Making Luck

No matter what your faith, beliefs or disbeliefs, sometimes things happen as a result of pure luck. You might have worked your fanny off, done everything that those supposedly in the know suggest, but without the luck of being in the right place or at the right time, it just ain’t gonna happen. I’m a big believer in luck. It’s right there in front of us every time Yolanda pulls those numbered ping pong balls and somebody wins the jackpot.  And while it still takes a lot of hard work to get what you want, it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets just a little too.

There are probably as many talismans of luck out there as people who believe in them, and equally as many activities that are supposed to enhance the chances of things going your way. Heaps of lucky coins and trinkets, horseshoes and rabbit’s feet, countless crossed fingers and wood knocking all done to sway the fates to shine happily on the believer. My dad would ask us to spit three times on his neck to guarantee luck at his monthly card game. I doubt our actions caused anything more than a wet neck, but dad believed it worked, and we got permission to intentionally spit on a parent. We all won. Three coffee beans in a glass of sambuca are supposed to attract the good kind of luck, three lights on a match, the bad. Some probably think the three olives I order in my dirty martini is for luck, but it’s really because I love olives. Though if the bartender gave me a few more on the side, I’d consider myself lucky indeed. As for a rabbit’s foot being lucky, I’m not buying it, and I bet that donor rabbit wouldn’t either. And to lose a shoe, whether equine or not, seems like pretty bad luck to me.



Still, I too look for ways to enhance my good fortune, but instead of spitting it on or carrying it in my pocket, I cook it up. I figure if I can gain a little bit of luck and enjoy some tasty fare, that’s a win-win to me. One such good fortune-inspiring dish is stewed tomatoes and black-eyed peas, a staple on any luck-filled New Year’s Day table in the south. I’ve loved stewed tomatoes since I was a kid, but black-eyed peas have never been a favorite.  I’ve always found their bitterness is bit intense and usually pass them by. That was, until I had them a few weeks ago on a New Year’s visit to Virginia. Instead of cooking them on their own with the traditional smoked ham hock, we threw the soaked beans in the pot of stewed tomatoes to cook. One taste and I knew my luck had changed, at least when it came to black-eyed peas.

This week’s bitter cold weather and a need for some serious good luck on several other fronts made me think of cooking up some surefire good fortune.  I knew I had the dried peas in the pantry (I actually bought them but never used for pie weights), but found only one lonely little can of stewed tomatoes on my shelf. That would never be enough. As it was 10 ºF and I had just gotten over a cold, venturing into the arctic tundra beyond my door was definitely not my plan. I took a look at the ingredients listed on that little can, then in my pantry. Hmm…I can do this. The result is a rich and savory vegetarian stew of tomatoes and beans, chock-full of good things to warm body and hopefully some good luck too.  Wonderful on its own with some crusty bread or as a terrific side dish for lunch or dinner, it makes a great and healthy warm dip with tortilla chips for next week’s big game. After all, couldn’t your team use a little luck too?

Stewed Tomatoes with Black Eyed Peas

The majority of the work in this recipe (and it’s not much) is in making the stewed tomatoes. Then you just ladle out as much as you need to cook up the amount of beans you’re making. The basic ratio is 2 cups of tomatoes to ½ cup beans. If you don’t want to use the black-eyed peas, any other dried bean would work too. You may have to adjust cooking time to when your beans are done.

Stewed Tomatoes

One recipe makes about 6 cups stewed tomatoes, which gives you plenty to make the beans and some to enjoy on its own.

  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 14 ½-oz. can of stewed tomatoes (you could probably leave this out, but I put it in and I wouldn’t want to jinx anything…)
  • 1 28-oz. can whole plum tomatoes
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • ½ a large onion or 1 small onion, diced
  • ½ a red pepper, diced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • A wedge of lemon (for squeezing on at the end)

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, celery, red pepper and a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat until the vegetables start to soften, about 5-7 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, drain the plum tomatoes over a bowl, saving the juice. Slice the tomatoes into ½ inch slices. Add the sliced tomatoes and juices to the pot, along with the can of stewed tomatoes, thyme and bay leaf, salt, pepper, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Calories: about 95 per cup.

To make the Black-eyed Peas

Makes 3-3 ½ cups

  • 2 cups stewed tomatoes
  • ¾ cup water (depending on how thick the tomatoes are)
  • ½ cup dried black-eyed peas (or whatever dried bean you are using), soaked in cold water at least 4 hours and up to overnight

Add the stewed tomatoes, black-eyed peas and enough water to the pot. Bring back to a boil, cover and simmer about 45 min or until the beans are tender but not mushy. If you’d like a little thicker sauce, gently boil uncovered for about 5 minutes to reduce some of the liquid. I like it a little thinner to facilitate slurping and sopping with some good bread, but if I’m going to use it for a warm dip with chips, I’ll reduce it a little. Calories: about 150 calories per cup

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4 thoughts on “Making Luck

  1. Wow – what an unusual combination of flavors! My mother’s stewed tomatoes always had a dash of cloves in them – I think it was one of the reasons I loved her stewed tomatoes so much!

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