Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Crockpot Hoppin' John (Fusion-Style)

Hope you all had a lovely holiday season!

Hard to believe it's over, isn't it?  I had planned to put up my Irish scone recipe in time for Christmas breakfast, but with all the other baked goodies in the house I just couldn't bring myself to add more.  They're on my radar to share soon, I promise.  Other than that I spent most of the holidays cooking things that were other people's recipes (such as a Christmas rib roast and some crispy duck for New Year's Eve) or clearing out some of the freezer jars that'd started to pile up.  That's the awesome part about cooking & freezing in bulk -- any time I don't feel like putting together a meal I can just thaw one out without feeling like I've given up on nutrition.

Speaking of taking it easy, is there anyone at all who doesn't love a slow cooker recipe?  Toss in some meat/veg and some liquid, flip the switch, and come back in 6-8 hours to a hot meal that is almost always tender and delicious.  Meals just don't get any easier than that!

Growing up in New England, I didn't really have any exposure to lucky New Year meals until I was in college and started to make friends from Other Places.  I still love to hear about what kinds of foods people consider auspicious.  When I lived in Japan there were toshikoshi soba and oseichi to be enjoyed.  Here in rural PA, pork & sauerkraut is a bit of a thing.  Somehow, though, despite never living in the south I got into the habit over the last few years of making Hoppin' John for dinner on New Year's Day.  In the beginning I relied on recipes that spanned everything from the most rudimentary (beans, water, salt, & pepper) to more elaborate ones like recipes from Emeril and the Pioneer Woman (both are excellent).

This year I ran across a recipe on NPR that suggested an Indian twist on Hoppin' John.  A day or so later I found Thai and Vietnamese takes on it as well.  All three of these recipes call for either shredded coconut or coconut milk, something Doc will eat but doesn't really love.  The idea intrigued me enough to venture into trying a similar sort of thing.  Since it's more or less just a bean stew, I figured I could add in some extra spices and then toss the whole thing in the crock.  It keeps the concept of the original intact while adding in some color and a different flavor.

Here's a preview...

I don't think anyone would eat this and think, "wow, this is soooo south Asian."  Rather, the flavors were inspired by spices I didn't have any experience with until I started to try Indian foods.  This is definitely a fusion dish.

As always, the consolidated recipe is at the bottom of the page.

Slow Cooker Hoppin' John Raj

Total Prep Time:  15 minutes active + 12 hours inactive (only if using dried beans)
Total Cook Time: 6-8 hours
Makes:  ~10 cups
Weirdest Spices:  curry leaves, fenugreek seeds

I love crock cooking not only because it's so easy, but because it always gives me a bunch to freeze and cuts down on oil.  In this recipe there's none at all.  Ideal!  That said, if you wanted to speed this process up you could easily pop it on the stovetop on high, let it come to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer.  Based on other recipes like the ones I linked above, about 40-60 minutes of stovetop simmer should do it.

I used all fresh ingredients since I had them on hand, but if you want to use canned/frozen that'd do just as well.

Okay, so first off I threw a slow cooker liner into the crock.  These are heavenly if you haven't tried them yet.  Saves so, so much time when it comes to cleaning.  You still have to wipe down the pot after, don't get me wrong, but it does cut way down on the scrubbing (and swearing) part.

Ahhh, laziness.  The right way to start off the New Year.

Into that I threw a ham hock.  You absolutely can leave this out if you're not a fan of pork or if you want to make this recipe vegetarian/vegan.  If you're like me and did not grow up with random bits of animal thrown willy-nilly into dishes, the "hock" is more or less the pig's ankle.  I've seen other recipes call for jowl instead.  You could even substitute cubed ham or bacon if you wanted.  Basically, any cheap cut of pork will serve the function of adding a savory note and a little guilt to the dish.  As it turns out the butcher was able to give me one raw hock and one that was smoked.  Since there were so many other flavors going on here I used the raw and saved the smoked for split-pea soup later in the year.

Smoked to the left, naturally.

I put that down in the pot first, since that's the bit I want to make sure gets thoroughly cooked.  I surrounded it with 4 cups of black-eyed peas.

It'll get tastier-looking in just a minute, I promise.

A Gassy Aside:  A quick word on cooking with dried beans, if that's the route you choose (canned & frozen also totally a-ok, just for the record).  You'll want to wash & pre-soak dried beans before cooking.  This does two things: (1) it softens the bean so that it cooks more quickly & evenly later; and, (2) it starts the bean breaking down.  Breaking down releases gasses, if you get my drift.  For that reason I usually soak mine for 24-48 hours, so long as I've remembered in time.  If you're not a plan-ahead type, though, you can quick soak them in about an hour instead.  Or run to the grocery store for a can, that's probably even faster.  Here's mine after they'd been soaking for about 36 hours:

Look at all those bubbles that aren't ending up in someone's digestive tract!

