Black-Eyed Pea Stew

IMG_1948Happy 2011 to one and all! It’s probably not the most popular idea around, but I’m usually a little relieved when Christmas and the entire holiday season has passed. It’s not that I don’t enjoy all the festive activities, the meaningful traditions, and all the other elements that come together to create such a celebratory mood in the darkest days of the year. I guess it’s just that — after a couple of weeks — the act of celebrating ceases to be relaxing and turns more into a second job!

Don’t pretend as though you don’t know what I’m talking about. Traditions are a lot of work — none of which gets done on its own! Plus, all of the reckless eating and mindless yuletide noshing starts to have side effects right around December 26th. No, the dryer did not shrink your sweater. Mischievous holiday tailor-gnomes did not sneak into your closet and remove an inch and a half from the waist of your jeans just to get a giggle as you gasp and wheeze, trying to squeeze into them! Nope, that’s all you, buddy.

I have to admit: I usually strap on the feed bag around Thanksgiving and don’t take it off until after New Year’s IMG_1965Eve. It’s nearly impossible to be “festive” when you’re busy counting calories and essentially inviting realism and adulthood into every single facet of what is supposed to be a time of joy and wonder. Sure, you might start off trying to at least be “conscious” of what you’re eating, assuming you can be cautious without being obsessive for a few weeks. Of course, I find myself this year as I have every year in the past, glancing at myself in the mirror and noticing a puffy and pallid complexion staring back at me. In response, I swear off all evil foods for at least a couple of weeks and say to myself, “Next year you’ll do better. You won’t do this. It’s so childish, so unhealthy — you don’t even enjoy it, do you?” Sigh. Yes, you do enjoy it at least a little… and yes, you probably will do it all over again, next year.

This Christmas, in particular, seemed to be a crazy ride of ups and downs. I was unusually busy at my “real job” — even putting in extra hours. This, of course, put my free time high up on a shelf in a box marked: DO NOT OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS. Other than that, though, we had a very merry holiday season and Christmas Day. There was even lots of snow on the ground and falling from the sky on the big day — that’s always fun!


In an unexpected turn of events, my mom was able to travel north to join us. Mom and I were able to spend Christmas together for the first time in six years. She was able to go shopping with us, help out with the preparations for the big dinner, and experience the wonder of the high-drama Christmas cake. Each year for Christmas, James and I select an insanely complicated, labor-intensive cake recipe to try. THIS was our recipe for 2010. It took no less than six hours from start to finish… totally worth it, but definitely a once-a-year event!

Perhaps my most cherished memory of this Christmas was taking a long walk through the deep and drifting snow with mom and James. We were walking in our own little winter wonderland, traveling through a snow-covered golf course that we had nearly to ourselves. We talked and laughed all the way — in spite of the frigid winds and blowing snow.

Even though my camera battery went completely dead just before we started the walk, I have so many lasting memories from that day I find it difficult to be frustrated with my bad planning. Walking across the little footbridge, the frozen, snow-covered river below us. Mom’s first-ever snow angel. The simple but miraculous beauty of snow falling on evergreens and bare trees. The sound of mom’s laughter as she kicked at the powdery snow — having never been surrounded by so much winter all at once. If I could, I would wrap this Christmas up in a box and open it up again next year… and maybe every year.


But, alas, we are now in a new year — a crisp, new year and a brand new month; fresh, cold and blank like a canvas ready for the first stroke of genius to be dealt. The holidays are gone and we still have winter to contend with. In spite of the biting cold and fleeting daylight hours, there’s still some charm to winter, I think. I guess it’s because — all of that time when you’re cooped up indoors and gazing out at a study of grey, white and slate — it’s the best time to take stock of things and decide what you plan to make of your new year. The new year — the one that you got without even asking for it, maybe the one that you’re really excited to see, depending on how last year was for you.

New Year’s Day is such an interesting, understated holiday — much like the rest of January, in my opinion. Various cultures have created ways to celebrate it. Just as Thanksgiving and Christmas, my favorite modes of celebrating involve food! Don’t be alarmed, though. For New Year’s Day, I tend to put away the butterfat, the sugar, the chocolate… all that stuff that’s been both uplifting and oppressive for the past few weeks.

This was our New Year’s Day Dinner Menu:

    Uncle Jason’s Maple Cornbread
    Shredded Cabbage with Sautéed Onions and Bacon
    Black-Eyed Pea Stew

Someday I’ll share with you my recipe for cornbread and I’ll hopefully get my recipe for the cabbage in a fixed form so that I can share that as well. In the meantime, the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe was based on a surprisingly piquant recipe from Cooking Light.


What I like best about the stew is that it incorporates pantry staples such as canned tomatoes (we actually used frozen tomatoes from this year’s garden) and dried beans and mixes them with fresh greens and smoky sausage to create something perfect for a start to the new year — not to mention lots of healthy fiber and nutrition to help start erasing those holiday blunders.

Black-Eyed Pea Stew
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 8

    2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
    1 cup finely chopped celery
    8 ounces turkey kielbasa; halved lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 teaspoon dried savory, crushed
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    2 bay leaves
    2 cups dried black-eyed peas, washed and sorted
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    28 ounces no-salt-added diced tomatoes
    1 pound mustard greens, washed and hard stems removed

    Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until tender. Add sausage; cook 4 minutes or until lightly browned.

    Stir in broth; bring to a simmer, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in peas, salt, savory, red pepper, black pepper, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer 45 minutes or until peas begin to soften. Uncover and cook 15 minutes or until liquid begins to thicken.

    Stir in vinegar, tomatoes, and mustard greens; simmer 10-20 minutes or until peas are completely tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves.

The stew is a comforting dinner for a stark, cold January night when you realize that the holidays are over and you’ll need a boost to get you through to April or May. It’s also a break from all of those laborious and involved holiday recipes you’re secretly itching to get away from until next year! If you’re not able to find mustard greens or you’re afraid you won’t like them (you’ll like them if you try them), you can substitute almost any greens in place of them — including baby spinach, kale, or chard. The surrounding soup is so flavorful that the “bitterness” often associated with greens is totally eliminated. If you aren’t able to find turkey kielbasa, a good substitution would be andouille sausage.

After a busy December — with all of the holiday expectations and necessities — January really does seem like a sigh of relief, doesn’t it? Rather than dashing headlong into spring — the same way we all dash from October to the end of December — why not embrace the cold of winter? Let the briskness of a January breeze blow the cobwebs from your holiday-frazzled mind. May your New Year be filled with prosperity and joy.


~ by Jason on January 3, 2011.

One Response to “Black-Eyed Pea Stew”

  1. Jason, I love you and James so much. I was so blessed to be with ya’ll for Christmas .
    The food, as usual, was so good and I know people that eat your food will say its wonderful also…
    The walk in the snow through the golf course and through the fields and over the bridge — wow. That’s what I remember saying over and over “WOW! !!!!!!”
    I miss ya’ll so much!!
    I can’t wait to be together again really soon…
    I can’t wait to see what happens in 2011 🙂 🙂 🙂

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