26 April 2011

of the black eyed variety

Every spring, I crave black-eyed peas.

This kind:

Not this kind, ever, especially post superbowl xlv:

I was about to say "I don't know why, but every spring I crave black-eyed peas" but that would be a lie.

I know exactly why.

My mother, whilst I was growing up, was not a meat and potatoes kind of girl, but, as in most of America, most of her meals had some type of meat in them. We weren't pot roast people or roast chicken people (like my family now is), but we were spaghetti sauce with ground beef and chicken enchilada people.

But every summer, from April through September, inclusive (because that is summer here), my mother would have what she deemed "vegetable night." This seems silly, because we had vegetables every night, and we were not always meat-ed people (meatless taco salad, cheese ravioli, red beans and rice, black bean soup are just four entrees I can remember that appeared sans meat).

But I understand it now. These vegetable nights were when she could serve vegetables that tasted like God meant them to taste. These vegetable nights were to showcase the vegetables. We didn't have broccoli or carrots or salad like on every other night. These vegetable nights almost always followed a trip to the farmers market.

We had tomatoes, served alone, with dash of salt and pepper. We had corn on the cob, boiled for just a hot minute and then buttered (or, per my mother, margarined, don't get me started, bless her heart), salt and peppered. We usually had cornbread. And we had peas. Sometimes purple hull peas, sometimes I don't even know what, sometimes just the plain ol' pea of the black-eyed variety. If we were lucky, we got fried okra to along with it, or if my mother had her way, sauteed squash, heavy on the onions. And if my baby brother, her baby child, was around, we also had a tomato tart. Because, see, it's his favorite.

These nights found my mother at her best, that is, my mother without measuring spoons. She was just throwing stuff in pots and pans, as she well should be. It is harder for her to do that than it is for me; her motto is, "If I make it the way the recipe says and it tastes good, why would I mess with it?"

Mine is, "I like variety and have an overconfidence that often leads to greatness, but at least as often leads to 'I should have just followed the recipe.'"

Thus, I walk the line.

But I look back on these hot, summer evenings with great joy in my heart. She just threw in butter, salt, sugar, pepper with abandon.

Mama was always working from farmers market peas. She, except on new years, never bought non-fresh peas. She didn't like them enough to try to dress up a supermarket distant fourth place when she could just be patient and wait for a Mississippi backyard blue ribbon champion.

I did inherited neither her wed-to-recipe-ness nor her patience. But I did inherit, with a vengeance, her love of food and her seasonality.

I am growing my herbs (more on that later this week). Paul has planted his tomatoes. My children have been playing in the sprinkler. The air conditioning is on; if I have to sweat, I also get to eat summer vegetables.

I've been incorporating summer veggies into our menus for the last few weeks: I've made a tomato tart (but had to buy basil for it), we've had corn on the cob, and I've made squash.

But this week, I felt it come on. A need for a veggie night.

So, tonight we did it. Though, we'll have better ones later in the year, when all the veggies can be farmers market.

We had corn on the cob (which Ada slathered with butter, I protested, she said, "I gave up butter for lent, Mama, I have to enjoy Easter"); we had biscuit bread - as southern as southern can be; we had a big green salad; we had leftover Easter mac and cheese; and we had black-eyed peas.

Now, fresh black-eyed peas should be nearing unadulterated. God made them a certain way, and you should only add a little onion, salt and pepper to them.

But dried peas in a bag from Kroger need a little more help. And since it ain't culinary summer quite yet, we had the latter.

So I googled and messed around and so forth. Ultimately, I fiddled with a Paula Deen recipe.

And this is what I did. Paul and I highly recommend it. If you have "but I don't like pie-see food Mama" people at your house, cut down on the pepper, chili powder and onion. But as is, this is not a spicy dish - just a little hint of a kick.

1 lb dried black eyed peas, soaked (I used the quick soak method taught on the bag, and was very satisfied - that's a first time for me)

1 onion, sized to preference - I used large - are you shocked? Cut into whatever size pieces of cooked onion you prefer

In a pan over high heat, put a mixture of olive oil and bacon grease, the second of which you have dutifully saved in a jar in your refrigerator for occasions such as this. If you have not done so, you can fry up some bacon really quickly and crumble to throw on top of the black eyed peas. Or you can skip the bacon grease and go with some butter. I think my mixture was about a tablespoon of each.

Throw in onion, saute over medium heat for about 6 minutes, until soft - you don't have to get it to a translucent point.
Then add:

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 can Rotel (Or, obviously, store brand tomatoes and green chilies, but don't you think everyone knows what Rotel is better than "Can of Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies", huh, don't ya?)

Stir around for a bit.

Toss in soaked beans and 4-5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover. Cook on Medium or Medium-Low heat for 45 minutes to an hour.

Serve and enjoy! On veggie night or whenever the mood so strikes.

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