Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy Year of the Bean and Pea, Black-Eyed Pea Edition

Happy New Year, everyone! Here at GIEI we are celebrating beans and peas in 2015, so get ready for lots of posts on our favorite legumes.

In many cultures it's traditional to eat black-eyed peas (with or without greens) on New Year's Day. I will link you here to explanations by food historian Michael Twitty and seed guru/author Ira Wallace, who have far more authority on the matter than I do. I'll try to include some of these yummy little morsels in dinner tonight; we already had some last night in a salad brought by a fellow party-goer, and in the beet hummus I made. And we'll have no problem including greens in our meals - we have lots in the freezer even if I don't want to brave the cold to cut what's left in my community garden plot. I made a dish the other day with sweet potato greens and mustard, along with roasted tomatoes, all from summer's bounty via the deep freeze. Mmm.

So back to black-eyed peas! I'll do a post soon on how edible legumes are taxonomically categorized, but for now just remember that before Phaseolus beans from the Americas crossed the oceans, people in Asia, Africa, and Europe had plenty of legumes to eat, including this Vigna unguiculata bean/pea, known by various names in English including cowpea, Southern pea, field pea, etc., and of course also in languages of its place of origin in Africa. Not all cowpeas have black eyes, but most of us are most familiar with the types that do (and end up in cans). In the Derwood Demo Garden we've been growing the Big Red Ripper cowpea, prolific and tasty and not surprisingly red-brown in color. There are many varieties available to try - check out Southern Exposure Seed Exchange's selection as a start.

Closely related (same species, but a subspecies thereof) is the legume known as Chinese long bean, yardlong bean, asparagus bean, etc. They grow longer than cowpeas and are usually eaten pod and all, instead of shelled (though you can also eat cowpea pods when they are young).

Somehow I neglected to take a photo of our cowpeas this year, but these Red Noodle Yardlong Beans are much more colorful anyway. Whichever type of bean you enjoy the most, try to fit some into your diet early in the new year - and happy 2015!

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