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Black-Eyed Peas for Good Luck

Black-eyed peas are a type of legume, actually a bean. The traditional Southern dish of black-eyed peas and greens is served on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day for good luck throughout the year: the peas symbolize coins and the greens paper money.

Cultivated since pre-historic times in China and India, black-eyed peas are related to the mung bean. The ancient Greeks and Romans preferred them to chickpeas. And, there are many good reasons to eat include black-eyed peas in meals throughout the year: they are affordable, and a great source of protein, calcium, fiber and Vitamin A. 

Several stories explain why these legumes are considered to be good luck. One dates back to the Civil War and General Sherman’s scorched earth march to the sea. It is said his army took everything edible but left black eyed peas and salt pork because they weren’t considered to be human food. Southerners who survived on these leavings were grateful and considered them lucky.

Yet another story is that slaves were officially freed on New Year’s Day and celebrated by eating black eyed peas.

This healthy, nourishing recipe is a great choice for any fall or winter evening, and if you want to add to your good luck, be sure to enjoy some on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. You will be in good company.

RECIPE: Black-Eyed Peas

1 ½ C dried black-eyed peas (soaked overnight)
3 T olive oil
1 ½ T fresh ginger, grated
2 t dried oregano
½ t salt
¼ t black pepper
Zest of ½ lemon (or lime)
Juice of ½ lemon (or lime)
Grated jack or smoked mozzarella (optional)
1 or 2 fresh leeks (or green chilies) (optional)


  1. Pressure cook peas in 5 cups water for 15 minutes OR simmer in water for 1 ½ hours, until tender. (If you have pre-soaked the peas, cooking time will be reduced by half, to perhaps 45 minutes if using a pot instead of a pressure cooker.) Don’t salt until peas are completely softened.
  2. Trim and discard any outer, dry, or limp leaves of leeks, cut lengthwise and wash, rinsing between layers. Then, cut into slices about an eighth inch thick. OR dice green chilies if using them instead of leeks.
  3. Saute the sliced leeks in 1 tablespoon of olive oil before adding ginger, oregano, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking for another minute or two.
  4. Drain the cooked peas, reserving the liquid, and add them to the spices. Add back the desired amount of liquid.
  5. Finish the peas with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Check the seasoning, especially the salt, pepper, and lemon.
  6. Serve with grated cheese on the side and over greens (collards, for example) or noodles if you wish.

Black-eyed peas also go well with rice. And cornbread, which represents gold, is often featured as a side dish.


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