Black-Eyed Peas with Red Onion and Garlic

A class ramekin of dried black-eyed peas on a blue gingham cloth
Dried black eyed peas (photo mine, February 2022)

Everyone has a favorite legume, and for me in recent months, that bean has been the black-eyed pea. I love the meaty, nutty flavor of the bean, its toothsome texture, and their subtle, starchy smell. Not to mention that, among beans, the black-eyed pea is particularly beautiful.

Black-eyed peas, which are a type of cowpea, have a long history in many Jewish cuisines. The peas were common on Jewish tables in the Talmudic era, and continue to be popular today among Jewish communities from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, the Balkans, and India – as well as Jews across the Southern United States and in African countries. Egyptian Jews are especially fond of black-eyed peas, both fresh and dried. For many, the food is a tradition on Rosh Hashanah, because the Arabic and Ladino name for the pea – lubya – sounds similar to various words meaning “plenty” and “prosperity” in Aramaic and Hebrew. This tradition parallels the Black American tradition of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. That said, black-eyed peas are delicious enough – and, in dry form, hardy enough – for year-round consumption.

Here, I adjust a recipe from a favorite, newish cookbook, In Bibi’s Kitchen, by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen. The book is a collection of recipes by women from eight African countries that border the Indian Ocean. One of my favorites is a simple and absolutely elegant white bean recipe by a woman in Madagascar, Jeanne Razanamaria. That recipe blends the tang of red onion with the hearty goodness of white beans. That recipe has become a frequent star on my dinner table – and, even though it is from a country with a completely different culinary history, very reminiscent of Jewish white bean recipes. (Perhaps not surprising in the Indian Ocean context.) I decided to try this recipe with other legumes, and found that some beans with a stronger flavor – like black eyed peas – also needed other strong flavors to pair with it and the relative lightness of the red onion. Hence my addition of garlic, which does feature in many recipes from around the Indian Ocean. My suggestion is to not just make my recipe, but also Razanamaria’s original recipe. Both are delicious.

If you want another excellent black-eyed pea recipe by a far more achieved Jewish chef and writer, I highly recommend this recipe for black-eyed pea soup by Michael Twitty – whose book, The Cooking Gene, is one of the Great Books I’ve recommended on this blog.

As for this recipe – it only has six ingredients! The flavor comes not from spices – as much as I love them – but from judicious application of each of the ingredients. The beans, onions, garlic, and tomatoes each shine in their own way, supported by the oil and salt. Finally, a note: I have not tried this recipe with canned beans, only dried. If you successfully adapt it for canned beans, let me know!

Black eyed peas with onions and tomatoes and garlic, rice, greens, and corn and squash with pepper on a yellow plate on a wood table.
The black-eyed peas on the bottom right, served with – going clockwise from the bottom – rice, greens sauteed with a peanut sauce base, and a corn, squash, and pepper saute. (photo mine, February 2022)

Black-Eyed Peas with Red Onion and Garlic

Based partly on a white bean recipe by Jeanne Razanamaria in In Bibi’s Kitchen

½ pound/250g dried black-eyed peas*, soaked overnight or for at least six hours

Water

Salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 large red onion, diced

3 slicer tomatoes, roughly chopped, with seeds removed

6 cloves garlic, crushed

  1. In a medium pot, cover the soaked black-eyed peas with enough fresh water to cover the beans by 2 inches/4 centimeters. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour, or until soft. Stir now and again.
  2. Set aside ¾ cup of the beans’ cooking liquid. Drain the beans and add a generous dash of salt. Set aside.
  3. Wipe down the same pot, then place on medium-high heat. Add the oil, then sauté the red onion for about 3-4 minutes, or until softer and beginning to caramelize slightly.
  4. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 3 more minutes, or until the tomato skin begins to separate from the flesh.
  5. Add the beans and the garlic and mix thoroughly, then add the reserved cooking liquid.
  6. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and then add a second generous dash of salt to taste.
  7. Serve with rice and any other fixings. Leftovers keep in a sealed container for five days in the refrigerator, or in the freezer for several months.

Thank you to Jennifer Szlasa and David Ouziel for participating in User Acceptance Testing. Thank you to Mikaela Brown for finally getting me to write about black eyed peas.

