Friday, December 14, 2012

Foodie Faves: Best Party Dip Ever
What’s cooking? Cheesy Black-eyed Pea Dip

Today’s post is a bit of a cheat in that I couldn’t really hold myself to the blogette format, but it is a Friday Fave. I’m talking about my best-selling party dish – a beany-cheesy dip that disappears so fast I have to make a double recipe if I want to have any left over. And sometimes, even that isn’t enough. It has no fancy ingredients and lots of butter; but at any size gathering, it’s the one people crowd over. And everyone asks for the recipe.

Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck is a long-standing tradition throughout the South, and especially so in Texas. My grandmother, who was a great woman but not a great cook, made a few dishes really well; I remember eating black-eyed peas cooked with bacon and onion at her house on many occasions. When my husband and I first moved to New Jersey 35 years ago, I didn’t think much about that tradition – it’s hard to get excited about black-eyed peas when most people just look at you funny if you mention the dish.

Then Anne moved in next door. Anne of Texas. And it turned out she was even more deep-rooted to her Texan heritage than I was; so come New Year’s, out came her rendition of Hoppin’ John, which includes black-eyed peas, rice, and pork.

Then she introduced me to The Dip. It’s from a collection of recipes by the Dallas Junior Forum called Deep in the Heart, published originally in 1986. The copy Anne gave me was from the eighth printing, in 1995, so you can figure the book has some pretty decent recipes.

Apparently – and this is according to Wikipedia – black-eyed peas were introduced to the U.S. by Sephardic Jews (from Spain and Portugal), who settled in Georgia in the early 18th century. The peas were a dish of the table at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, as a symbol of good luck. One story that supports the spread of that tradition to non-Jews is that General Sherman, in his scorched-earth march across Georgia and the Carolinas, confiscated or burned all the crops, but left the black-eyed peas in the belief that they were only good for animals.

Across the collection of Southern states, black-eyed peas are still a staple of soul food and various types of Deep South cuisine.

I will admit that black-eyed peas are an excellent source of calcium, folate, and vitamin A. That makes them pretty much the only healthy aspect of The Dip; but sometimes, in the spirit of the holidays, it’s important to just enjoy yourself. This dish is amazingly easy to make, as long as you have a can opener, and is great for parties year-round.

Cheesy Black-eyed Pea Dip
Adapted from Deep in the Heart (1995)

½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 5-ounce jars of Kraft Old English cheese (and I use the word “cheese” loosely here)
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles
1 4-ounce can sliced jalapeños (purists with stronger stomachs can use 3 fresh jalapeños, seeded), diced Kitchen Goddess note: The KG is sort of a wimp when it comes to the spicy kind of heat, so she only uses about half the can. Use whatever suits your taste, but proceed with caution, as you can only add more – you can never add less.
2 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

In a large (4-quart) saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 2-3 minutes, until the onion is soft.

Reduce the heat slightly and add the cheese, stirring until it is melted and incorporated into the butter/onion mix.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir occasionally until the ingredients are well mixed and just bubbling. Serve in a chafing dish – or any dish that can be kept warm – with chips.

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