Our recent decision to step up our eating game and focus on a more plant-based way of eating just happened to coincide with the New Year. While this is the time of year when many people set resolutions, it isn’t something that Trent or I tend to practice in the traditional sense, although I do tend to view the new year as a fresh start in a lot of ways. For us, the plant-based focus likely stemmed from us both turning 45 last year and just wanting to feel our best as we continue to get older. We’ve always been pretty good about exercise (Trent more so than me), but it’s the eating that continues to be our biggest challenge – we both love food.
Something we both know about ourselves is that if we don’t have a plan or specific focus on how we intend to eat, then we’ll ultimately gravitate towards junk food. That couldn’t have been more true after our move back to Michigan one year ago. While the move was a new adventure and something we both continue to be thrilled about, that doesn’t mean this past year hasn’t been filled with upheaval. For me, upheaval leads to poor food choices – it isn’t called comfort food for nothing.
We’ve changed some of our eating habits a number of times over the years, even spending a good deal of time with a focus on paleo. Eating meat and veggies is pretty easy to follow and it was generally successful, but it wasn’t something I felt excited to dive back in to when considering the options on how to move forward. Call me a hippie, but I struggled a little with all of the meat I was eating – for a variety of reasons. After some digging in, incorporating a more plant-based way of eating seemed to be worth giving a try and so here we are. This doesn’t mean we won’t eat meat at all and we still have some things to figure out in terms of that, but introducing more plant-based whole foods into our lives certainly can’t hurt.
That brings me back to the New Year. We discovered the tradition of eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck while living in North Carolina, which lead to Trent’s delicious version of Hoppin’ John a time or two. That dish typically calls for pork of some kind (usually ham hock or bacon) and Carolina Gold rice (not an easy find, even in the south), but I wanted to try my hand at a vegetarian version this year. Not only did I have an incredible amount of fun putting this together, but we both thought this turned out absolutely delicious! This will definitely not be reserved solely for New Year’s Day. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
Vegetarian Hoppin’ John
- 2 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas (soaked overnight, see below)
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 bell peppers, diced (I used one green and one orange – your choice)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 small bunch of kale, chopped
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
- 2 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (1 1/2 tsp to start, then 1 tsp towards end)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 4 cups prepared brown rice – you can use your favorite option here. I used a simple 10-minute quick cook brown rice.
- Look through the dried black-eyed peas and pick out any that look funky. Place in a dish and cover with cold water, being sure that the water covers the peas by at least a couple of inches as they’ll expand. Soak at least 6 hours, but it’s recommended to soak overnight. You won’t hurt these, I soaked for about 20 hours and they were fine. When ready to cook, drain the black-eyed peas in a strainer. (2 1/2 cups of dried peas should produce roughly 3 cups after soaked. You can alter how many black-eyed peas you want to use, but I had a good, full 3 cups after soaked.)
- When ready to cook, in a large, deep pot (I used a Dutch oven), heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the onion, stirring often and cook until soft and starting to turn golden brown.
- Add the peppers, celery, carrots and garlic. Stir periodically and cook until the vegetables start to soften, about 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the thyme, oregano, crushed red pepper, cayenne, ancho chili powder, salt, pepper and 1 1/2 tsp of the smoke paprika (reserve the final 1 tsp of smoked paprika for later).
- Slowly add the kale in bunches to the pot, allowing each bunch to wilt down before adding the next.
- Add the drained black-eyed peas, vegetable broth and bay leaves to the pot. Turn down to low and simmer uncovered for 50-60 minutes until peas are tender.
- Add the final 1 tsp of smoked paprika during the last 15 minutes of cooking. I did this because I was concerned that the vegetable broth could be a bit overpowering and I wanted a more smoky flavor overall – this did the trick.
- While simmering, prepare brown rice of choice, according to directions.
- Season with additional salt and pepper, as needed, serve over prepared brown rice and enjoy!