Smoky bacon and black-eyed pea salad
Here's an idea for the next time you’re invited to a neighborhood potluck, picnic or cookout: Bypass the grocery store deli's goopy, sad, ready-made potato-pasta salad, and try your hand at making your own chilled salad, from scratch. After all, that's what your neighbor really meant when she asked you to bring a side dish.
One of my favorite dishes makes use of hearty, flavorful black-eyed peas.
Yes, these peas are often overlooked in the hierarchy of legumes; pinto and kidney beans, revered as the the stars of many chili con carne recipes, top the list. Navy beans are the backbone of both baked beans and pork n’ beans. Cannellinis are acknowledged as popular additions to soups, stews and pastas. Split peas are naturally associated with soup. Even lentils are more popular and recognizable than black-eyed peas. In fact, aside from the requisite Hoppin’ John that graces every Southerner’s table on New Year's Day, you probably don’t use black-eyed peas all that often, if ever.
This easy, flavorful salad will change that fact. Its cool, refreshing serving temperature and hearty, comforting flavor straddles the summer and fall seasons. To me, it is the very essence of Southern cooking.
Start with the black-eyed peas: You could, of course, go the overnight-soaking and long-simmering route, but for a simpler take, I like to use bagged black-eyed peas from the frozen foods aisle. They only need to simmer for 25 minutes or so to achieve a creamy and tender consistency without falling apart.
A melange of finely chopped vegetables adds freshness and crunch to the salad. A jalapeño for heat and smoky, crisp bacon — preferably thick-sliced and applewood-smoked — takes the dish beyond the standard bean salad.
Above all, the game-changer in this recipe is the dressing. Whole-grain Dijon mustard, finely chopped garlic, a few teaspoons of dark molasses and a healthy dose of malt vinegar are the keys. The result is a tangy, sweet and savory varnish that unifies the ingredients into one harmonious, irresistible bite.
With no egg or mayonnaise, this smoky black-eyed pea salad can be served chilled or at room temperature, and it goes as well with barbecued chicken and ribs as it does with a Friday afternoon fish fry. In my house, we call that perfection.
Smoky Bacon and Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Serves 6 to 8
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
1 1/2 tablespoons malt vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen black-eyed peas
6 strips bacon, preferably thick-cut and applewood smoked, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
To make the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, molasses, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth and emulsified.
To make the salad: In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups water to a boil. Add the black-eyed peas and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender but still hold their shape, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and let cool completely.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled, cooked peas, with the bacon, onion, bell pepper, parsley, scallions, celery and jalapeño. Pour the dressing over the salad mixture and toss to coat evenly. The salad can be served immediately, at room temperature, or chilled.