Thursday, January 24, 2013

black-eyed peas with kale and bacon

I am a reformed vegetarian.

Between the ages of 12 and 28, I followed various denominations of vegetarian: full, pescetarian, chicken-atarian . . .

Then I lived in a house full of people from Oxford, England and Atlanta, Georgia. Suddenly, bacon was frying in a heavy black cast-iron skillet all the time.

And the smell well, the smell was irresistible.

Needless to say, bacon was my gateway meat.

Now, I am a proud omnivore and no denomination of vegetarian will describe me at all. Of course, we still do eat a lot of vegetarian meals . . . old habits die hard.

Which is why I'd like to offer you this almost-vegetarian dish  a dish whose genius lies in its use of bacon.

You see, you start with just a few slices of bacon and fry them up, until they're crispy and you can't resist doing a few taste-tests while they're draining on the paper towel. But  and here's the genius  you leave the little bit of bacon fat that has seeped out in the pan.

Yes, exactly! And then you cook your onion and carrot and celery and garlic in that bacon goodness. The veggies soak up that bacon goodness like a sponge and become glistening and full of flavour  all ready to hang out with their good friend, the black-eyed pea.

Do you know the black-eyed pea?

It's my favourite bean, possibly because it's my favourite card in my favourite card game  Bohnanza  but also because it's so tender and beautiful at the same time.

The black-eyed pea is yet another bean that is so much better bought dried, and then soaked and cooked. You know that strangely slimy, gushy texture canned beans have? Well, dried beans don't get that (unless, I suppose, you cooked them forever and ever). Instead, a dried bean plumps up and maintains its shape even while it gets tender on the inside. To say that I like dried beans would be an understatement (see, the vegetarian in me lives on).

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you don't have time to deal with dried beans. That's what I thought, too  I'm never on top of life enough to soak dried beans over night. But it turns out you can cut that time right down to an hour with the same results as soaking: just bring them to a boil, turn them off and let them sit for 1 hour.

Anyway, back to this black-eyed pea dish. I call it a dish because I like to leave just a little liquid to dip my bread in, but otherwise I like it thick and substantial. Magical things happen here: with that bacon and the cumin and these beans and even the kale.

This is, unapologetically, a deep-winter dish that you might find yourself waiting for all year round  vegetarian or not.

one year ago: lemon syllabub
two years ago: rosemary gruyère baked eggs
three years ago: shortbread in january

black-eyed peas with kale and bacon
adapted from eating for england and for the love of cooking

feeds 4

2 c. dried black-eyed peas
 7 slices bacon, chopped (easiest to do frozen)
1 small onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz. canned whole tomatoes, best quality you can get
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
pinch of crushed red pepper (or Korean red pepper)
3 1/2  4 c. chicken broth
 3 c. kale, chopped finely

First, prepare the black-eyed peas. You have two options.

Option 1: Put the black-eyed peas in a big pot with lots of water. Soak them for at least 8 hours.

Option 2: Put the black-eyed peas in a big pot with lots of water. Bring them to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and wait 1 hour.

Drain your prepared black-eyed peas and rinse them well.* Set aside.

Put a big heavy-bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it's just cooked and a bit crispy. While it's cooking, prepare a small plate with a paper towel on top. When the bacon's done, use a slotted spoon to take it out and put it on the prepared plate.

Add the onion, carrot and celery to the bacon fat left in the pot. Fry for 2  3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomato, salt, pepper, cumin and crushed red pepper and cook for 2  3 minutes. Break up the tomatoes with your spoon a bit while everything's cooking.

Pour in the chicken broth and prepared black-eyed peas. Bring to a simmer and cover. Let it simmer for about 30 minutes, until the black-eyed peas and veggies are tender, but not too soft.

Stir in the kale and bacon and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve  we like this with crusty bread or homemade cheesy garlic toast and a glass of red wine.

*Apparently, if you rinse beans, they are less likely to cause gas.


  1. Bacon fat definitely makes everything better. (Okay, maybe not ice cream but otherwise.) Using it as a flavoring for a big pan of beans and veg sounds just about perfect to me!

    1. I must say that I agree -- I'm a big sceptic about bacon in ice cream. But definitely for everything else . . . (:

  2. would it be blasphemous if I made this with a different kind of pea/bean? On hand I only have pinto beans, or is this a sign that I need to go grocery shopping?

  3. Not blasphemous at all! After all, I switched the bean in the original recipe that called for lentils . . . Use any bean you like -- just keep an eye on cooking times -- they might be slightly different. Let me know how you like it!

  4. This looks so yummy and healthy and delicious and perfect for a cold winter day: nutritious, delicious, and economical is my mantra. I loved your Valentine's story and can see you are still the queen of tasty yummy bean meals!

  5. Thank you, Valerie! I do looooove beans -- which is so funny, because I never really liked them that much when I was a vegetarian!

  6. Made this tonight and it was a huge success, especially with 2 year old Henry who got his first taste of bacon.

    1. That is high praise indeed! I'm so glad everyone liked it. (: