Beans, Greens and Cornbread A Southern New Year’s Tradition
A story, bonus recipe for Chef BJ Dennis & some delicious soul food short cuts & flavor bombs
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I’ve got beans, collard greens, and cornbread — I’m ready! This is a Southern American New Year’s tradition. According to some food historians, the tradition of serving black-eyed peas with rice is called Hoppin’ John and originated from the Carolinas. Black-eyed peas are cooked with white rice, aromatics, spices and pork and often served with a side of collard greens and hot buttered cornbread. It’s delicious!
I had it as a child, but I didn’t know the history behind it. I just knew it was delicious. I learned about West Africa’s influence on soul and southern food in college. I learned that a lot of things we assume or take for granted is just Southern or American soul food is connected to enslaved Africans.
If the saying is true, and “we are what we eat” Michael W. Twitty said it best, “Our story is told through our plates.”
I knew this tradition was gaining popularity when I encountered a collard green and black-eyed pea shortage a few years back. I went everywhere from my neighborhood grocery store to two different Whole Foods and no one had a dried or canned bean black-eyed peas or collard green. It was shocking and it happened a couple times. Now, I instinctively start to stock up on beans, chicken broth, and Jiffy cornbread mix. I grow my own greens now, blanch and freeze them so I can have them through the winter. However, they are really affordable and a highly underrated, nutritious and delicious green.
Now before I’m judged by southern or soul food purists, I know how to make cornbread from scratch and how to soak and prepare beans, but both preparations require time — I simply do not have. Between consulting projects, packing for a move, tax prep for my 1st year start-up and everyday stress — I don’t have a minute to spare.
So, here are some soul food short cuts and flavor bombs that will make your food fantastic in half the time without sacrificing flavor:
- Buy or prep mirepoix and sofrito to save on chopping time and add serious flavor to your beans and greens. I also add a little fresh garlic and onions just to make it pop — but you really don’t need it
- Keep a little bacon grease in your freezer and use it to sauté your aromatics for a meaty flavor or you can use Better Than Boullian vegetable base as a meatless alternative to add a layer of richness without the animal fat
- Low glycemic rice prep saves time because it’s a cook ahead item and lowers your sugar absorption. I use brown rice, fluff it and keep it in my freezer. You must fluff it before you store it — or it can get mushy.
- Use canned, jarred beans or the quick soak method — remember do not put salt in the water until after they they have cooked. It makes the skins tough and they won’t cook properly
- Fresh is always best, but a great alternative is frozen. If I find fresh collard greens or kale on sale, I blanch, dry (with a salad spinner), roll them into bunches and freeze them. They are easier to cut and prep for later. These tips saves money and cooking time.
I hope this information is helpful and you make this meal part of your New Year’s tradition and soul food Sunday tradition. Every year, I try to start my year with a special Southern American, Soul Food meal meal that is reflective of and inspired by the African Diaspora - from my Nigerian and West African roots to the Caribbean Islands and Latin America.
My menu is below and I included a great recipe videos from Chef BJ Dennis. This year, I replaced fried chicken with a Puerto Rican fried fish dish:
South Carolina Hoppin’ John — Chef BJ Dennis Recipe
Sweet Johnny Cake
Collard Greens and Kale — Live Chat Sunday, January 3, 2021 on Clubhouse
Puerto Rican Bacalitios
Caribbean Carrot Juice
Sweet Mint Tea and Melon Slushy
White Sangria with ginger and apples
Thank you for reading!
Sources and Special Thanks to:
Michael W. Twitty, Food Historian and Author
Chef BJ Dennis
Vice News/HBO via Youtube