Chile-spiced black eyed peas with sweet potatoes

Well, this is it. Another year is gone (good riddance 2020) and a long winter stretches ahead of us. While January is technically only 31 days, we figure those are dog days so it’s actually 217 days in total. Makes sense doesn’t it?

If your birthday is in January, apologies for disrespecting your month but be honest – wouldn’t you rather a summer birthday? But survive we will, each in our own way. Perhaps you’ve dusted off the backgammon set or taken up stamp collecting or knitting. Some of you may make like a bear and try to sleep your way through the month (just don’t forget your zoom call with the boss on Thursday morning…). 

Needs must, as my Granny used to say. But then again, no one ever really listened to her, did they? Basically, do what you need to do to make it through the month. By all means, take up a new language or simply try to remember your first one – we’re flexible.

And cook something…something warm and spicy and simple to fix. Take a bowl with you to you man/bear cave for a well-deserved nap and a long winter snooze.  

Serves 6

2 cups dried black eyed peas, rinsed

1 dried New Mexico red chile

1 red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. ancho chile powder

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

Salt

1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil

Juice of one lime

To garnish (optional):

Chile pequin

Chopped cilantro

Additional lime wedges

Place the beans in a pot and cover with water by several inches. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add in the dried red chile, cover and let sit for one hour. Place back on the heat and return to the boil. Reduce and simmer until tender. 

While the beans are cooking, heat 1 ½ tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and cook slowly until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic and the ancho chile powder and cook for another minute before adding in the diced sweet potato. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked but still firm. Drain the beans, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the beans to the sautéed vegetables, plus a ladleful of the cooking liquid. Taste and add salt as needed. Cook gently until the liquid is absorbed.

Remove from the heat and stir in lime juice, chopped cilantro, a generous sprinkle of the chile pequin and lime wedges (if using). Any leftovers make the start of a smashing soup.

Charred Chile-Nut Brussels Sprouts

Spare a thought for Linus Urbanec, who holds the coveted title of most Brussels sprouts eaten in one minute. How many, you ask? Thirty-one sprouts. And before you say, ‘I could do that’, don’t. Just don’t. Urbanec had to spear each sprout with a toothpick, eat and swallow before moving swiftly on to the next. Can you imagine the internal reverb after eating over 30 sprouts in a minute? Ouch. On second thought, forget Urbanec – spare a kind thought for his friends and family.

(Word has it that a truck driver named Wayne Sherlock, topped this record in 2019, by two more sprouts for a total of 33. That might seem like a narrow victory but in life, every sprout counts.) 

Why our collective obsession with eating contest of any sort, where we watch and wonder if the contestant will swallow or spew? And why Brussels sprouts in particular? It’s pretty simple: when it comes sprouts, we hate them, so it’s fun to see someone suffer. Brussels sprouts are reviled, loathed, shunned, demonized and detested. And that’s just by folks who tolerate them once a year at Thanksgiving.

But it’s not fair. It’s criminal. Brussels sprouts are low in calories, a source of protein, and contain loads of Vitamin K and C plus Vitamin A, folate and manganese.  We’re talking super food here folks. And if they sometimes taste like boiled tennis shoes dressed with a jot of eau-de-sulphur, it’s hardly their fault. Far too often they’re overcooked into slimy submission. 

Toasting the seeds, nuts and chile brings out the flavor!

But give them a quick blanch in boiling water, then roast them and you’re golden. Top with some nuts, seeds and chile and you’re in love. And suddenly, you find yourself googling ‘Brussels sprout eating competition’. I mean, how difficult can it be to each 34 sprouts in a minute? Hold on, don’t answer that.

Blanch the Brussels sprouts for a few minutes then finish them off in a hot oven.

Serves 4 or 1 if you happen to be Linus Urbanec or Wayne Sherlock

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 Tbsp. olive oil

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup hazelnuts

New Mexico Red chile pod

½ tsp ground turmeric

Zest of half a lime

Salt

To garnish (optional)

Cilantro leaves

Sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 425°F

Place the pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts in a small frying pan. Break up the dried chile, discard the stem and add to the seeds and nuts. Place over medium heat and toast the mixture for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool. When cool, place in a blender with the turmeric and half a teaspoon of salt and the lime zest. Blitz until the mixture is the consistency of rough breadcrumbs.  

Trim the Brussels sprouts and slice them in half. Blanch them in salted boiling water for about 3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Pat them dry with a paper towel, place in a roasting pan, coat with the olive oil and season generously with salt. Place in the pre-heated oven and roast for around 15-20 minutes or until nicely charred on all sides.

Place the charred Brussels sprouts in a serving dish, generously top with some of the chile-nut mixture and top with an extra drizzle of olive oil, if you like. Add the cilantro leaves and sesame seeds, if using, and serve warm.