It’s hard to pass up the good protein source of classic beans ‘n rice, and a great variation on the combo is the Southern dish Hoppin’ John. Featuring black-eyed peas, a favorite New Year good luck dish, this dish packs a smoky richness typically derived from smoked pork hock. Let’s first get one thing out of the way: black-eyed peas are beans, not peas. They are fried with the Cajun Trinity of green bell peppers, celery and onions, as well as garlic, Cajun seasoning, and finished with rice, green onion and often, collard greens.
Over the years, I’ve played with this classic. My favorite variation utilizes smoked duck, which adds elegance and nuance, a departure from the standard larder ingredients typical of the dish. But I reside with a vegetarian clan. Even my Meat as Seasoning series dishes, with minimal meat participation, gets pushed aside for its straying from strictly vegetarianism. So, while Hoppin’ John is an ideal demonstration of minimal meat making big impact, I’m doing my due diligence of home dinner production by going rogue: vegetarian Hoppin’ John. Radical!
But this is totally do-able. What are we losing by omitting the hock? Well, smoke, for one. But I have some very good Spanish smoked paprika. If I were desperate, I could also use liquid smoke, but I am not. We lose some substance, which I regained with diced cremini mushrooms. The mushrooms also contribute the third lost element: Umami. Both of these two contributions could be made by seitan or tempeh. I would avoid tofu here; perhaps extra firm would work for substance, but otherwise tofu would be mushier than the purpose wants, and it doesn't have umami.
Of course, my deviations from tradition don’t end with the pork omission, I have a couple of others. I do make my BEP (black-eyed peas) very aggressively seasoned, but I like to add a clean foil into them by simply blanching some green cabbage. This is a great new texture as well. And for an additional textural component, I am thin slicing raw jicama for a final crunch, though I’ve typically used sunchoke when that is available. Now that I think about it, I’d probably like raw, thin-sliced celery for that purpose as well. Further, I’m now in the habit of using a short-grained rice, such as arborio, instead of classic long-grained rice. Because I will eventually mix it all up into a single dish (instead of topping the rice with the BEP as per tradition), I like the more substantial grain which will hold up to the cooking juice better.
An additional variation: if you take The Chopping Block’s Knife Skills class (either in-person or virtually), you can use the vegetables acquired there. The carrots will be a bonus ingredient in your BEP!
I love this dish on a cold winter day. And if it brings me good luck? Bonus, even if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Vegetarian Hoppin’ John
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: approximately 1 quart, or four portions
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
For the black eyed peas:
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced cremini or white mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 pound dried black eyed peas
1 bay leaf
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 Tablespoons Cajun spice
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 cups vegetable stock
Water as needed
Salt as needed (most Cajun spices and many store-bought stocks are salted, so be cautious!)
1. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the oil on a medium/medium high heat.
2. Add celery, onion, bell pepper and sauté until starting to brown. Stir occasionally.
3. Add mushrooms and garlic, sauté one minute.
4. Add BEP, herbs and spices. sauté one minute.
5. Add stock, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and simmer about an hour until the BEP are tender.
6. Add water through the cooking process as needed to keep the BEP covered. Check salt to finish.
During the cooking of the BEP, prepare the other components of the dish.
For the cabbage:
1/4 head of cabbage, chopped in 1-2 inch pieces
1. Blanch in lightly salted water for one minute.
2. Remove with slotted spoon and cool.
For the rice:
1 cup arborio rice, or other
1 1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. In a 2 quart pot, mix ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce to a very low heat, cover tightly.
2. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Shut off rice and do not remove lid.
3. Allow to sit untouched for 10 minutes.
4. Fluff up rice with a fork.
Thin sliced green onion
Thin sliced crunchy vegetable, such as jicama, sunchoke or celery
A hot sauce (I used pepper vinegar that I ‘put up’ last summer)
1. To finish, toss a cup of BEP, half cup of rice, a couple of pieces of cabbage, and a few slices of jicama in a bowl.
2. Top with scallion, and serve with hot sauce.
For more vegetarian cooking techniques, plan ahead for our Vegetarian Boot Camp on Saturday, June 24 at 10am at Lincoln Square. One of my favorite vegetarian dishes is featured in an upcoming virtual class: Black Bean and Mushroom Burgers on Friday, February 24 at 6pm CST. And we have a new vegetarian class, Hands-On Mediterranean Vegetarian on Wednesday, March 22 at 6pm that features the the bold, fresh and zippy flavors of the Mediterranean.
And for more Southern cooking ideas, join us for Hands-On Evening in New Orleans (just 2 spots left!) on Saturday, February 18 at 6pm, Virtual Trip to New Orleans on Friday, February 17 at 6pm CST or Hands-On Nashville Hot Chicken on Wednesday, March 8 at 6pm.