Hoppin John is a classic southern dish traditionally served on New Years Day to encourage good fortune and wealth throughout the upcoming year. Well, good fortune is certainly yours during dinner as you savor this delicious stew! Bonus points that it is compliant with slow carb diets.
Thought to have originated in the Carolinas, most historians agree that Hoppin John is an American dish with African/French/Caribbean roots. But just what is Hoppin John anyway, and why the crazy name? Read on….
What goes in a dish of Hoppin John?
Southern cooks have come up with many variations of this traditional dish, but they all share three main ingredients: black-eyed peas, smokey pork (often bacon), and some kind of heat. Rice is often added to Hoppin John, but I have excluded it in my recipe for two reasons:
- Most of the recipes I post (since 2014 anyway) are low carb or slow carb. Rice is not part of a low carb diet (and you won’t miss it in this dish).
- From a flavor/texture standpoint, the addition of rice to Hoppin John often makes for a mushy mound of rice and black-eyed peas that is not at all appealing.
Collard greens (and corn bread) are usually part of this traditional New Years meal. Some cooks serve the collard greens as a side and some add them right to the pot. For ease and quickness, my version adds the collard greens to the pot. I’m a big fan of one-pot meals, both for the blending of flavors and for the easy clean up.
How did Hoppin John Get its Name?
Theories abound regarding how this dish got its quirky name. The most popular theories include:
- It was the custom for children to gather in the dining room as the dish was brought forth and hop around the table before sitting down to eat.
- A man named John came “a-hoppin” when his wife took the dish from the stove.
- An obscure South Carolina custom was inviting a guest to eat by saying, “Hop in, John”
- It was hawked in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina by a crippled black man who was known as Hoppin’ John,
- And the most boring theory is that Hoppin’ John is a corruption of the French phrase pois à pigeon, meaning “pigeon peas.”
I’m going with the greeting of a guest saying “Hop in, John”.
Superstitions about the “Good Luck” part of Hoppin’ John
Then there is the symbolism of the ingredients. It is said that financial good luck is represented by the collard greens, as they are the “greenbacks”. The black-eyed peas are supposed to represent coins, and if you add tomatoes to the dish then you have added the additional good luck of health in the New Year.
One custom that I liked is to bury a shiny dime among the black-eyed peas before serving. Whoever gets the coin in his or her portion is assured good luck throughout the whole year.
Another tradition in some parts of the South is that you count the number of peas in your serving to predict the amount of wealth you will have for the coming year.
And finally, if you leave three (3) peas on your plate when you are finished eating, then your New Year will be filled with luck, wealth, AND romance.
I love trying out classic dishes with a background of tradition, especially if they taste good. And this one does. No mushy mound of rice and peas here!
Special Notes for Hoppin John – Slow Carb Style
I used both ham hocks and bacon in my recipe, a recipe which was inspired by Emeril, the king of southern cooking in my mind. The ham hocks were simmered in the stew to add flavor and fat, and the bacon was added at the end for some crispness on top of the stew. In my version, the paprika spice mix and the smoked chipotle spice mix from HeathGlen’s Kitchen brought the heat.
Hoppin John – a slow carb cajun stew
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 ham hocks
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 cup bell peppers chopped (orange or red if available)
- 1-2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 tsp each of dried thyme cumin, smoked paprika or smoked chipotle spice, and cayenne
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bunch collard greens rinsed and coarsely chopped
- 14 oz Black-eyed peas canned
- 14 oz diced tomatoes
- 3-4 strips bacon optional
- Heat oil in large soup pot, add the ham hock(s) and sear on all sides for 4 min.
- Add the chopped onion, celery, pepper and garlic. Stir together and cook for 4 minutes.
- Add the stock and seasonings, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 min or longer
- Add collard greens, peas and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
- Fry up bacon and add as a garnish to the stew. I also added more bacon the next day because we ate the ham hocks but there was still stew left.
Other Great Slow Carb Stews:
Click here for a great version of posole that is adapted to slow carb and/or keto diets.