Hoppin John is a classic southern/cajun stew with ham hocks and black-eyed peas, traditionally served on New Years Day to encourage good fortune and wealth throughout the upcoming year. Add a side dish of collard greens and you have a classic New Years dinner, that is compliant with a slow carb lifestyle. Many Southern cooks will serve Hoppin John with a side of rice also, but just know that rice is not slow carb. Either way, it is delicious and you will receive the associated good fortune!!!
Key Ingredients of Hoppin John
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Thought to have originated in the Carolinas, most historians agree that Hoppin John is an American stew with African/French/Caribbean roots.
Southern cooks have come up with many variations of this dish, but the traditional dish contains three main ingredients: black-eyed peas, smoky 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:
- Many of the recipes I post 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.
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 cooked along with dried black-eyed peas in the instant pot, with the greens added to the pot towards the end of cooking.
In my version, a smoky chipotle powdered spice blend brought the heat, but your favorite chile pepper spice mix can easily be substituted.
Where did the Crazy Name Come From?
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”.
“Good Luck” Superstitions & Traditions
Some of the ingredients in Hoppin John are said to bring about good luck in the New Year. The three ingredients most associated with good luck include:
- The collard greens represent financial good luck, as they are the “greenbacks”.
- The black-eyed peas are supposed to represent coins for more financial good luck, and
- Tomatoes bring about the additional good luck of health in the New Year.
Beyond the ingredients, there are a range of traditions that enhance your luck (and are fun to do).
One custom 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 to 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 these old classic dishes with a background of tradition, especially if they taste good. And this one does. No mushy mound of rice and peas here!
What to Serve with Hoppin John
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 instant pot for 10-15 minutes after the stew is cooked.
I’m a big fan of one-pot meals, both for the blending of flavors and for the easy clean up.
The best dessert to go with any Southern dish (in my opinion) is old fashioned banana pudding. Such a sweet way to bring in the New Year!
Other Great Cold Weather Stews:
- A great version of posole that is adapted to slow carb and/or keto diets.
- A Moroccan Beef and Sweet Potato Stew
- Osso Bucco with Lamb Shanks
Hoppin John – a slow carb cajun stew
- 1-2 ham hocks can use ham “shank” if you can’t find hocks
- 2-4 strips bacon
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1-2 garlic cloves smashed
- 4 Cups Stock or broth ham bouillon or chicken broth
- 1 Teaspoon Smoked paprika can add cumin and cayenne if desired
- 2 Cups Black-eyed peas Dried
- 14 oz diced tomatoes can use canned
- 1 bunch collard greens rinsed and coarsely chopped
- To the uncovered instant pot, add the onion and bacon and sauté for a few minutes until bacon is cooked to your liking.1 large onion, 2-4 strips bacon
- Add the rest of the ingredients (except the collard greens) to the instant pot and stir all together.Cover the instant pot, lock in and turn to the “soup” option. If your pot does not have the soup option, turn manually to 30 minutes.1-2 ham hocks, 2 stalks celery, 1-2 garlic cloves, 4 Cups Stock or broth, 1 Teaspoon Smoked paprika, 2 Cups Black-eyed peas, 14 oz diced tomatoes
- Let the pot go down a little in pressure after 30 minutes and then release the steam.Add the collard greens to the instant pot and select vegetables or turn to 10 minutes. After 10 minutes let the pot sit on warm for 5-10 minutes before releasing the steam.Hoppin John is traditionally served with cornbread and rice if you are not concerned about being slow carb.We always have some left and it just gets better and better when warmed up in the instant pot again (or on the stove).1 bunch collard greens
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