Black-eyed peas are a delicious legume that is popular in the American South (among other places around the world). If you’re not familiar with them, you’re missing out! Below is a comprehensive article all about black-eyed peas, from what they are to suggested recipe links. If you haven’t tried them before, I urge you to at least give them a try sometime with any recipe that sounds like a “go” for you and your family. I doubt you’ll regret it!
Black-Eyed Peas 101 – The Basics
About Black-Eyed Peas
Despite their name, black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata) are actually a type of shelling bean in the cowpea family. Their pods can be up to two feet long. Black-eyed peas are native to Asia and Africa and have been cultivated since about 3,000 BC. According to early records, black-eyed peas were brought to the West Indies by West African slaves, then onward to America. They were originally used as food for livestock, but became a staple in the slaves’ diet. The fields were left untouched by northern soldiers who saw no value in the crops, so they became an important food for the Confederate South in America.
Black-eyed peas are still a staple in Southern (American) foods where they are commonly served with deep leafy vegetables such as collard or turnip greens. In the South, it’s customary to eat black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day for good health and wealth in the New Year.
Black-eyed peas have a kidney shape and are white with a black eye in the center. The black “eye” forms where the pea attaches to its pod. They have a creamy texture and a flavor all their own, that can be described as nutty, earthy, and savory.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
As with all legumes, black-eyed peas are a healthful addition to the diet. One cup of cooked black-eyed peas has 160 calories, negligible fat, and 5 grams of protein. That same one cup also has substantial amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, folate, and Vitamins A and K. They are also a very good source of soluble fiber which is known to help lower cholesterol thereby warding off heart disease.
Folate. One cup of cooked black-eyed peas provides more than half of our daily folate needs. This crucial B-vitamin is not only important in preventing anemia, but is also critical for pregnant women in ensuring their offspring are not born with neural tube defects (spinal and brain issues).
Manganese. One cup of cooked black-eyed peas also provides roughly half of our daily needs for manganese. This mineral is a valuable antioxidant that helps to protect cellular structures from damage. It is also used in the formation of cartilage and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Vitamin A (Beta-Carotene). One cup of cooked black-eyed peas provides a substantial amount of Vitamin A by way of its beta-carotene content. This important vitamin is critical for proper eye function and also skin health. It also is utilized in the maintenance of our mucous membranes in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, helping to protect the body from invading pathogens. Vitamin A is also critical in the proper functioning of our immune system protecting us from pathogens that have entered the bloodstream.
All things considered, black-eyed peas are a very healthful food to include in your diet when you can. Their nutrient content can help to lower the risk of diabetes, improve blood pressure, decrease blood lipid levels thereby lowering the risk of heart disease, and reduce inflammation. All from a humble black-eyed pea!
How to Select Fresh Black-Eyed Peas
If you plan to shell the peas yourself, look for pods that appear fresh and tender. Avoid those that look dried out, blemished or moldy.
If you are shopping for fresh peas that have already been shelled, choose ones that look fresh and tender. Avoid those that look dry, wrinkly, or show signs of age and starting to spoil.
How to Store Fresh Black-Eyed Peas
Freshly harvested black-eyed peas are highly perishable and have a short shelf life. Unshelled peas should be kept in a cool, humid place (at 45°F to 50°F) for no more than 3 to 4 days after harvest. They should be shelled and cooked or frozen as soon as possible after being purchased.
Shelled, uncooked peas may be kept in the refrigerator in a covered container or plastic bag for no more than 7 days. Once cooked, black-eye peas should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container and used within 3 to 5 days.
How to Prepare Fresh Black-Eyed Peas
Rinse the pods to remove any debris. Slim, very young black-eyed peas can be eaten in their pods, like green beans. The more mature peas should be removed from their pods before being cooked. To do that, gently squeeze the pod so it will separate at the seam. If that does not work, you can carefully cut along the seam with a knife. Allow the peas to drop into a bowl or container. Discard the pods. Rinse and drain the peas.
If your fresh peas have already been shelled, place them in a bowl of cold water and sort through them. Remove any damaged peas or those that have an off color. Drain the peas and rinse/drain them again until the water is clear and free of debris. Cook them right away, if possible. If you can’t cook them immediately, place them in a covered container in the refrigerator and cook them as soon as possible.
If the peas are to be cooked and eaten right away, they will need to be boiled in broth or water until tender. This takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon how tender you like them. The cooking liquid may or may not be used in your dish, depending on the recipe and personal preferences.
