This healthy, hearty version of Hoppin' John is bursting with delicious flavor and includes lots of fresh veggies in addition to the traditional black-eyed peas, pork and rice.
If you're not from the southern United States you may have never heard of or tried Hoppin' John. It sure wasn't in my vocabulary when we moved to North Carolina, 40 years ago from the Midwest. And to be honest, although I've heard people talk about it over the years, I never knew what Hoppin' John was except that it was traditional southern New Years' fare. But when my daughter-in-law, Lindsay (a born and bred southern girl) started telling me about it a few weeks ago, it sounded intriguing and delicious.
What is Hoppin' John?
I decided to do a bit of research and it turns out that, although there are a few common denominators, Hoppin' John recipes are as varied as the day is long. Most include ham, bacon or some type of pork, but I've also seen vegetarian recipes and versions made with smoked turkey thighs. Some recipes include collards but just as many do not.
Black-eyed peas are pretty much non-negotiable for Hoppin' John and it's generally served with rice on the side or mixed right in. Other than that, it seems that the sky's the limit when it comes to variations of this famous Southern dish. My version calls for lots of black-eyed peas, a boatload of fresh veggies, diced ham and cooked basmati rice. It's brothy without being soupy.
Why is it called Hoppin John?
The answer to this question seems to have lots of different opinions. This is how History.com explains it:
Some say an old, hobbled man called hoppin’ John became known for selling peas and rice on the streets of Charleston. Others say slave children hopped around the table in eager anticipation of the dish. Most food historians think the name derives from a French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons.
So it seems that no one really knows for sure where the name comes from. When I asked my nephew, who's also from the Midwest, if he'd ever heard of Hoppin' John, he replied; "Nope, is that where your brother bounces on one foot? (Haha, I do have a brother named John!) Perhaps History.com needs to add one other possibility to their explanation!
Why is Hoppin' John traditionally served for New Year's?
In the Southern United States, there is a common, long-standing superstition that eating black-eyed peas and/or collard greens on New Year's Day will ensure wealth and bring good luck in the upcoming year. If you're not familiar with black-eyed peas (I wasn't before I moved to the Southern U.S.), they're a small, cream-colored, legume cultivated all over the world and are sometimes also called "cowpeas".
You'll find black-eyed peas in most grocery stores in the bean section. Despite their name, black-eyed peas are not peas but rather a type of bean.They have a distinctive black spot that looks a bit like an eye. To me, they're just plain old "cute". What do you htink?
Why are black-eyed peas associated with good luck?
No one knows for sure, but this is how The Spruce Eats describes it:
The practice of eating black-eyed peas for luck is generally believed to date back to the Civil War. Originally they were used as food for livestock and later as a food staple for enslaved people in the South. Because of their lowly reputation, the Union Army troops of General Sherman ignored the fields of black-eyed peas while razing or stealing other crops. During the harsh winter, the Confederate soldiers survived on the remaining black-eyed peas, promoting this humble and nourishing legume into a symbol of fortune and prosperity in the American South.
For us personally, how the legend started doesn't really matter... it's fun to enjoy something very traditional (even though we're big believers in blessings, not luck). And although there's a lot that's a mystery surrounding Hoppin' John, black-eyed peas and Southern folklore, one thing you can know for sure is that this version of Hoppin' John is DELICIOUS and bursting with fabulous flavor!
My rendition is also super healthy, as it's loaded with fresh veggies and lean ham. Black-eyed peas are incredibly nutrient-dense, packing plenty of fiber and protein into each serving. They're also are high in antioxidants which protect against disease.
A 30-minute meal
I love that this recipe comes together quickly. Although some Hoppin' John recipes call for a long slow cook I wanted to keep the veggies from getting soft and mushy. In fact, if you read the recipe, you'll see that half of the veggies are sautéed and briefly simmered in the flavorful broth, but the other half is added right near the end to keep the nice crisp-tender crunch and fresh flavor.
The only thing that takes a while in this recipe is chopping all those veggies; celery, lots bell peppers and onions. But no worries! I have a solution for this somewhat tedious task.
If you are a follower of The Café you probably know that I love my Vidalia Chopper. It's wonderful for chopping onions, peppers, potatoes, celery, squash of all varieties, apples, pears, cucumbers...
I used it to chop all the veggies for this recipe in way less than 5 minutes!
