Friday, October 22, 2010

Pass the Peas, Please!

As a true GRITS (Girls Raised In The South) kind of gal, I grew up on black eyed peas. I still eat them fairly regularly and always on New Years Day, right along with collard greens. So, naturally, when I came upon this recipe for black-eyes pea fritters, I had to try it!

Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, sorted, soaked overnight, drained, and rinsed (this is a VERY IMPORTANT part!)
1/2 medium onion, diced (I used a whole onion)
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1 teaspoon minced thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (I just used a whole green pepper)
1 tablespoon cornmeal
5 cups coconut oil

In a food processor, combine the beans, onion, peanuts, thyme, cayenne, vinegar, water, and salt and pulse until completely smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove the batter from the refrigerator, add the bell pepper and cornmeal, and beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. In a medium-size saucepan over high heat, warm the coconut oil until hot but not smoking, about 5 minutes. Lower the oil to medium high, and in batches of 5, spoon the batter into the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time. Fry, stirring around, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. If necessary, adjust the temperature to ensure that the fritters do not cook too quickly. Transfer the fritters to a paper towel–lined plate and allow them to drain.

Now, I have to be honest. The first time I made these, I thought I would be clever and use canned black eyed peas. You know, to save time. What I ended up with was a black eyed pea cornmeal mush. Tasty, but not quite the same. We ate it anyway, but with a spoon instead of a fork. You see, I had neglected to notice the part in the recipe about using dried, UNCOOKED peas. Yeah, that's a pretty important part to this recipe, let me tell you. But the flavor was just so nice I wanted to try again, actually following the directions this time. You can see the result in the picture above. The original recipe suggested serving these with hot pepper sauce, but I didn't.

Black eyed peas are also known as cowpeas. I remember the first time I read that name years ago, it gave me quite a giggle. What I didn't realize at the time was that cowpeas probably originated in Africa and came here with the slaves. They were often known as a "poor man's" food; the landed gentry of the Eastern seaboard considered the cowpea simply that: peas grown to feed the cows. George Washington imported 40 bushels of what he called "pease" from Jamaica in 1797 to plant in his fields for forage, but no record exists that he actually sampled them himself. He would probably be shocked to learn that his cattle, slaves, and sharecroppers not only ate them, but were enjoying such a nutritious diet. OF course, George and his buddies were the same enlightened group who declared the tomato poisonous and unfit for humans, while his poorer, but healthier counterparts were eating those with gusto too! Black eyed peas consist of an average of 24% protein, are rich in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, and are most nutritious when eaten in combination with cereals. The Southern custom of serving peas with cornbread or rice is a tradition that is actually healthy.

If you have never eaten black eyed peas, you are missing out! Fry up some of these fritters, and you'll see what I mean!

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