This bean traveled from West Africa to the United States and became ingrained in American cooking and traditions.
Not many beans can say they have an entire legend about them, but the black-eyed pea does. And this delicious legume has inspired a complex salad dish. The dish is versatile too, used by many as a dip and not a salad at all.
What Is Black-Eyed Pea Salad?
A black-eyed pea salad has a base of black-eyed peas, mixed with vegetables such as tomatoes, red onion, bell peppers, herbs (cilantro, dill or parsley) and an olive oil dressing. This salad is incredibly easy to make, very filling thanks to the density of the beans, and affordable. The dressing and the use of fresh vegetables make this salad taste light and refreshing. Many recipes recommend letting it marinate overnight in the fridge, so the flavors develop further.
Although this dish is called a salad and can be eaten as a salad, many people serve it as a dip with chips.
The History Behind Black Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas have a history in both Western Africa and the Southern United States. The bean was originally cultivated in Western Africa and is popular in many African dishes. According to historical records, the black-eyed pea was brought to the United States in 1674 aboard slave ships. Over the years it was quickly embraced by everyone living in the Southern states and has become a staple in many recipes.
It’s unclear whether the black-eyed pea salad originated in Africa or the Southern United States, but either way, it’s now made by people on an international scale.
A New Year’s Tradition
There is a popular tradition in the South of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s. This custom dates back to the Civil War and is very much adopted by everyone living in the South.
According to legend, in 1864, during General Sherman’s March, the Union Army raided the food supplies of the Confederates. They took all the food in sight but left the beans and the pork, as they thought that was the food for the livestock. That supply of pork and beans got the army through the cold winter. The black-eyed pea is now considered a sign of good luck by all. Many people will make a black-eyed pea salad for their New Year’s celebrations.
How to Prepare Black-Eyed Pea Salad
- If using canned black-eyed peas, rinse the beans thoroughly. If you are cooking your black-eyed peas from scratch, you should do so at least one day in advance.
- Cut up your red onion, tomatoes and peppers. Finely mince your herb of choice.
- Make your dressing by mixing olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
- Mix all ingredients. Let the salad marinate in the fridge for at least eight hours for optimal taste.
- Serve cold as either a dip or a side salad.
Black-Eyed Pea Salad Variations
Most home cooks feel comfortable altering the traditional black-eyed pea salad recipe. The dish is incredibly versatile and easy to experiment with. This recipe from Cook Pad adds in walnuts, raisins and brown sugar for a new spin on the salad.
A recipe from The Cafe Sucre Farine uses canned corn and fresh mango for a “salsa-like” spin on the dish.
And this recipe from NY Times adds garlic, cumin seeds and crumbled feta cheese for a Meditteranean flair to the dish.
The black-eyed pea salad is affordable and easy to make. And, if you ever need a party trick, we recommend showing up with this salad for a New Year’s party. When guests ask you about your dish, you can impress them with a captivating piece of American folklore.