Hoppin’ John Biryani and saag paneer, our pagan rituals for a better year

Gourmandistan is about as far from a theocracy as possible. However, we are not above indulging in bits of propitiation, as evidenced by the atheistic Michelle’s insistence on egg baskets, angel ornaments and other religious emulations. The turning of the calendar to a new year found us once again looking for ways to eat black-eyed peas and greens, a tradition supposedly guaranteeing luck and good fortune in the coming months. While we are skeptics, we find ourselves already crediting good fortune for bringing us this delicious Ouita Michel Kentucky/India biryani mash-up, which also gave us the excuse to make saag paneer to get in our New Year’s Day greens.

The meal was a little labor-intensive, with Michelle spending much of the day in the kitchen despite employing rice makers, grinders, processors and other tech. (Steve showed up to make the paneer, plus fry some cornmeal roti right before serving.) But the combination of black-eyed peas, bacon and ham with Indian spices made for a great meal, and possibly a great new year. We’re pretty sure no dryads, demigods, saints, sprites or pixies will have anything to do with it, but we wish you all the best for the coming year, along with many, many more.


(adapted from Ouita Michel via Garden & Gun Magazine)

Black-eyed peas:

  • 4 slices smoked bacon, cut into 1/4″ lardons
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 TB garlic, minced
  • 1 TB ginger, minced
  • 1 jalapeno or other hot pepper(s), diced
  • Approx. 20 ounces fresh shelled black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed
  • Chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of saffron

Cook bacon in a medium-large saucepan over low heat, tossing occasionally until done. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted  spoon or spatula and reserve.

Cook onion in bacon fat until translucent. Add carrot and celery and cook for a few minutes. Then add garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté for a few minutes more.

Add black-eyed peas, then cover with stock. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until peas are softened but still holding their shape, about 20 minutes.

Drain peas in a colander over a bowl, reserving the cooking liquid. Add saffron to warm cooking liquid.

Spice mix:

  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. Kashmiri chili powder
  • 2 bay leaves

Mix together in a small bowl.


  • 3 TB neutral oil
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • Spice mix (above)
  • 2 scoops/4 servings of Basmati rice, rinsed*
  • Reserved bean cooking liquid + more stock if needed

Heat oil in a small skillet. Add onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until starting to caramelize. Add spice mix and continue to cook until fragrant, a couple of minutes more.

Add rice to rice cooker bowl. Stir in spiced onions. Pour in reserved bean cooking liquid (+ added stock if needed) to appropriate level. Cook rice.

When rice is done, toss with the cooked black-eyed peas and the following add-ins.


  • Reserved bacon
  • Generous handful of chopped parsley
  • 6-8 chopped scallions
  • 1 c. chopped toasted pecans
  • 1 c. diced country ham, fried in a little oil
  • 1/2 c. dried currants

*To cook without a rice cooker, the recipe says to use 2 cups rice and 4 cups liquid.



    • Happy new year to you, too! I know, I know, it sounds like an NRA magazine. But it’s not! Check it out. It’s got great writers, gorgeous photography. There’s the hunting thing, yeah, but if you live in the South you have to live with that.

  1. happy new year to u Mchelle and Steve.
    in Italy, it would be lentils, for good luck. I have never had black eyed peas (even they are also an italian thing, Tuscan cooking I seem to remember). are they similar to cannellini beans in taste? thanks

    • Buon anno, Stephano! Black-eyed peas are, well, kind of dull. Which is why we’re always looking for something to spice them up. Not nearly so good as cannellini.

  2. Very smart. Is it weird that black eyed peas aren’t my favorite legume? Maybe I should try them again. Especially in a byriani. And saag paneer? Any day is an excuse to make our favorite Indian dish!!! It’s the best. Happy New Year!

    • Happy new year to you, too, Mimi! No apologies needed about black-eyed peas. Even Edna Lewis said they are “kind of boring” or something like that. Definitely helps to spice them up.

    • I’m always looking for a new black-eyed pea recipe (why risk it??) and it has become increasingly hard. This was definitely a keeper, though, and from a Kentucky chef at that. Happy new year to you, also. Hope 2020 is full of many wonderful trips.

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