Giving Hoppin' John An Indian Twist, Just For Luck

Dec 28, 2013
Originally published on December 28, 2013 10:35 am

Black-eyed peas and rice are thought to bring good luck when eaten on New Year's Day, typically converging in a dish called Hoppin' John. Those same two ingredients are also staples of Indian cooking.

"To me, the flavors of black-eyed peas are really quite amazing when combined with the right ingredients," says Raghavan Iyer, author of 660 Curries and Indian Cooking Unfolded. For example, he offers his recipe for lobhia, a spicy, black-eyed pea curry.

There's no need to stagger out of the house in search of elusive ingredients, however; Canned black-eyed peas work just fine, and curry leaves can be found at many grocery stores. "But if you don't have it, leave it out," Iyer says.

The dish may not have curative powers, but Iyer says at least it will chase away the New Year's Eve party blues.

Bina's Black-Eyed Peas With Onion-Coconut Sauce

This recipe came to Raghavan Iyer from Bina Toniyat of Bangalore, India. Onions — one batch stewed with black-eyed peas, the other pureed with fresh coconut — sweeten the curry, made extra-creamy by the slow breakdown of the black-eyed peas. Don't worry about the number of chilis — the coconut and peas tend to absorb some of the peppers' heat.


1 cup black-eyed peas, dried

2 small red onions (1 cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced, 1 coarsely chopped)

4 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chilis, with stems removed but seeds remaining (2 cut in half lengthwise, 2 coarsely chopped)

1/2 cup shredded fresh coconut (or 1/4 cup shredded, dried unsweetened coconut, covered with 1/4 cup boiling water, set aside for about 15 minutes, and then drained)

1 1/2 teaspoons fine kosher or sea salt

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds

12 medium or large fresh curry leaves


Makes 4 cups.

Place the black-eyed peas in a pressure cooker. Fill the cooker halfway with water and rinse the peas by rubbing them between your fingertips. The water may appear slightly dirty. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear. Drain.

Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over high heat. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the surface. Stir in the sliced onion and the 2 halved chilis. Seal the cooker shut and allow the pressure to build up. When the cooker reaches full pressure, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes. Then, remove the cooker from the heat and allow the pressure to subside naturally (about 15 minutes) before opening the lid.

Meanwhile, pour 1/2 cup water into a blender jar, and add the chopped onion and the chopped chilis. Add the coconut, salt, cumin seeds, and turmeric. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to make a slightly gritty, green-speckled paste. Set it aside until the black-eyed peas are done.

Stir the coconut paste into the cooked black-eyed peas and simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors mingle, 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (akin to popcorn), about 30 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat and throw in the curry leaves — carefully, as they will spatter upon contact. Pour this aromatic oil mixture into the curry, and stir. Serve.

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When you plan your menu forward New Year's Day, I hope you will include black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas mixed with rice are the basis of a traditional dish called Hoppin' John, thought to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.

Now we love Hoppin' John, but since we really are looking for a restart in 2014, we thought about tweaking that tradition. So we called Raghavan Iyer, who writes about and cooks Indian food.

Raghavan Iyer, welcome to our program.

RAGHAVAN IYER: Oh Linda, what a pleasure to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that black-eyed peas and of course, rice, are staples of Indian cooking.

IYER: You find black-eyes peas used in both regions of India. I've seen it in the north and I've seen it in the south as well. And to me, the flavors of black-eyed peas are really quite amazing when combined with the right ingredients.

WERTHEIMER: In your cookbook - the one which has the amazing titled "660 Curries" - you have, what, I think about six recipes for black-eyed peas.

IYER: I do at least. And there is one that really tends to be a favorite of mine, and the flavors are quite reflective from the southern region of India. And these are coconut smothered black-eyed peas.

WERTHEIMER: Which is something, I think my Southern mother would never have contemplated for a moment.


IYER: Well, it just goes to show, you know, our Southern brothers are so different.


IYER: To me, the flavors really jump out and especially when you combine it with ingredients like coconut and chilies and cumin seeds, I think you have some amazing flavors. And to me, that's the hallmark of Indian cooking, is how you could extract a multitude of flavors by using really wanted to ingredients and you can end up with something that really sings in your mouth.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we don't want anybody staggering out on the morning after New Year's Eve searching for some elusive ingredient. So is there something here that we need to worry about? I'm looking down the list and I see curry leaves.

IYER: The fresh curry leaves. Yeah. I've actually seen fresh curry leaves at even some of the more, you know, upscale mainstream grocery stores. Of course, any Indian store will carry it. But the beauty of those is if you don't have it, just leave it out. And I think, you know, the rest of it is very easily available, you know, especially when you have things like coconut and chilies and turmeric, and you puree all of that and that flavors the black-eyed peas. And what I end up doing is to take a little bit of oil and in the oil I pop mustard seeds in hot oil. And by popping those mustard seeds, you get such a sweet nutty flavor from it. And you pour all of that into the pot with the black-eyed peas and the coconut and just let it simmer for about maybe five or 10 minutes. And the flavors are really incredible, especially when you serve it with a bowl of rice.

WERTHEIMER: Can we use canned black-eyed peas just to make things easy?

IYER: Yeah. And I have no problem using canned black-eyed peas. And what I do recommend with canned black-eyed peas is to drain the black-eyed peas and then rinse it so that I get rid of some of the brine and you end up with a much better quality of black-eyed peas, and actively works really quite well.

WERTHEIMER: Now I noticed that this has four fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chilies. I'm wondering is this dish going to have curative powers, do you think, if people have been put in a...


IYER: It'll chase all your New Year's Eve party blues away. Hot is such a personal taste element. And oftentimes and, you know, especially when you're combining that in the context of black-eyed peas and coconut, those two ingredients are really quite great in absorbing the heat from those chilies. And I would say if four is a lot, you know, go with maybe two or three. But at least go with half the amount because then you get a whist up the heat - which I think is so crucial in providing that sense of balance. I just can imagine after eating that that you will have a year full of wealth.


WERTHEIMER: Raghavan Iyer, thank you so much for sharing this recipe with us.

IYER: Oh, Linda, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

WERTHEIMER: Raghavan Iyer's most recent book is called "Indian Cooking Unfolded." The recipe we talked about today can be found on Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.