04 January 2008
Never Too Late for Luck
By now, you've probably messed up your first few checks, replaced your calendar, and generally settled into a new year with a big fat round eight at the end of it. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions or much retrospection, but a new month at the start of a new year does encourage a bit of reflection. If you had asked me, I would have probably told you that 2007 involved a lot of waiting, several wrong turns, and a few frustrations. But when (while twiddling my thumbs on the train) I started listing the things that had happened in the past year, it looked like quite a lot:
- I made 20 ice cream recipes
- I left a job and a city I loved
- My significant other of several years became less significant and more other
- I found a new joy instead (albeit one who eats my shoes)
- I learned to do vrschikasana.
- I found a part of my family I had never known before
- I got a new job
- I'm moving to a different city
- I am finally learning to drive (about 9 years after I should have)
There are many more things I could add to that list, but it's quite a bit, really. I'll be starting a new job at the end of the month and will be in Washington, D.C. for the next three years. I'm a bit apprehensive about all of it, but I hope it will be new and exciting and challenging intellectually, plus it will be nice to be able to see my family and friends regularly without the medium of Skype. This blog will continue as usual, and I've already got some things tucked up my sleeve, including one of my absolute favorite Middle Eastern recipes and some other new-to-me discoveries.
My mom should get a big thanks this year, as she's played host to me in my transition, generously ceding her kitchen to my endeavors and also footing some major grocery bills. In our family, we've always had traditional foods for the new year: black-eyed peas (for seeing into the new year), collard greens (green for greenback$) and cornbread (for gold). I have no idea if any of those symbolisms are verifiable, but I've always liked the idea of them. Imagine my delight when, while traveling in northern Syria, I learned that they also eat black-eyed peas for good luck? In Aleppian Jewish tradition they eat black-eyed peas on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), usually with veal. The other traditional Syrian preparation of black-eyed peas involves the peas stewed with Swiss chard. This dish is literally a dead ringer for one you might find in the American South: swap the chard for collards and the Aleppo pepper for paprika and you've gone from one half of the world to another. I find these similarities terrifically fascinating, but then again I'm a total nerd.
The new year may have come and gone, but I say it's never too late for a little luck. Plus, this dish is really hearty and delicious: the peas are long-cooked so that they take on a sort of velvety smoothness punctuated by a hint of spice. You can serve it as a thick stew in bowls, dolloped with a little plain yogurt, or as I had it in Syria, ladled over rice.
So here's to 2008 and all the changes it may bring. I hope yours is healthy and happy and I look forward to sharing it here with you. And if you live in D.C. and see a girl in a brand new VW Rabbit, you might be advised to change lanes.
Black-Eyed Peas with Swiss Chard
splash of olive oil
1 thick-cut slice of bacon (optional)
1 medium-sized onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bunch (~8 stalks) Swiss or Rainbow Chard, ribs removed and leaves roughly chopped
4 cups fresh black eyed peas or 1 1/2 cups dry black eyed peas soaked in water overnight
2 tablespoons tomato paste
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or other mild red pepper
1. In a medium-sized pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic (and bacon, if using) and saute until soft and translucent but not browned, 10 minutes. Add the chard, black-eyed peas, tomato paste and enough water to just cover the mixture by an inch and bring to a boil. Season with salt and turn down to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes for fresh peas and 1 1/2 hours for dried peas. You may need to add a touch of water- it should be thick and stew-like. Stir in the Aleppo pepper and simmer another 2-3 minutes to combine. Taste for seasoning and serve warm.