One of my favorite restaurants in my hometown of New Orleans is Bennachin. It’s not one of those classic New Orleans Creole or Cajun restaurants–it’s a simple, homey place that serves super-tasty African food. I think it’s really the owner/chef’s home cooking–that’s what it tastes like, anyway, delicious home-cooking. They have a big selection of vegetarian dishes (as well as meat and fish), and it seems that most things come with coconut rice and fried plantains. I’ve found that any meal accompanied by fried plantains is pretty awesome.
They serve this wonderful black-eyed pea dish that I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to reproduce at home. It’s a simple stew with onions, tomatoes and black-eyed peas, but it tastes like much more than that.
The surprising (and revelatory) thing about it, to me, is how tasty black-eyed peas are in a tomato-based stew. As a southerner I’ve eaten my share of black-eyed peas (especially on New Year’s day, when it brings you luck), and we might throw a chopped tomato in when we serve it, but it’s definitely not in a tomato sauce.
My most recent experiment included some garden-variety brown lentils and some split chickpeas. I ventured far from my Proustian memories of Bennachin’s black-eyed peas and into new territory with some Indian spices (and the addition of two other legumes). The split chickpeas are also known as Chana dal, and can be found in any Indian market. If you can’t get them, just use more black-eyed peas.
I usually throw a small piece (1 square inch, roughly) of Kombu/kelp in the pot when I make beans–it helps soften them and mineralizes the dish.
I like things spicy, so if you don’t, cut down on the chili. I encourage you to use the full amount of ginger though–it helps the digestion and really makes the dish tasty! I find that the heat of green chilis here in Boston is unreliable–they often taste like small bell peppers. Serrano chilis are usually pretty hot, and like with all chilis, the seeds are the hottest part. You can test for heat of your chili with a small nibble of the green part, and then decide how many seeds to include. I strongly recommend you do this! When I don’t, my dishes turn out either way to hot or disappointingly mild.
I always want to have something green with every meal, and this time I made mustard greens with onions, mustard seed and hing/asofetida.
Spicy Black-eyed peas, lentils and split chickpeas
1/3 cp split chickpeas (aka Channa Dal, available at Indian markets) or just black-eyed peas
1/2 cp brown lentils
1/2 cp black-eyed peas
1 bay leaf
small piece kombu/kelp
1 onion, chopped
1-2 green chilis, chopped
2 inches of fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
Olive oil, for sauteing
1 tsp cumin (or more, to taste
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2-1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (I use no salt added tomatoes, reduce salt if yours have added salt)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
2-3 tbsp lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
If you are using the split chickpeas, bring them to a boil in about 4 cups of water, along with the bay leaf, kombu and about 1.5 tsp salt. Reduce fire and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add black-eyed peas and lentils and about 1 more cup of water (if you are not using chickpeas, just bring lentils and black-eyes to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes).
In the meantime, prepare the seasoning: Saute onion, garlic, chilis and ginger until onions soften. Add cumin, cardamom and coriander and briefly saute, making sure not to burn the spices. Add entire can of diced tomatoes (including juice). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Add tomato mixture to pot of beans. Simmer on a low fire for at least 20 more minutes or until beans are soft and stew is thick. You might need to add 1-2 more cups of water to keep it from sticking, but finished result should be thick.
Remove from heat and stir in chopped cilantro and lemon juice, both to taste. Adjust salt and seasonings. Serve on rice.
Seasoned mustard greens
1 small onion or 2 shallots
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 bunch mustard greens (or any hearty green–kale, collard greens)
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion or shallots until they soften and give off some water. Add mustard seeds and continue sauteing until they start to pop. Add the pinch of hing, the greens and some salt. Saute until greens are bright-green and softened (maybe 5 minutes of sauteing). Adjust salt and pepper to taste.