Southerners delight in field peas of all varieties harvested in the summer: black eyed peas, purple hull peas, butter beans, crowder peas, and lady peas. Such peas constitute a pillar of Southern Soul Food.
Few people eat field peas outside the South. Within the region, people boil them in water with bacon, onion and herbs, but don’t let tradition limit these versatile peas. Earlier this summer, I used purple hull peas to make hummus for vegetarian tacos. My father instilled a love field peas in me, especially tiny, green and creamy lady peas.
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The following recipe builds on a traditional approach to preparing field peas of any variety. Chain grocery stores rarely stock fresh lady peas. Memphians can find them at The Curb Market in the Crosstown Concourse or local farmer’s markets. The bacon adds a lovely flavor. To keep it vegetarian and add flavor, substitute soy sauce for the salt.
Southern Lady Peas
- 4-5 slices of thick wood-smoked bacon, diced
- 1 shallot, chopped fine
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped fine
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
- 2 cups vegetable stock + up to a 1/2 cup water
- 1 pound fresh lady peas (or other field peas), rinsed and sorted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- bay leaf
- Bring diced bacon to medium heat in a large pot. Fry and stir until crispy. Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Reserve 2 tbsp of bacon fat in the pot.
- Stir in shallot and celery on medium heat for one minute. Add garlic and stir for one minute. Add 1/4 cup vegetable stock to pot and use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape the fond from the bacon and aromatics from the sides and bottom.
- Stir peas, remaining stock, salt and a bay leaf into the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. The peas should never dry out in the pot and should be mostly submerged during cooking. Add more water if needed. Stir bacon in the last ten minutes of cooking.
- Taste your beans to make sure they have the right amount of salt to taste. Remove bay leaf and serve with your favorite grilled meats or vegetables and cool summer salads.