January 1st, I am cleaning out the fridge. I find 2 sweet potatoes, several stalks of rainbow chard and leeks. I am thinking of a friend who brought me black eyed pea soup on New Years day, a few years ago; “This is for good luck and fortune”, she said. Most traditional recipes for this soup from the South are made with ham and collard greens, but I decided that my ingredients could work too.
The bag with dried black eyed peas tells me that Southerns believe that eating black eyed peas will bring a lucky day for each bean eaten, while the food label tells me that every half cup of cooked beans delivers 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of dietary fiber and 15% of my daily needed iron, sounds like a lucky day to me.
I skin the sweet potatoes and cut them in bite size pieces.Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is a precursor for vitamin A. Our body converts beta carotene to vitamin A which is important for eyesight, especially for night vision. A chronic deficiency can permanently damage the cornea which is uncommon in the Western World, but does happen to children in less developed countries. Vitamin A is also important for immunity, growth, skin, cell differentiation and possibly helps against cancer. People who eat very large amounts of beta carotene can develop a skin discoloration which is harmless. However taking large amounts of vitamin A in the form of supplements (retinol) can bring on toxicity symptoms such as abdominal pain, hair loss, stunted growth, loss of appetite, reduced bone density and birth defects. Besides rich in beta carotene sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and vitamin C. When cooked with a little fat (oil) more beta carotene will be made available for absorption.
Next, I prepare the leeks. Leeks can be very sandy since soil is added around the plant during the growing process which keep the stalks white. Leeks are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C and folate. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and is administered to infants when they are born. Vitamin K is also important for bone health, and like vitamin A, will need a little fat for the most optimal absorption from food. Folate is essential for cell formation and deficiencies show up in the form of anemia, a smooth red tongue, depression, mental confusion etc. Women of childbearing age are recommended to take a vitamin that adds a minimum of 400 mcg a day to help prevent children born with deformities. Washing leeks can be tricky because of their sandiness and recently I learned a new way. Cut off the roots and slice the stalk lengthwise. Wash in cold water and slice the white and light green parts in little pieces of about half an inch.
I heat some canola oil in a large pan, add the leeks, some minced garlic and the stalks of chard. Chard has large green leaves that only need a short time cooking, but the stalks that come in different colors, need more cooking time and can be added together with onions, or in this case with the leeks at the beginning. Chard is rich in vitamin A as are all dark green vegetables and provides some iron as well.
When the leeks have lost most of their moisture I add the sweet potato and black eyed peas that I had left soaking in water for an hour. Other than other legumes dried black eyed pies don’t have to be soaked overnight before cooking. When heated through I add 2 liter vegetable broth. I choose an organic brand since the salt content is often lower than the regular kind, but please check the food label to make sure. When the mixture boils I add a bay leaf, oregano, turmeric, ground cumin and paprika and let it boil until the peas are soft. I let the soup cook for 10 more minutes while adding the chard leaves. A longer cooking period will let the soup thicken and the sweet potato will fall apart but vitamins will be lost too.
I serve the hearty soup with a whole wheat bread, salad and cheese.
By combining grains (from bread) and legumes (black eyed peas) I ensure I receive all essential proteins and the cheese adds some umph. This is my way of feeding my family, which will hopefully keep us healthy and well nourished and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for some luck and fortune this year.
- video about cleaning leeks
- Nutrition, Concepts and Controversies by Frances Sizer and Ellie Whitney, 10th edition, 2006
- University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin A
- food label on 16 oz bag of black eyed peas