they are cooking for a more subtle flavoring, or to the rice while it's cooking for a bit of an obvious flavor. Depends on what you like.