One pound of dry beans gave me almost 8 cups after they'd been soaked.  I only used half in this recipe, saving the other half to make cassoulet some other day.

I topped the beans and ham with spices.  For this I tried 1 tablespoon garlic paste (you could sub 4-5 cloves of garlic), 2.5 tsp chili powder, 2 tsp coriander powder, 2 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon curry leaves (can omit), 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme (can use dried), and 1 bay leaf.

Lay the meat on its side after all the pictures are done.

Spice Aside:  Curry leaves are an actual thing.  Like we've noted about cumin seeds/powder and mustard seeds/powder, curry leaves are not the same thing as curry powder, nor are fenugreek seeds and fenugreek powder/leaves the same.  Curry leaves have got an earthy kind of smell and flavor that can almost be compared to bergamot (but please don't substitute tea for curry leaves).  Fenugreek seeds are warm and almost a little citrusy,  something to take the place of the vinegar that's popular to add to this dish.  If you don't have curry leaves -- and chances are you don't -- just leave them out.  With the fenugreek seeds you could try subbing in a tiny splash of lemon juice or, again, just leave it out.

Next I diced up and packed in 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, and 1 onion.

Love dem colors!

Followed by 2 diced tomatoes.

Tomaters go on top because they're fragile.

If someone presses you to explain the significance of these veggie choices, you could say that the green symbolizes money and that red is a lucky color.  Or you could say that these are what were in your produce bowl that needed using up.

Add roughly 2 cups of broth.  I had chicken stock in the freezer.  You could use vegetable stock if you wanted, or even water.  If your beans haven't soaked for long you might need to add a little more liquid as they expand.  As long as you have enough liquid to cover the beans & ham you're good.  Lay the ham on its side so that it doesn't stick up as far, that'll cut down on the amount of liquid you need.

You can add the stock directly after the beans to adjust volume if you'd like.

And that, my friends, is that!  Despite the length of this post it's honestly about 15-20 minutes of active work, including dicing the veggies.  If you're just opening cans / freezer bags, you're looking at maybe 5-10.

Cover that bad boy, plug it in, and switch it on.  The very rough rule of thumb for slow cooking is 4-6 hours on low or 8+ hours on high, though it's dependent on what you're cooking.  Since this recipe uses dried beans and raw pork I shot for 8 hours on low, making sure to check the temperature of the ham with a thermometer before serving.  If you omitted the pork or used precooked meat then shorter times would probably be okay - just go until the beans are squishy enough to eat.  If you've omitted the raw meat and are using canned beans, then really you're good to go as soon as it's warm enough for your tastes.

Tip:  When using a slow cooker the whole point is that the food gets brought up to temperature very gradually, usually to somewhere between 170 - 200 degrees F.  The difference between low and high settings is how quickly this happens, but generally speaking the contents of the crock won't exceed 200-220F.  The lid is the thing that traps all this heat in, meaning that if you take the lid off to stir or poke at your food - particularly in the first few hours - you're setting yourself back in terms of cooking time.  It takes several hours before the liquid will even start to boil.  I usually wait until at least the halfway mark to stir things or check consistency, but do please resist the temptation to uncover & stir during the first few hours.  With meats, particularly meats on the bone like a ham hock, I like to use the low setting since that helps the meat to break down more.

Now comes the easy part: doing anything else at all while this cooks!  And enjoying the smell, of course.

Eight hours later I opened up the pot to find a tasty-looking bean stew.

You wish this were scratch & sniff.

Add salt & pepper to taste once everything's fully cooked.  Keep in mind that stock is almost always salty (particularly if you buy it) and the ham is also salty, so between the two you might not need to add any extra salt at the end.  Taste first, then add gradually.

If you like you can remove the pork hock, pick the meat off the bone, and then return the meat to the pot.  Or if you're lazy like us, you can just kind of scoop around the bone.  That's the beauty of slow cooker meals -- the meat's always spoon-tender.

We served it over rice with a little raw spinach for crunch & color.

Slow Cooker Indian-Spiced Hoppin' John


  • 1 ham hock (can omit if desired)
  • 4 cups black-eyed peas
    • If dried: wash & soak overnight
    • If canned: drain & rinse
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium-sized onion, diced
  • 2-3 tomatoes, diced
  • 2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock, just enough to cover the beans & ham
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste, or 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 2.5 teaspoons red chili powder (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon curry leaves (can omit if not available)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (can omit)
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf


  1. Layer ingredients in a slow cooker (minimum size: 4 qt): beans & ham, spices, pepper & onion, then tomatoes.
  2. Add stock, checking to ensure that liquid covers the beans.
  3. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 6 hours.
  4. Add salt & pepper to taste.  
  5. Serve over rice with greens.

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