Black-eyed peas with leeks and chard

Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Yields Serves 6
Black-eyed peas with leeks and chard
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
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This flavorful, earthy recipe is perfect for the Sephardi Rosh Hashanah custom of starting the meal with a mini-seder. A ritual derived from the Talmud, guests sample small portions of certain vegetables and fruits, such as pumpkin, leeks, chard, black-eyed peas, pomegranate seeds and dates, and say a blessing with each one. The choices vary depending on what’s available at the market -- pumpkin might be replaced by other squashes, black-eyed peas by other beans, and chard by beet leaves or spinach. And the blessings vary depending on the community and individual home. Some blessings have roots in Talmudic symbolism. Other blessings are actually puns on the Hebrew or Aramaic names of the foods. The word for black-eyed peas, for example, sounds like the word for increase, and therefore the blessing is “may our merits increase.”

From the story: Rosh Hashanah feasts center on sweet harvest


In a medium saucepan, bring the dried black-eyed peas and 1 quart water to a boil over high heat. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and simmer until peas are tender, 20 to 40 minutes more; if the peas look a little dry, add additional water as needed to cover while cooking. Remove from heat and set the peas, still in their cooking liquid, aside.


Meanwhile, clean and chop the chard: Pull the chard leaves from the stems and keep each in a separate pile. Peel the stems if they are stringy. Cut the stems in one-half-inch slices. Roll the leaves up, slice them in ribbons and coarsely chop them.


In a deep, medium saute pan, bring 1 quart water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Add the chard stems and return to a boil. Cover and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the chard leaves, stir and return to a boil. Boil uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the chard is tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the chard, rinse it with cold water and drain it well. Dry the pan.


Cut off the dark green tops of the leeks (discard them or use them to flavor the broth in the recipe for couscous with seven blessed vegetables). Cut the white to medium-green parts of the leeks in half lengthwise, leaving them attached near the base, and rinse them thoroughly, spreading the layers to clean off any sand between them. Cut the leeks crosswise into thin slices, about one-fourth-inch thick. (You will have about 6 cups.) Submerge the sliced leeks in a bowl of water and rub to separate the pieces. Let them stand about 2 minutes, and then lift them out of the water and drain them in a colander. If the water is sandy, soak them and drain them again.


In the same saute pan, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat. Add the sliced leeks and one-eighth teaspon each of salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are very tender, about 15 minutes. If there is liquid in the pan, cook the leeks uncovered over medium heat until it evaporates, about 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and transfer the leeks to a bowl.


If using fresh black-eyed peas to garnish, shell the pods that have bulges, indicating there are developed peas inside. Break the slim pods in 1-inch pieces, removing any strings. Add the green pod pieces and the shelled black-eyed peas to a saucepan with enough boiling salted water to cover them, about 1 quart. Return to a boil, cover and cook the black-eyed peas over medium-low heat until they are done to your taste; their cooking time can vary from 7 to 20 minutes. Drain them and spoon them into a small serving bowl. Drizzle them with 1 to 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper to taste.


Drain the cooked dried black-eyed peas, reserving their liquid.


Heat the saute pan over medium-low heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil and the garlic and stir until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and paprika, stir briefly and add the chard and leeks. Heat, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the cooked dried black-eyed peas and 2 tablespoons of their liquid and heat through, about 3 minutes, adding additional reserved liquid as desired to moisten the dish. Taste and season the dish with 1 teaspoon salt, one-fourth teaspoon pepper and one-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper, or as desired. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil.


Serve hot, at room temperature or cold. Serve the fresh black-eyed peas in a separate bowl, for topping each portion.

Since fresh black-eyed peas are time-consuming to shell, I serve a small amount separately to be added to each portion. Slim black-eyed peas don’t need to be shelled. They can be cooked like string beans: You remove the strings and cook them. Instead of cooking dried black-eyed peas, you can substitute 2 1/2 cups of frozen ones, cooked according to the package instructions, or pre-cooked black-eyed peas.