If the peas are to be frozen, they will need to be blanched first. See the section (below) on “How to Freeze Fresh Black-Eyed Peas” for instructions.
How to Freeze Fresh Black-Eyed Peas
Rinse the pods to remove any debris, then remove the peas from the pods. To do that, gently squeeze the pod so it will separate at the seam. If that does not work, you can carefully cut along the seam with a knife. Allow the peas to drop into a bowl or container. Rinse and drain the peas. Rinse/drain them again until the water is clear. Discard the pods and any immature, over-mature, or damaged peas. Bring a large pot of water to boil and boil the peas for 2 minutes. Immediately transfer the peas to a bowl of ice water and allow them to cool for 2 minutes. Drain well and spread the peas out on a tray and blot dry with a paper towel. Place the tray in the freezer and allow the peas to freeze. Transfer the frozen peas to a freezer bag or container. Label with the date and return the peas to the freezer.
Alternatively, you could place your boiled, cooled and drained peas to a freezer bag, and lay the bag flat in the freezer. It will be helpful to move the bag occasionally as they freeze to avoid having them all frozen into one big lump.
For best quality, use your frozen peas within 6 months. They will be safe to eat beyond that, but the quality may deteriorate.
Fresh vs Dried vs Canned Black-Eyed Peas
Fresh. Fresh black-eyed peas are not commonly found in grocery stores. In areas where they are grown, they may be found at farmers’ markets or roadside stands. Other than that, they would be hard to come by in areas where they are not grown. So, most people don’t have fresh peas as an option.
Dried. Most grocery stores carry dried black-eyed peas year-round. They are a staple pantry item for many people and will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 to 3 years. They are edible beyond that, although their quality may deteriorate. Since they have been shelled and soaking/cooking them is not a difficult process, dried black-eyed peas are a good item to keep in your food supply.
Canned. Canned black-eyed peas are found in most grocery stores. Their flavor and texture are comparable to dried peas that have been fully cooked. Some varieties are already seasoned. They are truly a convenience food in that they are ready to eat simply by opening the can and rinsing them, if desired. Canned black-eyed peas are an excellent option to keep in the pantry, especially in case of emergencies when there is a power outage.
How to Prepare Dried Black-Eyed Peas
Dried black-eyed peas can be prepared the same way you would prepare any dried bean or pea. First rinse and sort through the beans, removing any stones or other debris, and damaged peas. They should be “quick soaked” or “overnight soaked” first before being cooked. This is an important step because it reduces the compounds that can cause gas and bloating in some people when beans/peas are eaten.
Quick Soak Method: After the peas are rinsed and sorted, place them in a large pot of water. Bring everything to a rapid boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover with a lid, and allow the peas to sit in the hot water for 1 hour. Drain the soak water and rinse the peas. Then cook the peas by covering them with cold water in a large pot. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to simmer with the lid tilted. Allow them to cook until they reach the desired tenderness. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon how tender you like them and how fast the water is boiling. See the “Important!” note below.
Overnight Soak Method: After the peas are rinsed and sorted, place them in a large pot of cold water. Cover the pot and let the peas soak overnight or at least 6 to 8 hours. Drain the soak water and rinse the peas. Then cook the peas by covering them with cold water in a large pot. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to simmer with the lid tilted. Allow them to cook until they reach the desired tenderness. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon how tender you like them and how fast the water is boiling. See the “Important!” note below.
Important! When cooking dried peas or beans, do not add salt or any type of acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar) to the water early in the cooking process. This will cause the skins of the peas to toughen and they will not soften up like expected, even with extended cooking time. Save adding salt until they have already started to become tender. Add any acid at the end of cooking time, because adding it early can cause it to turn bitter.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Black-Eyed Peas
Here are some tips and ideas for using black-eyed peas…
* When cooking dried black-eyed peas after they have been soaked, do not add salt to the water early in the cooking process. When added early, the salt will cause the outer skin of the peas to toughen, making it hard to get them to soften as they cook. Add salt toward the end of cooking after the peas have already started to soften, or save the salt until the peas are used in a specific dish.
* When cooking dried black-eyed peas after they have been soaked, do not add any acid (such as lemon juice or vinegar) to the cooking water early in the cooking process. The acid will turn bitter when added too early. Wait until the peas are fully cooked, then drizzle them with a little acid of choice for flavoring.
