Ring in the New Year with Black-Eyed Pea Sloppy Joes

Smoky protein and rich umami flavor in every messy bite.

black-eyed pea sloppy joe
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

In Southern households, black-eyed peas are an essential component of New Year’s Eve dinner, said to bring good luck and prosperity in the year ahead. This belief, rooted in West African folklore, proposes that these legumes work to ward off the dreaded “evil eye.”

I know this much is true—devouring a zesty, black-eyed pea sloppy joe is a delicious way to try your luck. The recipe comes from A Hearty Book of Veggie Sandwiches, written by chef Jackie Freeman, out January 4. In this guide, the vegetable sandwich is thought of as a way to break free from the constraints of cold cuts.

“I think people do the same thing over and over again,” Freeman says. “They have their staple sandwich, and it’s usually lacking inspiration, lacking flavor, lacking texture—and then they get bored of it.”

For many of us, the vegetable sandwich is an elusive concept—often thought of as a soggy, hummus-bearing concoction. But Freeman challenges that idea, exemplifying how to turn plant-based building blocks, like avocados and beans, into a number of innovative, architecturally sound sandwiches.

The black-eyed pea sloppy joe has all the things you’d want from its meat-based counterpart: smoky protein, a rich umami flavor, and a messy bite. “It’s one of those sandwiches that you either commit to fully without putting it down, or eat more slowly with a ton of napkins,” Freeman says.

You can go two ways with this recipe: dried beans or canned beans. Freeman, who conducted a number of bean tests for her first book, Easy Beans, admits she can’t quite tell the difference in texture or flavor. “It all comes down to time and cost,” she says.

“Dried beans are the most cost effective and give you more control. You can flavor them differently when you cook them. But then it also depends, because sometimes you can get a batch of really old dry beans and they don’t cook up quite as nice.”

“When I do use canned beans, I try to go for the quote-unquote nicer beans—organic beans that don't have a lot of added preservatives—so that they have a cleaner, fresher taste and are theoretically healthier to eat,” she adds.

Freeman advises planning ahead. If you know you are going to make a couple black-eyed pea recipes in the new year, it might be worthwhile to cook your own dried beans at home, freeze them in small packages, and then pull them out whenever you need them.

As for the other ingredients, Freeman likes to use the smoky flavors of paprika and fire-roasted tomatoes. “I like to smoosh the crushed tomatoes between my fingers before adding them because, one, it feels awesome, and, two, it gives the tomatoes a sauce-like consistency,” she says.

To finish the sandwich, Freeman recommends topping it off with a homemade pickle. “It adds a nice crunch, as well as a salty brine, which helps to pop the flavors without just directly putting salt on top,” she says. “Having that little pop of color—whether it’s a traditional pickle, a pickled red pepper, or even a pickled asparagus—can really help to brighten things up.”

Black-Eyed Pea Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:
Yield: 6 sandwiches

  • 2 tablespoons high-heat oil, like safflower or canola
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • ½ large yellow onion, minced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1½ teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1½ cups cooked black-eyed peas
  • 1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes, with juices
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 whole grain hamburger or brioche buns, toasted
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, for serving

Directions:
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Cook until tender and golden brown, about 7 minutes.
2. Add the sugar, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and paprika and stir to coat.
3. Fold in the black-eyed peas, tomatoes, water, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a
simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until warmed through and thickened, stirring often, about 10 minutes. If you like, give the whole thing a light mashing with the back of a large spoon or potato masher.
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the black-eyed pea mixture among the buns and top with slices of onion.

Tip: If you like a bit of heat, grab a small can of mild, medium, or hot diced chilies and toss them in with the black-eyed peas and tomatoes.

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram