What we all call black-eyed peas are actually “cowpeas.” And they are not peas at all, but legumes. As a country, we tend to associate cowpeas with Southern cuisine and home-style cooking. I was brought up eating the compulsory few black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, for good luck in the coming year, at my grandmother’s home. I winced at every bite and hid them in the hulls of burnt biscuits. I have since come to not only love them, but to have a keen appreciation for their place in Southern food culture and in agriculture in general.
Cowpeas, also commonly referred to as “field peas” or “crowders,” have an international provenance and are an important component of subsistence farming in Africa, and a well known foodstuff in India and South America. I love the names we have given our American grown varieties over the years. They can be found under names such as Mississippi Silverbrown, Blue Goose, Texas Big Boy, and Dixie Queen, to name only a few. They are heat tolerant plants that can thrive in poor soil, and their usefulness as a high-protein vegetable as well as a valuable livestock grain make them an agricultural staple.
In this simple warm dip, I have paired field peas from a farm in Canton, Texas with the earthy and savory flavor of an herb blend called Za’atar. Exceedingly common in the Middle East, but virtually unknown here, Za’atar blends are different from region to region and family to family. The blend I use contains sumac, thyme, hyssop, sesame seeds and oregano. It is very aromatic and it is worthwhile to taste it straight. Your head will spin as it tries to place the savory, salty, common, and exotic bits of information. If you are not at all familiar with Za’atar, you would do well to start with a modest 1/2 teaspoon in this dip and taste your way up to the full teaspoon. I love the assertive flavors, but for some, it might be a bit too new and strong. Those who love Za’atar will use it on almost anything, just as one would use salt and pepper. It is wonderful on flatbreads and I’ve been told that it is surprisingly delicious on popcorn.
Tip: The dip is warm due to the residual heat of the black-eyed peas from the cooking. It is also delightful at room temperature. If you warm it, do so in a slow oven for a brief amount of time. The yogurt is used for texture; if you like a less creamy dip, consider starting with 1 tablespoon of yogurt.
Kelly writes The Meaning of Pie, a comfort food blog that concentrates on the foods that bring friends and families to the table together.
1 cup fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
1 tsp Za'atar blend, start with 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 oz goat cheese
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
Photo: Kelly Yandell
1. Add the fresh or thawed peas to a pot of boiling water and simmer them for 15 minutes or until you are pleased with the texture. Strain and rinse the black-eyed peas to remove any foam or sediment from the cooking process. Allow the black-eyed peas to drain thoroughly. Retain a few of them for garnish.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the black-eyed peas, Za'atar blend, salt, goat cheese, Greek yogurt, and olive oil. Process until very smooth. Scrape the dip into a serving bowl and sprinkle the reserved black-eyed peas on top. Serve the dip warm with bread slices, pitas, or crackers.