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.


Anonymous said...

My awe for your ability to do Scorpion pose! I wish you all the best for the new year, especially good luck with the changes coming up, and I hope that in 2008 I can also enjoy many of your posts and recipes again.

Dori said...

I love bean soups and greens...I have to try this soon :)

KMDuff said...

Congrats on the scorpion pose! Wow! And all the other awesome things done in 2008, including the ice cream challenge which was so fun to read about.

cyberHag Productions said...

Well Happy New Year and New Life! I am so glad you are keeping up the Blog. It has become quite the reading addiction for me and I am am not even much of a cook! I just love how you include so much history and social commentary along with very delicious looking recipes. If I should get brave enough to try them, I will let you know! LOL

Sitar Roger said...

Beautiful, inspiring, appetizing --- Thank you! If you haven't yet, you should read "Crescent" and "The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu-Jaber. Then, write a book yourself!

Suzana Parreira said...

My comfort food is soup and this one looks delicious.

May all your wishes come true in 2008!

Anonymous said...

DC! Congratulations. Can't wait to hear your dispatches from over there. Best wishes for everything in 2008.

Anonymous said...

Jaleo and Moby Dick's. :-) I'm sure you'll find them in only a few seconds.

Mercedes said...

Sanne- ha, thanks, I'm a former dancer, so I had a bit of a head start.

Meeso- yes, me too, the kale and lentil soup on here and things like ribollita, I love all kinds of thoe soups.

KMDuff- thanks, I'm so glad you've been reading along all that time.

Cyberhag- what a compliment, thank you for reading along, and I think good cooking information is useful both inside AND outside the kitchen.

Sitar- thanks, I've read "The Language of Baklava," so I'll have to put the other on my list.

Suzana- yes right, good comfort food to start the year.

Luisa- many thanks. Who knows with the pressures of the job how much I'll get to write about, but I'm looking forward to it.

Anon- thanks. I've eaten at both many times (DC is not new to me, I lived there as a kid and when working a few years ago). When I was in high school my mom and I used to go to Jaleo and they had this amazing mashed potato dish topped with teeny-tiny chorizos, sadly no longer on the menu. Citronelle, Lebanese Taverna, and Two Amys are other favorites.

Meg said...

It is nerdily fascinating how many different cuisines have a tradition of eating lots of little things for good luck in the new year, isn't it? The Italians do it (usually with lentils), southerners, Texans, the whole 12 grapes thing that Spaniards do... it goes on. I didn't know about Syria and black-eyed peas (thanks; it was fun to read about), and how closely it parallels American southern cooking.

Hillary said...

I've definitely messed up some checks already! That soup looks great - you should really submit it to our Soup Contest we're having. I hope you have a wonderful 2008 and good luck with the new job!

b said...

congrats to you on the new job! dc is lovely, it's my hometown. i miss it. i think you'll totally dig the place.

also, this recipe looks delicioussss.

Sitar Roger said...

Unlike "The Language of Baklava," "Crescent" is a novel, but has much Arabic kitchen lore built into it, as well. We have lots of Arabic kitchen lore built in here at our house, too -- my wife is Lebanese-American, and loves cooking. She came upon your blog while looking for something on Ka'ak. She is eager for us to make your Orange Blossom Ice Cream, since we have two bottles of the water here now -- it's always on hand to make Mahalabeeyah. Diana Abu-Jaber is a skillful writer --- and so are you! I wasn't kidding about the book. If you were to write one, I'd buy 20 copies myself, to give as gifts to our closest friends.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated by cultural congruities as well, but then again, I'm a nerd too! Congrats on all the changes, so exciting! I think 2008's going to be alright!

Anonymous said...

I love these food recipies! Keep on cooking!

alexpolina said...

your recipes and photoss are beautiful.this makes me want to cook .The swiss chard recipe looks so good,hearty and healthy.perfect for a nyc winter.