Black Eye Peas
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Fresh Black Eye peas are enveloped in long lean green and black mottled pods. The beans are distinguished by their creamy white slender and curved shape and their trademark narrow black circle confined to the center of the bean's belly, which became known as the 'eye'. The eye is created at the exact point where the bean attaches to the pod. Black Eye peas have a firm and resilient texture when cooked, with a distinct nutty, earthy and savory flavor.
Black Eye peas are available mid-summer into fall.
Black Eye peas, botanical name Vigna unguiculata, are a type of cowpea (though not really a pea, rather a shelling bean) and member of the Phaseolus vulgaris genus, the most widely cultivated genre of beans in the world. All cowpeas are grouped or identified by color of hull, the difference in bean shape, size and color or by the overt crowding of seed within the pod. Black Eye peas can produce pods up to two feet in length. Though sometimes sold fresh in the pod at farmers markets, the overwhelming majority of Black Eye peas are harvested dry as legumes.
There are several shelling beans that are simply better suited as a dry bean vs. fresh bean. So much so, that they often fall into "dry bean' classifications, even though you could eat them fresh. Black-Eye Peas fall into that classification. At the most basic, you want to slow simmer the beans until they are soft. Soaking for 2-6 hours will speed up the cooking process and cooking in a vegetable broth or pork stock will add more flavor as the beans are as penetrable as a sponge. Complimentary pairings include bacon, corn, chiles, tomatoes, chicken, cumin, garlic, oregano, pork, cooked eggs, cream, cilantro, onions, shallots, melting and fresh cheeses, vinegar, roasted fish, poultry, bitter and mild greens such as chard, kale and arugula, olive oil and butter. It is common to keep the boiled water of these beans and use it as a stock base for other ingredients. Certain ingredients will adversely affect beans if you add them too soon. Salt is best added once the beans soften and acid should only be added in the near end, as it can often turn bitter during the cooking process.
Black Eye peas are a principle ingredient in many Indian entrees and often appear in their national dish, "Goan Feijoada."
Cowpeas were first domesticated in Western Africa circa 3000 BC. They spread throughout the continent which gave rise to new beans with different colored pods and seeds. Black Eye peas are native to Northern Africa. They were then brought to the West Indies and eventually America via the triangle trade routes during colonial times. Their culinary heritage led to them becoming a staple food across the Deep South of United States. History has written their legend; a lowly but substantial food source for livestock and limited to the tables of slaves, sharecroppers and poor. Yet, in post-civil war food culture, they rose to mainstream popularity and in contemporary times they are a common commodity shelling bean crop cultivated throughout North America, Africa and Asia.
Recipes that include Black Eye Peas. One is easiest, three is harder.
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