Black-eyed peas can turn into caviar

This time of year, someone always brings up the subject of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day to promote prosperity and bring good luck.

This tradition seems to have Southern roots. The story goes that during the Civil War, Sherman's army stripped the South of nearly all of its crops and livestock but left the black-eyed peas, also known as cow peas and field peas. The Northerners considered such fare livestock fodder.

However, the peas sustained the South and kept many from starving. Through the years, the tradition evolved of eating them on New Year's Day to promote prosperity and good luck.

Not everyone is a fan of black-eyed peas. One friend confided that she is not superstitious but just wants to be on the safe side, so she and her family always eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. Here is how they do it: She opens a can of black-eyed peas, hands out spoons to all family members, then passes the peas around and everyone eats one spoonful — much like taking a dose of medicine.

Well, my philosophy is that if one is going to eat black-eyed peas, they should taste good. Apparently, that's what Helen Corbett, former director of food service for Neiman Marcus, thought when she created a salad of black-eyed peas to be served in the Zodiac Room at Nieman Marcus, and named it Texas caviar.

I love that name. Where else but in Texas would a chef create a dish out of the lowly black-eyed pea and call it caviar? Even without a trace of caviar in it, the Texas creation caught on like wild fire and now there are numerous adaptations of the dish.

Here is my version of Texas caviar. Instead of a salad, I present it as a healthy dip with corn chips. Serve it on New Year's Day and watch it disappear.

Texas Caviar

1 can (15.8 oz.) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 cup chopped tomato

1/2cup chopped red bell pepper

1/3cup thinly sliced green onions

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon minced seeded jalapeno

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2teaspoon salt

1/2teaspoon ground cumin

1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper

Fresh cilantro to garnish

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover; refrigerate several hours to let flavors meld. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with tortilla chips. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

The Wichita Eagle—12/30/09

I am having a party on New Year's Day and want to make meatballs. Can they be made in advance? Can they be cooked ahead and reheated?

Because meatballs are made of ground meat, they will need to be cooked after shaping into balls. I like to bake them rather than fry them because it saves time and makes less mess. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350-degree oven 20 to 30 minutes. Drop them into the sauce and refrigerate. They will reheat nicely in a slow cooker.