Well I’ll be darned. If it isn’t the month of February again. And that means Black History Month. So, what does that mean to you? Well for me, it means a deeper connection to being a black man from another place living in this country. Always understanding that for me, I can’t take anything for granted, including the right to vote. Understanding all the things that was fought for so that I could be here to pursue dreams and ambitions. It’s an understanding that I should also be an ambassador of cross culture unification. As an emigrant here to the States I’ve had to adopt and adapt to a culture that is different from mine. learning what it means to be black in this country before, during and after slavery. It’s a pity a lot of that knowledge gets lost on most that live here. But there’s one thing that hasn’t gotten lost on me. The food culture of this country. Cooking has a way of reuniting food cultures and especially for those that have traveled many oceans wide, many beaten paths, many underground traditions. The journeys of slaves that passed before us. As a former architecture student and professional, I found many things intriguing, fascinating and often times perplexing because of all it’s complexities and discoverable layers. and comparably so, I find food to be the same. As a chef it’s imperative that I explore cuisines of the world and the Southern traditions found here in United States is a joy to represent on a plate. Even the simplest dishes at times can render one speechless. As I continue to navigate the high and byways of southern dishes and cuisines – still trying to perfect that biscuit dough – I hope to expand my mind and keep my waistline small. I’ve experienced southern bites in a lot of different places, some of which have reintroduced me to dishes I had written off. I tried grits for the first time in 1990 and I thought it was utterly disgusting. Fast forward a decade and a half to a wedding in South Carolina and I met Miss Shrimp n’ Grits. Oh good lord, yes sir. I done slapped my mammy you hear me. Chicken George couldn’t hold me back I tell ya. Her taste was seductive and devine. She lingered on my lips, languishing the roof of my mouth, titillated my palette and all the while I was begging for more like some whipped sucker in heat. Feed me Seymour. Ooops, I digressed. Should I not have said that? Oh well, too late now. Don’t let me get started talking about some country fried steak with sausage gravy, country ham with red eye gravy, Fried green tomatoes, Gumbo, smothered pork chops, Mac N cheese, seafood rice, dirty rice, Sweet potato souffle, fried okra, spoon breads, Collard Greens, Ham hocks, Chitterlings, crackling corn bread, flaky buttery biscuits, Pecan pie and of course you can’t forget the pig as Barbecue ribs drop on this plate and certainly the ubiquitous Fried Yard bird to name a few southern style dishes.
As I continue to delve more between the delicious layers of Southern cuisine I’m more cognizant of the connection to my Caribbean roots and rice does that for me. Rice with peas I say. Pellau from Trinidad, Coconut rice & Peas from Jamaica, Congri from Cuba, are a few of the rice with peas dishes found in the The Caribbean. There are many types of rice varieties and the south surely has had their beauties that were planted on many a plantations by slaves in places such as Charleston, Georgetown, Savannah. “Long gone” are those Plantations with Black history burned and emblazoned on our hearts and minds hopefully never to be forgotten. Now, the majority of rice production is now done in Louisiana, Texas, California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri. You can find a rice dish that exemplifies the essence of the cuisine of a culture in most places around the globe reflecting over 100 different varieties with long, medium and short grains. But I shall go to the south and place center plate Hoppin’ John. A rice dish made with Black eyed peas, Ham hocks or bacon, sausage, tomatoes, Collard Greens, onions, peppers, garlic and spices. This dish combines so many parts of what I believe reflects the heritage. The subtle nuances handed down from the slave ancestors through use of what was handed down all cooked in one pot. A dish filled with deep flavor, spicy if need be and one that can stretch the plates for hungry bellies. There are many variations as to the origin and the name but if southern traditions are followed, come the stroke of midnight on New Years, plates of
Hoppin’ John will be consumed. and if there’s left overs the next day well, then you’ll be having Skippin’ Jenny. not lost in anyway is the folklore that comes with making this dish. A minimum of three peas on a fork would guarantee good luck. The more peas the more luck. A penny would be placed in the dish and if you found that penny your year would be filled with good luck. The addition of the greens signified money and additional good fortune could be had if the dish was eaten with freshly made cornbread. I made this dish recently for a program instituted by the Miami-Dade Library system, Swap and Chat to discuss southern food. The conversations between the guests has been intriguing. Nothing like having a conversation with someone born in Belgium from Martinique parents that lived in various southern states and now resides here in South Florida. Now how rich is that? Very reminiscent of the travels done by many slaves bringing and taking with them culinary traditions and recipes of cuisines. a lot of those recipes are now the backbone of a lot Southern cuisines and dishes. This island boy has certainly been grateful and appreciative because the education has certainly broadened my palette, horizons and reportoire. Yep, for certain it has made for a memorable Food on Fiyah!!! experience.
Hoppin’ John Recipe
Prep and Cook time: 2 hours
1/2 cp Cooking oil
1 ea. large onion, chopped
1 ea. medium green bell pepper, chopped
6 -8 garlic cloves, minced
4 ea stalks celery, diced
2 – 16 oz. bag dried black-eyed peas
6 ea medium to large smoked ham hocks
4 qts cups water or chicken stock
2 – 14 oz. can diced tomato
4 cups Andouille or other Cajun style sausage, 1/2″ diced
1/2 bch fresh thyme
2 Tb. dried oregano
4 ea. bay leaves
1/2 cp hot sauce (Tabasco works or favorite)
2 Tb smoked paprika
2 Tb Cajun Seasoning
2 Tb Garlic Powder
2 Tb salt
3 lbs uncooked white rice
3 bch green onions, chopped
- Add oil in large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium low heat. When hot add the onion, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add ham hocks and cook for another 3 -4 minutes then add water and peas and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour or until peas are cooked. Meat on ham hocks should be cooked as well
- Remove Ham hocks from pot, let cool. Cut meat from bones and dice. return meat and bones to the pot
- Add sausage tomatoes, herbs, hot sauce, bay leaf, spices, salt. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Add the rice to the pot. Stir well and cover. let come to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until liquid has been absorbed.
- Serve in bowls, sprinkle with chopped green onions