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 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
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 large red onion, diced
3 slicer tomatoes, roughly chopped, with seeds removed
6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 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.
- Set aside ¾ cup of the beans’ cooking liquid. Drain the beans and add a generous dash of salt. Set aside.
- 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.
- Add the tomatoes and sauté for 3 more minutes, or until the tomato skin begins to separate from the flesh.
- Add the beans and the garlic and mix thoroughly, then add the reserved cooking liquid.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and then add a second generous dash of salt to taste.
- 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.