And, you know what? You know that so-called black-eyed pea? That black-eyed bean, that cowpea, that China bean, crowder pea, asparagus bean, field pea, long bean, red pea, southern pea, yard-long bean? You know that oea bean, marble bean, black-eyed suzie, "little nun" mogette, bodi bean, snake bean, boonchi, chain gang pea, cow gram, Tonkin pea, bung belly, cream pea, Jerusalem pea, zupper, whippoorwill pea? That lobbia, that dauguk? There's no right or wrong about it; no black and white.
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A Bitter Soup of Black-Eyed Peas
(e-SoupSong 46: March 1, 2004)
It was just a bean, after all. How could it have caused so much trouble?
They'd clicked right from the start, those two. Two peas in a pod. Two college dreamers, two pedants who loved to be right.
Inside a week of being introduced, she'd asked him over for a fine English supper, at the last minute tossing some frozen black-eyed peas into boiling water to serve as a tribute to his Southern manhood.
"Y'all call these black-eyed peas, Yankee girl?" he'd drawled across her dining room table. "You don't eat these things crisp. They're African, Yankee girl, brought to the South by slaves; only one way to eat them--cooked for hours til they're soft enough to burst. If you're lucky, maybe we'll eat them together on New Year's Day...for good luck. Old family tradition."
"Over my dead body," she'd thought.
Next day, she said: "Chinese. Vigna sinensis. You know, sinensis = Chinese. Carried over the silk road--Chang'an...Dunhuang...Urumqi...Samarkand...Arabia. It was Arab traders who took them to East Africa. Then west to the Atlantic. Okay yes, they took sail with African slaves to the Caribbean. Then your Mama's grocery. Stone, The Brilliant Bean, 1988."
Next day yet, he said: "Vigna unguiculata--FORMERLY known as sinensis--originated in Africa and traveled the other way on that Silk Road, sister: Africa...Arabia...Samarkand. When they got to China, everybody loved them. Bissell, Book of Food,1989."
They were wed by Christmas. And what did they eat on New Year's day?
"Mmmm, Good Luck soup," he'd said, "just like Mama's. Black-eyed peas, nice and mushy. Can't you just taste those African roots, girl, feel that African sunshine? Heebner, Calypso Bean Soup, 1996.
"Asian. Asian roots, Asian sunshine," she'd said. "A Vigna, related to all the other Asian Vignas--mung beans, dal. Chinese grow them into 3-foot pods and eat them fresh. London, Versatile Grain, Elegant Bean, 1992. Some folks like to wrap them around skewers of meat and grill them over charcoal. Hayes & Gottfried, 1992. So, Mr. Rebel Rouser, how 'bout if I wrap my fresh beans around your meat, just for luck?"
"Sister, if you heat me up, I guarantee I'll swell."
Those had been their glory days of love.
Next New Year's day was different. Too many arguments. Too many issues. Too little money. Chinese smoked ham and black-eyed pea soup.
"What the hell is this?" he'd said. "What kind of luck is this supposed to bring?"
"Don't be so rigid," she said. "It's a great soup--everything you like plus ginger and honey and soy sauce and spices. Very lucky. Extra lucky. Extra, extra lucky."
But he'd have none of it. "They're African, dammit. Check Alan Davidson, for God's sake: originated in Africa, spread to ancient Greece and Rome, traveled to Asia from there. Oxford Book of Food, 1999."
"You only cite books you agree with. How about Heriteau in 1978 and Stobart in 1980? They found the Vigna cradle in India."
"Bullshit. You see what you want to see. Stobart cites wild varieties still found in Africa. Proof positive."
The next New Year's day, you could have cut the air with a knife.
"What's in the pot?" he snapped. "It better be African and it better be good."
She took off the lid and the fragrance of curry filled the room. "Sukha Lobbia ka Soop," she said. "Indian Gujarati black-eyed pea and roasted pepper soup."
"Shit," he said.
Alas, they didn't make it to the next New Year's day. He's gone missing.
And me? I'm sitting here this January 1 with a big bowl of good old Good Luck soup steaming in my face. These black-eyed peas are nice and mushy. And I'm keeping company with the brand new 2,153-page Cambridge World History of Food, the very last word on food scholarship.
And, you know what? You know that so-called black-eyed pea? That black-eyed bean, that cowpea, that China bean, crowder pea, asparagus bean, field pea, long bean, red pea, southern pea, yard-long bean? You know that oea bean, marble bean, black-eyed suzie, "little nun" mogette, bodi bean, snake bean, boonchi, chain gang pea, cow gram, Tonkin pea, bung belly, cream pea, Jerusalem pea, zupper, whippoorwill pea? That lobbia, that dauguk? There's no right or wrong about it; no black and white. Maybe Africa, maybe India, maybe China--maybe all three.
If that just isn't the way, seeds of life popping up everywhere, having their way in the world, scholars be damned. I guess I'll just sit here and spoon up these black-eyed peas...and hope for good luck in the new year.
CHINESE FRAGRANT PORK AND BLACK-EYED PEA SOUP
1. Soak the peas in lots of water for several hours, ideally overnight. Technically this step is not necessary, but it helps guarantee tender and buttery beans at the end.
2. An hour or so before serving, begin the soup. Heat the peanut oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat, toss in the onion, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft and yellow, about 5 minutes. Stir in the 5-spice powder, then the rice wine, soy sauce, and honey. Add the pork hock and pour in the chicken stock and water. Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium, partially cover, and cook for about an hour, til the beans are very tender.
3. When ready to serve, remove the ham hock, cut away the bone and fat, then cut the meat into a small dice and add back to the soup pot.
4. Ladle into large bowls and sprinkle each with minced green onion.
GUJARATI TART PEPPER AND BLACK-EYED PEA SOUP
2. While the soup is cooking, roast the red pepper under the broiler, turning to char the skin on every side. Place in a plastic bag and let the skin steam off for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the bag, peel away the skin, and reserve.
3. When ready to finish the soup, unseal the soup pot and check that the beans are tender. Cut the roasted pepper into cubes and add to the soup. Then Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cover the pot while they sizzle. Turn the heat to low and stir in the curry leaves (or cilantro), the chickpea flour, the paprika, and the asafoetida. Stir for a minute or two, then whisk in the cup of water and stir into the rest of the soup. Stir in the tamarind, tasting to get the right amount of sourness. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes or more.
4. Ladle into small bowls and serve immediately.
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