Cashew and Garlic Spread

Here’s a quick recipe in honor of the Nine Days before Tisha B’Av. It is traditional in this time to eat foods associated with mourning, to avoid meat, and to avoid alcohol, all in honor of the destroyed Temples – and for many modern Jews, other tragedies as well. Garlic has an interesting duality in traditional Jewish cuisine – it is simultaneously a food of pleasure for Shabbat but also traditional for mourning, along with eggs and lentils. I haven’t found very much on the Jewish history of cashews, but I do know that they are frequently found in the cuisines of Brazilian and Indian Jewry.

Cashew and Garlic Spread

Serves 10-20

6oz/170g raw cashews

2 cups water

16 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Soak the cashews in water for fifteen minutes. Then, drain the cashews.
  2. You can optionally saute the garlic cloves whole in the olive oil and then save both. Or you can use them raw for a stronger flavor.
  3. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth but with some chunkiness. I have a hand-crank food processor and find that I can better get the consistency I want with that. You will get a smoother product more quickly with an electric food processor.
  4. Let it sit for ten minutes before serving. It will keep for up to a week refrigerated.

Thank you to Alex Cooke, Jonathan Bressler, Rebecca Galin, Berakha Guggenheim, Akiva Lichtenberg, and David Hughes-Robinson for participating in User Acceptance Testing for this recipe.

Eggplant Salad

Eggplant salad with peppers and garlic
Eggplant salad with peppers and garlic. Photo mine, April 2017.

Recently, I have found myself craving eggplant all the time – and I have perhaps become addicted to the tannic and earthy taste of a vegetable that is actually a giant berry. And so, given my passions and my interests, I have also been researching the Jewish history of this most extraordinary plant. Today, the eggplant is so associated with Israel that it is difficult to believe that eggplants were not, in fact, present during the First and Second Temple period. Rather, the plant is from India – and the word “aubergine” in English and French comes via Arabic and Persian from the Sanskrit vatiga-gamah, which might be related to the word for flatulence. I cannot speak to that effect, but I can say that eggplants reached the Jewish Mediterranean in about the 7th century CE.

White, five-petaled flower of a wild eggplant, with little green fruit behind.
Flower of a wild eggplant. (Photo Michael Khor/CC-Flickr)

Eggplants have long been a beloved mainstay of Sephardic cooking – and show up in all sorts of pastries, stews, and salads. Folk songs wage a fight between the eggplant and tomato (another newcomer), which were long considered the two favorite vegetables of the Sephardi community. In Morocco, Jews and non-Jews make a pungent and delicious salad called za’alouk with eggplant, as well as a lovely eggplant jam. Moroccan Jews even candy eggplant! Ashkenazi Jews historically only ate eggplant in Hungary and Romania, but developed an attachment to the plant there as well. Eggplants were one of the first foods adopted by settlers in Israel and Palestine in the early 20th century, and today eggplant might as well be a food group in Israel.

Eggplant pieces
Delicious eggplant, before cooking. (Photo mine, March 2016.)

This salad is a riff on a recipe more typical in Israel today – one often called a “Moroccan” eggplant salad, though it is somewhat different from typical salades cuites. As in North Africa and Turkey, “salad” in Hebrew, or salat, can also refer to small plates of vegetable dishes served at the beginning or as part of a meal. Even in English, the term salatim is now frequently used among Hebrew-speaking Jews. The eggplant used in Israel is smaller and fried more deeply in oil, whereas I have used the larger Mediterranean eggplant. I also have added more garlic, because garlic is delicious. In any case, this eggplant salad – though given that it is cooked I hesitate to say “salad” – is easy, delicious, and goes well with many other dishes.

Fried Eggplant Salad (Salat Khatzilim Metuganim)

2 small-to-medium eggplants, chopped into 1cm/ 1/3 inch slices (optionally salted)

1 bell pepper, finely chopped

1 chili pepper, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tbsp lemon juice

Salt, to taste

Olive or vegetable oil

  1. Heat a wide skillet or pan, then add about 2cm/1 inch of oil. Fry the eggplant in the oil until soft and darkened on both sides, flipping as necessary.
  2. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil in the pan. Set the eggplant aside to cool.
  3. In the same oil, sauté the peppers and garlic until the pepper begins to soften and the garlic is thoroughly browned. Remove, with the oil, from the heat. Set aside to cool.
  4. Mix the leftover oil-garlic-pepper mixture with the lemon juice. Then, pour this “dressing” over the eggplant, and mix well.
  5. Add salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.