* If you like the convenience of canned peas, but don’t want the additives found in canned foods, try buying dried peas, soaking and cooking them completely (or almost completely), and freezing them. You’ll have whatever amount of peas you need without added salt, etc., ready to go whenever you need them.
* Make a black-eye pea salad with peas, chopped tomatoes, corn, onion, avocado, bell pepper, cilantro and your favorite Italian dressing.
* Finely chop the vegetables (for the salad above), add a little cumin along with the salad dressing and turn it into a salsa.
* Make a black-eyed pea dip by blending black-eye peas with garlic, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add a little sugar to sweeten the mix just a bit.
* Make a “sloppy Joe” type of mixture by sautéing (in oil or vegetable stock) some onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrots until tender. Stir in cooked black-eyed peas, some cooked grain of choice (i.e. rice, millet, couscous), Cajun seasoning (or a mix of paprika, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic and onion powder), and 2 or 3 tablespoons of tomato paste. Add more vegetable broth for liquid as needed. Serve as-is, on toasted buns, or on a bed of cooked grain.
* Enjoy a traditional Southern (American) dish by serving cooked black-eyed peas on a bed of cooked grain (rice), with a side of deep leafy greens, and a slice of cornbread.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Black-Eyed Peas
Allspice, basil, bay leaf, cilantro, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, marjoram, oregano, parsley, pepper, sage, salt, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Black-Eyed Peas
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds: Bacon, beans (in general), black beans, chicken, eggs, fish, ham, kidney beans, pork, poultry, and tahini
Vegetables: Arugula, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, celery, chard (Swiss), chiles, greens (bitter; i.e. collards, mustard, turnip greens), mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, shallots, spinach, tomatoes
Fruits: Lemon, olives, tamarind
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, corn, corn bread, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (i.e. feta), coconut butter, coconut milk, cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Agave nectar, barbecue sauce, capers, oil (i.e. olive, safflower, sunflower), tamari, vinegar (i.e. apple cider, balsamic)
Black-eyed peas have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
African cuisine, burritos, Cajun cuisine, Caribbean cuisine, casseroles, chili (vegetarian), Creole cuisine, dips, gumbo, hummus, Indian cuisine, salads (i.e. bean, green, Hoppin’ John, tomato), soul food, soups, Southern (US) cuisine, stews, succotash, “Texas caviar”
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Black-Eyed Peas
Combine black-eyed peas with any of the following combinations…
Bell peppers + celery + onions
Brown rice + onions
Coconut milk + sticky rice
Corn + dill
Feta cheese + tomatoes
Garlic + greens
Onions + tomatoes
Pumpkin + rice
Hoppin’ John https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/hoppin-john/
Avocado Black-Eyed Pea Salad https://www.callmepmc.com/avocado-black-eyed-pea-salad/
Avocado Black-Eyed Pea Salsa https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/213030/avocado-and-black-eyed-pea-salsa/
Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Avocado and Jalapeno https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/black-eyed-pea-salad-with-avocado-and-jalapeno/
Southwestern Black-Eyed Pea Salad https://www.shelikesfood.com/southwestern-black-eyed-pea-salad/
Avocado and Black-Eyed Pea Salsa https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/avocado-and-black-eyed-pea-salsa-53032281
Black-Eyed Pea Casserole with Cornbread Crust https://www.rachaelhartleynutrition.com/blog/2015/12/black-eyed-pea-and-greens-casserole-with-cornbread-crust
Black-Eyed Pea Hummus https://www.gritsandpinecones.com/black-eyed-pea-hummus/#wprm-recipe-container-19643
Lucky and Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Salad Recipe http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2010/12/spicy-black-eyed-pea-salad-recipe.html
Zannie’s Black-Eyed Pea Dip https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/zannies-black-eyed-pea-dip/
Southern Black-Eyed Peas (Vegan) https://healthiersteps.com/recipe/southern-black-eyed-peas-vegan/
Vegan Black-Eyed Peas https://www.thespruceeats.com/vegetarian-black-eyed-peas-1001609
Creole Black-Eyed Peas https://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2008/01/creole-black-eyed-peas.html
Black-Eyed Peas with a Healthy Twist https://www.justapinch.com/recipes/side/other-side-dish/black-eyed-peas-with-a-healthy-twist.html
Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon and Pork https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/patrick-and-gina-neely/black-eyed-peas-with-bacon-and-pork-recipe-1920605
Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia. (1993) So Easy to Preserve. 3rd edition. Athens, GA: Cooperative Extension Service.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.