Ingredient of the Week: Black-Eyed Peas

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Happy New Year! Forget that pesky diet; start off 2012 on the right (lucky) foot with some black-eyed peas. (We're talking the legume, not the music group.) Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's for good luck and prosperity has long been a southern tradition. Some say it stems from Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, when black-eyed peas along with leeks and other lucky ingredients are consumed. In the south, black-eyed peas are usually cooked with ham or bacon and served with some sort of leafy vegetable like collard, turnip, or mustard greens. The peas, which swell during cooking, represent prosperity, and the greens represent money.

What is it?

First discovered in West Africa, the black-eyed pea has since spread across all continents, popping up in the southern United States during the 17th century. The common black-eyed pea here in the U.S. is the California blackeye variety: medium-sized and pale with a black spot on its skin. It is high in calcium, folate, and Vitamin A.

How do I use it?

Black-eyed peas can be used in just about any cuisine. In Portugal, they're served with boiled fish and potatoes. In Vietnam, they're added to a dessert consisting of sweet rice and coconut milk. The Mediterranean countries eat black-eyed peas with lemon and salt. Pakistan and India make their black-eyed peas into daal.

Where can I find it?

In the dried beans and rice aisle of most grocery stores. If you decide to try your hand at growing them, remember that black-eyed peas, being true to their southern nature, like heat and won't thrive if overwatered.

Recipe: Spicy Black-Eyed Peas Paula Dean is the queen of southern cooking. Try her recipe for a pot of spicy black-eyed peas. If you don't suffer from a heart attack eating Paula Dean's food, then consider it good luck.

What do you do with your black-eyed peas?

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