Smoky Sweet Black-Eyed Peas & Greens for the New Year!

Smoky Sweet Black-Eyed Peas & Greens for the New Year!

Ever since I heard that black-eyed peas should be eaten at beginning of each year for good luck, I have made it a habit to keep them in mind and include them, especially on January 1st! Why not? We can all use some good luck for the coming year, right? I had a fuzzy impression about the reason they were famous for luck — something to do with southern black slaves, and that was about all I knew. This year, I set about learning a bit more about this lore. Since I teach whole-food plant-based vegan nutrition and cooking classes, I’m all about encouraging more legumes….no matter the reason!

So, I went out to the world wide web to find out more! The first thing to remember is that even though they are called “peas”, they are actually beans just like black or kidney beans. But either way, they are part of the legume family which means they have a great nutritional profile. One cup of cooked black-eyed peas has 16 grams of healthy plant protein. They’re also very high in fiber (for improving digestion), vitamins, like folate, minerals and cancer fighting phyto-chemicals… but have only 1 gram of fat. They are champions at lowering blood pressure. They are GREAT at filling you up and keeping you from craving sweets and other fattening foods, aiding weight loss or maintenance. This is why we include legumes (lentils) in many of our Goodies! 

What about the good luck part?

Well…they are inexpensive, because they are easy to grow, and resist frost, so they are generally a good thing to celebrate in the winter, at the first of the year.  Farmers love black-eyed peas, because they return nutrients, particularly nitrogen, to the soil. Yay for sustainable, earth friendly crops! You mean you can enjoy something that is great for your body and for the earth? That is a definite win-win!

Most Southerners will tell you that the tradition dates back to the Civil War where confederate soldiers considered themselves lucky to survive the winter on meager supplies of black-eyed peas and salted pork after a raid from Union soldiers. So, they became a symbol of luck. In my opinion, it was the black-eyed peas that saved them in spite of also eating the pork!

Other lore has it that the peas were brought over from Africa by the slave traders as food for their captive cargo.

Black-eyed peas were considered animal food and were also given to slaves, as were most other traditional New Year’s foods. One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the southern slaves had to celebrate with on the first day of January, 1863. What were they celebrating? That was the day when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. From then on, peas were always eaten on the first day of January.

There are all kinds of superstitions about the amount of black-eyed peas to eat on New Year’s Day and if you should leave any on your plate or not! If you are concerned and want to keep your bases covered for the coming year, here is more info: check out this article.

At any rate, including legumes in your New Year’s meal seems like a very healthy choice to set a great tone for the New Year! My easy recipe can get you started. You can use canned, frozen or dried black-eyed peas. You can make it in a pressure cooker, slow cooker or on the stove. Black-eyed peas cook faster than other beans, so that is a great New Year’s gift. Soaking them before cooking is a great idea, because it improves the digestibility. You may notice that they are edible just after soaking. Yep, you can eat them raw (they are considered sprouted at this point) and add a great crunch to salads!

Smoky Sweet Black-Eyed Peas & Greens


1 large onion, chopped

1 diced red or green bell pepper

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 ½ cups dried black-eyed peas soaked overnight and drained or 3 cups cooked black-eyed peas (2 cans, drained)

4 large pitted dates, finely chopped

water or vegetable broth to cover (for cooked beans) or water or vegetable broth 1 inch above (for dried, soaked beans)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup tomato paste

2/3 cup salsa

1 large or 2–3 small fresh tomatoes, chopped (optional)

4 cups chopped greens (kale, or collards)

salt & pepper & hot sauce to taste


1. In a large pan, sauté the chopped onion on medium-high heat until it starts to brown and stick to the pan. Add splashes or water or vegetable broth to deglaze the pan.

2. Add the diced bell pepper, chili powder, turmeric and smoked paprika and continue to sauté for a few more minutes, then add the black-eyed peas, dates and water (amount depending on whether they are pre-cooked or not). Bring to a boil then lower the heat to medium-low and partially cover. Cook for 10 minutes for cooked beans and about 30 minutes for dried beans, adding additional water as needed, until the black-eyed are tender.

3. Add the garlic, tomato paste, salsa, and tomatoes and bring to a boil, then add the chopped greens, stir them in well, and continue to cook for another minute or so to just soften the greens.

4. Add salt and pepper (be sure to add black pepper to increase the effectiveness of the turmeric) to taste and serve over brown rice or another grain, or on its own. Sprinkle with your favorite hot sauce if you like, and enjoy a healthy, successful new year!

Best of luck for a healthy and successful New Year!

Want help keeping to your resolution to eat more plant-based and healthier? We have a great line-up of healthy snacks and Goodies! You can also visit my Veg-Appeal page for coaching. Check out our unique line-up of events, classes & services!

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