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Oxford restaurants reinterpret the black-eyed pea

While many people partake in the New Year’s tradition of eating black-eyed peas, a few Oxford restaurants are serving them up in unexpected ways.

Black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day as a sign of good luck, cooked with ham hock, bacon or another cut of pork, and served alongside collard greens and cornbread. The peas represent coins, the greens folding money, and the cornbread represents gold.

While consumption of black-eyed peas for luck dates back to 500 A.D., a more recent legend says during the Civil War, Sherman’s men pillaged everything from the southerners but pork and black-eyed peas, believing they were feed for livestock. The southerners were able to sustain themselves through the cold winter, and are said to have felt lucky to have black-eyed peas.

Another tradition states that the black-eyed peas symbolize emancipation of enslaved African-Americans, officially freed on New Year’s Day after the Civil War.

While black-eyed peas are still prepared in the traditional fashion, Oxford chefs are using the versatile legume to craft signature dishes.

One example is Boure’s black-eyed pea hummus, created by owner John Currence. According to Phillip Chaney, the restaurant’s director of operations, the best-selling appetizer is a southern take on the Middle East’s most popular dish. Traditional hummus consists of chickpeas, tahini paste, olive oil, roasted garlic and lemon juice.

“With our hummus recipe, [Currence] took out the chickpeas, which are traditionally used, and added black-eyed peas,” Chaney said. “Not only does this put a cool southern twist on the age-old recipe, it also offers a more health-conscious option to our menu of battered and fried appetizers.”

Another year-round mainstay for black-eyed pea enthusiasts is Newk’s Eatery’s “Tippah County Caviar.” The dish, served cold, features black-eyed peas, a combination of chopped bell peppers, jalapenos and green onions, all tossed in a house-made vinaigrette.

“It’s a different take on traditional black-eyed peas,” says Christine Boone, who frequently dines at Newk’s. “I like to order it in the summer when I’m wanting a side that’s a little healthier.”

For those interested in eating black-eyed peas prepared the traditional way, Mama Jo’s Country Cookin’ on Old Highway 7 is the place to stop. The side dish is served up weekly at the Southern-style restaurant, with owner Jo Brassell pairing it with fried chicken, cornbread and much more.

“Mama Jo’s is down-home, southern soul food,” Pat Carter, Oxford resident, said. “It tastes just like my grandmother used to make, so there’s a sentimental aspect to it.”

While some Oxford restaurants don’t serve black-eyed peas regularly, a couple featured them as part of their New Year’s Eve menus. McEwen’s Oxford served them as part of their four-course New Year’s Eve dinner special. Available as a first course, the soup featured locally sourced black-eyed peas, smoked ham, vidalia onion chiffonade, turnip greens and jalapeno cornbread. Grit restaurant in Taylor also featured black-eyed peas as part of their special menu. Their dish was a collard green and cornmeal tamale stuffed with pork chow and pureed black-eyed peas.

Regardless of how they’re consumed, black-eyed peas are packed with nutrients. One cup is 160 calories and provides 20 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium, as well as nine grams of protein. They are also a good source of soluble fiber.

Whether one is consuming them for good luck, health benefits or simple enjoyment, there are plenty of options in Oxford to eat black-eyed peas year-round.