Kick Off the Year with a Soulful Black-Eyed Pea Dip
This recipe from Tanya Holland’s 'California Soul' might make you see the beans in a new light.
When Tanya Holland was growing up, she didn’t like black-eyed peas very much. “My mom made them in a very traditional way, cooking them until they were mushy and gray,” recalls the chef and author. “I really was not a fan of them. It was more like, ‘Oh, here come the black-eyed peas again. Why do we have to do this?’”
In many American households, and especially in Black communities, black-eyed peas are served with greens on New Year’s Day to symbolize good luck for the coming year. The practice has deep roots with links to West African traditions and the inaugural Watch Night in South Carolina in 1862. Like okra and yams, black-eyed peas are African crops that were brought to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade and fed generations of enslaved people in the antebellum south. They remain a diasporic food that connects cooks and diners to African American culinary heritage.
Given their cultural importance, Holland was determined to embrace the beans. “I’m always trying to think of new ways to use them because they’re such a significant symbol of the contributions of African Americans to the foodways in the United States,” she says.
Her latest book, California Soul, celebrates Black American culinary culture and traces her own journey from New York to the Bay Area, where she opened her now-shuttered restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen, in Oakland in 2008. “Oakland had very few eating establishments representing the local Black culture in an elevated way,” she writes in California Soul. As she set out to honor her culinary heritage and seasonal California produce and ingredients, she came around on black-eyed peas. “Now, I like them and eat them year-round,” she says.
A few factors turned Holland from a black-eyed pea skeptic to believer. Firstly, she found her preferred purveyor, Napa’s esteemed Rancho Gordo, whose “black-eyed peas are game-changing in terms of flavor,” she says. “I just love the earthiness of them.”
She also experimented with different ways to prepare them. At Brown Sugar Kitchen, she served a vegan black-eyed peas salad. California Soul includes a bright and savory black-eyed peas dip with fresh ginger, garlic, and smoked paprika. Most of the beans are mashed but some are left whole, and that chunky texture is perfect for scooping up with the accompanying recipe for homemade olive oil crackers studded with benne seeds and sea salt.
“Once you make or have a homemade cracker, it's all you’re going to want,” says Holland. They’re easy to make and versatile, equally suited to Holland’s black-eyed peas dip and other types of hummus or tapenades. “It’s one of those recipes that, if someone gets it in their repertoire, it’s really going to be useful.”
Whether you’re a lifelong black-eyed peas lover, a skeptic like Holland’s childhood self, or just eager to kick off the New Year on a high note, her recipe provides a fresh twist on a heritage staple. It makes for a crowd-pleasing vegan appetizer or, when served with a green salad, a light and satisfying meal. A forward-thinking recipe with a strong sense of history, it’s the sort of dish that nourishes on every level.
Black-Eyed Pea Dip With Homemade Benne Seed Olive Oil Crackers Recipe
Yield: 32 crackers and 2 cups dip
Black-Eyed Pea Dip:
• ¾ cup dried black-eyed peas
• 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed
• 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• Kosher salt
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
• ¼ cup water, plus 1 tablespoon
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 tablespoons benne (sesame) seeds
• Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
1. Make the dip: Soak the peas in cold water overnight.
2. Drain, add them to a pot, cover with water, place over medium-high heat, and let simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and drain.
3. Add all but ¼ cup of the cooked peas to a food processor. Add the oil, vinegar, garlic, ginger, thyme, onion powder, paprika, and 1 tablespoon of the reserved cooking water and puree until smooth. Add additional cooking water as necessary to thin to the desired consistency. Season with kosher salt.
4. Transfer the dip to a bowl and gently stir in the remaining ¼ cup black-eyed peas.
5. Make the crackers: Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
6. In a bowl, whisk together the flour and sea salt. Stir in the ¼ cup water, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the benne seeds and mix just until a thick dough is formed.
7. Lay out a silicone mat or a piece of parchment paper measuring 11½ by 16½ inches. Place the dough on the mat or parchment paper and flatten into a rectangle. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible until it covers the entire surface of the mat or parchment paper; it should be very thin.
8. Using a pizza cutter, carefully cut the dough into thirty-two squares (eight by four).
9. Lightly brush the dough with the remaining 1 tablespoon water and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon benne seeds and flaky sea salt.
10. Slide the parchment paper with the dough onto a baking sheet. Bake until the crackers turn lightly golden brown around the edges, 15-20 minutes. Let cool and serve with the dip.
Reprinted with permission from Tanya Holland’s California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West by Tanya Holland, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.