This little kitchen workhorse is worth its weight in gold to me. It makes preparing soups, salads and lots of other things a breeze and I don't hesitate when a recipe calls for lots of chopped veggies. They make a fancy version called Vidalia Chop Wizard Pro Max. I tried that one but found that I really like the original (linked above) better.
Although Hoppin' John is traditionally served as a New Year's entreé, it's a fabulous choice anytime you want an easy, delicious, super healthy dinner. Try it, I think it will be one of those recipes you get requests for again and again!
And if you enjoy those infamous black-eyed peas, we have another delicious recipe that's also great any time of year, our Black-Eyed Pea Salad. It makes a perfect side with grilled, roasted or pan-seared entreés and a wonderful summer salad for picnics, potlucks, etc.
Cafe Tips for making this Healthy, Hearty Hoppin' John
- Don't skip the bacon in this recipe. It calls for two strips of thick-cut, smoky bacon (we love applewood-smoked bacon) that gets diced into small strips and sautéd until golden and crisp. The small amount of fat that's rendered makes a delicious flavor base for the rest of the ingredients.
- This is a great recipe for using up leftover ham, but you could also pick up a piece of ham from the deli at your local grocery store. Look for something that has a nice smoky flavor. You'll need just under a pound of ham.
- Be sure to use low-sodium broth for this recipe. If you can't find the low-sodium variety, omit the salt in the recipe and add it, if needed before serving.
- This recipe calls for canned black-eyed peas for convenience but if you prefer to cook dried black-eyed peas, you'll need 3 cups.
- I like to use a red, yellow and orange bell pepper in this recipe for a pretty presentation but feel free to use 3 peppers of any color.
- This recipe comes together quickly once you start cooking so it's best to prep everything first, as directed in the recipe.
- This Hoppin' John reheats nicely on the stovetop or in the microwave. Just heat it till it's warmed through though, so the veggies don't get mushy.
- I like to serve this Hoppin' John with basmati rice but jasmine or long grain rice would also be delicious.
- My favorite way to garnish this dish is with some halved cherry tomatoes and slices of ripe avocado. This is totally non-traditional, but incredibly delicious!
- A more traditional garnish would be simply a scatter of sliced scallions, also delicious!
Thought for the day:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways,
God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
but in these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son,
whom He appointed the heir of all things,
through whom also He created the world.
He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature,
and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
- 1 15-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes drained and chopped small (reserve the juice)
- 4 medium stalks celery diced small
- 1 medium red bell pepper diced small
- 1 medium yellow bell pepper diced small
- 1 medium orange bell pepper diced small
- 1 medium red onion diced small
- 1 medium sweet yellow onion diced small
- 2 medium-size jalapeños seeds removed and finely chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas drained and rinsed
- 2 cups diced smoky ham diced in ½-inch pieces
- 2 slices thick-cut smoky bacon halved lengthwise then cut into ½ inch slices
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 cups low -sodium chicken broth maybe more
- 2 medium-size bay leaves (3 if small)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 4 cups cooked rice I like basmati (about a half cup per serving)
- green onions thinly sliced on a diagonal, optional
- halved cherry tomatoes optional
- avocado slices optional
Drain the tomatoes through a sieve, reserving the juice and tomato pieces separately. Set aside.
Dice the celery, peppers and onions. Finely chop the jalapeños. Combine all chopped veggies in a medium-size bowl and set aside.
Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas and set aide.
Dice the ham and set aside.
Cook the bacon in a medium-large skillet over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon bits are crisp and golden.
Add half of the diced veggies and sauté just until beginning to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, smoked paprika, basil, oregano and thyme and stir to combine. Cook for another minute until nice and fragrant.
Add the reserved tomato juice, the chicken broth, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the broth is reduced to about one half. Add the drained black-eyed peas and ham. Cook for another 3 minutes.
Add the remaining diced veggies and stir to combine. Cook for 1 more minute until nice and hot. Taste and add more salt, if needed. If you'd like it a little more brothy, add more chicken broth. Stir in the chopped parsley.
Serve in bowls with rice. Garnish with more chopped parsley, thinly sliced (on a diagonal) green onions, halved cherry tomatoes and sliced avocado, if desired.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.
If you prefer to use Metric measurements there is a button in each of our recipes, right above the word “Instructions”. Just click that button to toggle to grams, milliliters, etc. If you ever come across one of our recipes that doesn’t have the Metric conversion (some of the older recipes may not), feel free to leave a comment and I will add it.
Nutritional info includes ½ cup rice per serving but not the optional garnishes.