Two New Ways to Eat Your Collards & Black-Eyed Peas for the New Year

‘Black Food,” a dazzling new cookbook helmed by Bryant Terry, has everything you need to start 2022 right.

December 29, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

New Year’s Eve gets all the attention—Champagne and pigs in a blanket, sparklers and velvet dresses—but growing up in Alabama, it was New Year’s Day that I looked forward to the most. In my family, New Year’s Day meant a giant feast, one that was different from our Christmas celebrations just a week before. And no matter what, we’d have the holy trinity of Southern New Year foods on the table: black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread.

Black-eyed peas and collard greens are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day across the South, to symbolize luck and money in the forthcoming year. Like so many of my favorite Southern foods, they came out of the African diaspora. Black-eyed peas are native to West Africa, a region from which many enslaved people were forcefully taken. And the style of cooking collard greens most associated with Southern food— cooked down until they’re silky and salty, thanks to the addition of a ham hock—also stems from West African cooking traditions.

A multidisciplinary queer artist named Phlegm has a mantra that went semi-viral in the South: “Everything you love about New Orleans is because of Black people.” Well, to riff on that slightly—everything I love about Southern food is thanks to Black people.

This concept was never more clear to me than when I was reading through Bryant Terry’s Black Food, a brilliant collective cookbook that includes recipes from cooks, recipe developers, chefs, and food enthusiasts from all around the African diaspora. “These pages offer up gratitude to the great chain of Black lives, and to all the sustaining ingredients and nourishing traditions they carried and remembered, through time and space, to deliver their kin into the future,” Terry writes in the introduction. The book, he continues, is “a communal shrine to the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora.”

It’s a beautiful book, both aesthetically and in its mission; it’s also full of so many incredible recipes that it’s drawn me back to its pages over and over this fall, making Erika Council’s buttermilk biscuits or Omar Tate’s vegetarian gumbo.

This New Year, I’ll be honoring tradition by making collard greens and black-eyed peas, but this time, with a Black Food-inspired riff. Take Elle Simone Scott’s recipe for Vegan Black-Eyed Pea Beignets with Warm Spiced Sugar & Green Tomato Jam, for example, which transforms black-eyed peas into incredible fritters (a nod to the beignets that are everywhere in my beloved New Orleans) and tops them with the savory sweetness of green tomato jam. Unlike most black-eyed peas, these are perfect for holding in one hand while you toast to the New Year with the other.

On the collards front, I’ll be making Adrian Lipscombe’s ingenious Collards with Pot Likker, Cornbread Dumplings & Green Tomato Chowchow, a combination of all things I love best in a new format. Here, the collards are simmered until they become luscious and tender, with an extra depth thanks to the addition of a smoked turkey wing. The cornbread dumplings—think: “chicken and dumplings” dumplings—sop up the excellent liquid rendered from the collards’ long slow bath, a precious elixir known as potlikker. Chowchow, if you’re unfamiliar, is midway between a salsa and a relish, bright and acidic and perfect to cut through the fat of barbecue or the smokiness of these collards.

I have no idea what 2022 is going to be like—as the past 18 months have taught us, we’re collectively pretty miserable at knowing the future. And sure, collard greens and black-eyed peas may or may not improve my bank balance. But I know that at least I’ll leave the table on New Year’s Day feeling nourished and warm, basking in the glow of “Black Food.”

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Margaret Eby

Written by: Margaret Eby

Editorial Lead of Food, Food52