Cook up an easy New Year’s feast, Southern style

Charlotte Observer

A comforting casserole of baked grits and greens puts frozen collards to good use.
A comforting casserole of baked grits and greens puts frozen collards to good use.

After all the fuss and bother of Christmas, New Year’s ought to be simple.

The Southern tradition is to serve humble foods like collard greens and black-eyed peas to ensure luck and prosperity in the coming year. Such basic foods should ensure an easy day of cooking, too.

Sometimes shortcuts aren’t a bad thing. Sometimes they’re even the best option.

Nathalie Dupree, the Charleston-based cooking expert who wrote “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” with co-author Cynthia Graubart, has an order of preference on field peas (including black-eyed):

“Fresh – if someone shelled them. Home-frozen. Commercially frozen. Canned, drained and well-seasoned to mask the canned taste.”

Frozen collards can be acceptable for long-cooking dishes, she said. “I would do something else rather than use canned collards.”

Cookbook author Virginia Willis recommends the triple-washed and chopped, pre-shredded collards found bagged in the produce section. Those cook fast because they’re in smaller pieces.

She refuses to take a shortcut with her cornbread – no Jiffy mix here – but we agreed that it’s better to take one than to risk not eating collards and black-eyed peas on New Year’s.

“I missed it once and it was truly the worst year of my life,” said Willis. “I’m never not doing it again.”

Black-eyed pea hummus

Makes 3 cups

This is the perfect dip for a New Year’s Day party. From

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)

1/3 cup tahini (sesame-seed paste)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Two 15.8-ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained

Fresh pitas, cut in triangles, or pita chips

Drop garlic through the chute of a food processor with the motor running and process briefly until well-chopped.

Add the lemon juice, tahini, ground cumin, salt, paprika and peas to the work bowl of the food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down the bowl if needed.

Serve at room temperature with pitas or pita chips.

Chiffonade of beets and greens

Serves 4 to 6

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking,” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, $45, 720 pages). You don’t have to cook collards for hours. Dupree says she can’t remember how she thought of adding beets to collards, but it works. Note: You also could make this with turnip greens, kale or baby beet greens.

2 cups collards, cut in ribbons or pre-shredded (see note)

2 teaspoons butter or oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

One 16-ounce can beets, drained and chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add greens and cook 1 minute. Remove from water and drain well. (Skip this boiling step if the greens are very young and tender.)

Heat the butter or oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the garlic, ginger and blanched greens. Cover and cook a few minutes. Remove lid and stir in the beets and lemon juice or vinegar.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Black-eyed pea and ham hock soup

Serves 6

From “Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking,” by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, pages ). Note: Willis says that canned peas are too soft, but you can make the soup with frozen black-eyed peas. Reduce the cooking time according to the package instructions.

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, washed and picked over

4 to 6 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 smoked ham hocks

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 bunch collards, tough stems removed and discarded, leaves thinly sliced

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place peas in a large bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight. Or place in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and set aside for 1 hour. Discard any floating peas and drain.

Bring the stock and ham hocks to a boil in a pot over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer at least 30 minutes.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds.

Add the drained peas to the pot with the red pepper flakes, ham hocks and stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the peas are tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Return the soup to a boil just before serving. Stir in the collards. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Texas caviar salad

Serves 8 to 10

From “Quick-Fix Southern,” by Rebecca Lang (Andrews McMeel,$16.99, 192 pages). Canned black-eyed peas become a side dish with bright flavors and textures.

Two 15.8-ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

Two 11-ounce cans shoepeg corn, drained

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 large sweet onion, diced

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

6 pepperoncini peppers, cored and diced

3/4 cup liquid from pepperoncini jar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to mix well. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

Baked grits & greens

Serves 8 to 10

Adapted from “Southern Living Home Cooking Basics,” (Oxmoor House, out of print but available an an e-book, $22.95). Even collard-haters won’t object to this warm, homey casserole. It works great with frozen collards.

2 1/2 to 3 cups frozen collards

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits (not instant)

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

5 tablespoons butter, divided

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan

1/2 cup bottled creamy Caesar dressing

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 cups coarsely crushed garlic-flavored croutons

Place frozen collards in a strainer and rinse quickly with cold water. Drain, squeezing to remove most of the water. Set aside. (It’s OK if there are some frozen chunks.)

Bring 4 cups of water and garlic salt to boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Gradually stir in grits. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 5 minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t stick. Remove from heat and stir in onion and 3 tablespoons butter.

Place eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat lightly. Stir in the collards, Parmesan, dressing and pepper. Stir in about a quarter of the hot grits, stirring quickly so the eggs don’t cook. Stir in the remaining grits, stirring constantly. Pour into a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. (Can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated for 24 hours. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes before finishing.)

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and toss with crushed croutons. Sprinkle evenly over the casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until mixture is set and croutons are golden brown.