Classic Summer Jams: BBQ Black-Eyed Peas
What are your favorite summer foods? Corn, tomato and basil salad, grilled squashes, fruit pies and cobblers, frozen confections…all essential in my memory, and also that luminary of many a BBQ menu—baked beans.
Joke all you want about the magical fruit, but nowadays, the relatively low cost, high nutrient value and deep hunger satisfaction of beans make them very appealing. So, in thinking about new ways to prepare baked beans, I decided to try making them cheaply, healthfully and most of all tastily—and without any of the enriching pork products traditionally used in those recipes. Yet I was skeptical that I could produce a rich baked bean recipe without any ham, bacon or other smoky meat. I decided to turn to a vegan soul food cookbook for the alchemy of flavors that could titillate the tastebuds—Bryant Terry’s “Vegan Soul Kitchen” (Da Capo Press, 2008). His recipe is a variation of the traditional “Hoppin John” served with rice, so it includes sweet and spicy peppers.
The recipe itself was simple. Yet it was time-consuming, elaborate and not-so-cheap to prepare. If you factor in having to buy many of the elements– dried kombu, ($40/lb at my local co-op), tamari, agave nectar, chipotle in adobo (which is not so easy to find in some communities without a bodega)—I have to say it was more of an “experiment” than an instant-add to the recipe box.
I had to figure out WHY the kombu, chipotle and tamari were used (in other words, the purpose of these ingredients chemically and flavor-wise) if I planned to substitute them in the future. So here’s what I found out:
Kombu is used in the recipe as an addition to the black-eyed peas. The major benefits that kombu provides are flavor-enhancement (MSG is a natural element of kombu), amino acids and soluble minerals.
The chipotle in adobo (which you can approximate at home [http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/2006/03/chipotle-en-adobo.html]) is so delicious I can see why it would be a pantry staple. It’s the perfect combination of smoky, umami, fiery and sweet tastes. No need for ham here!
The tamari was an obvious player for its salty properties. Also, as it breaks down in the recipe over the hours in the oven, the sugar from the fermented soybeans contributes sweetness. Yet I’ve used tamarind pulp in a similar way in BBQ sauce. It also has salty, umami, sweet and sour tastes. Let the cook decide what works best.
So getting down to it, I followed the basic steps for working with dry beans: I picked through the black-eyed peas to discard any stones, shriveled bits, bugs or unidentifiable items, then I soaked them overnight in cold water. I drained them the next day, rinsed them and then threw them back in a pot with just enough cold water to cover them by two inches (you will need much of the cooking water in this recipe and it’s a nutrient-rich addition to the recipe). Black-eyed peas originate from Africa, and they are an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, fiber and magnesium.
When combined with all of the peppers (Vitamin C) later in the process, ounce-for-ounce this recipe really delivers the nutritional goods.
I cooked the peas with the kombu for an hour, skimming off the foam after the first boil and then letting it simmer. During the hour of simmering I sautéed the veggies and made the sauce of tamari, vinegar, tomatoes, agave, chipotle, lime juice and spices in my blender. When the peas were done, I added the reserved cooking liquid to the sauce and gave it a short blast to incorporate.
All in the casserole dish: peas, veggies, sauce.
I set the oven at 350F, then placed the uncovered casserole on the middle rack, and left it in for two hours. I stirred the mixture every half-hour or so, and while it was baking a wonderful tangy aroma filled the house.
I have to hand it to Mr. Terry—once I tasted the beans I was enthralled. Although I did not use tempeh as he directs in the original recipe, it was still chock-full of textures and flavors. If the diner adds rice, quinoa or another grain, a perfect protein combination is achieved without any meat.
By the way, in the book he recommends a musical pairing to this recipe: “Harlem” by Bill Withers”. Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” was ‘just right’ for me.
BBQ Baked Black-Eyed Peas (adapted from Bryant Terry)
1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas, sorted, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
1 3-inch piece kombu
3 T. plus 2 t. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c. diced onions
1 c. diced bell pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/2 c. tamari
1 c. canned tomato sauce
1 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1/4 c. agave nectar
1 T. cumin
Pinch of cayenne
1 t. dried thyme