New Year’s Soup…”Merak Lubiya”

In Recipies on October 26, 2011 at 8:57 am

No grey meat or starchy kugel for us last Rosh Hashana!

Food culture holds many surprising historical and traditional similarities.  In Texas, it is customary to serve black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve or with the New Year’s Day meal.  However, the practice of eating black-eyed peas for “luck” pre-dates Texian history by several centuries.

The Babylonian Talmud (Horayot 12A) specifically mentions eating black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashana (The Jewish New Year).  Sephardi Jews coming to the United States in the 1730s likely brought the custom with them.

The anti-Semitic Yankee general, William Tecumseh Sherman, probably did not know the Jewish history behind the black-eyed pea and, in typical Yankee fashion, did not recognize it as an important food crop.  Therefore, during his ethnic cleansing “march to the sea”, he failed to destroy black-eyed pea crops because he thought them “mere animal fodder”.

His ignorance and subsequent oversight spared the lives of many starving Southerners during those terrible times.

Today, in the home of the Phyne Dyner the black-eyed pea remains a symbol of good luck for Rosh Hashana and for the civil New Year.  “Next year, may we be in Texas!”

[NOTE:  In Iowa, the American Ukraine, staple “Jewish” New Year’s foods consist almost solely of chewy, grey brisket (or rubbery chicken) and gooey potato or noodle kugel. But then, most “meat and taters” Iowans (Jews included) also regard “ketchup” to be a spice.]

During our celebration of the holiday, black-eyed peas fill in for the humble red beans in our “Hoppin’ John” and other bean-rice dishes.  It also fills in as a soup ingredient for merak lubiya (black-eyed pea soup).

Lubiya is the Arabic word for black-eyed pea.

Merak lubiya has a sunny color imparted by a generous amount of turmeric and its hearty flavor comes from that great compliment for all things bean…cumin.  A splash of lemon juice and a handful of chopped cilantro give the dish a cheery flavor that puts a smile on the faces of diners.  Like most foods from lands around the Mediterranean, this soup also contains generous amounts of garlic, tomatoes, and onions.

It is a stark contrast from the glop served up in most homes of Ashkenaz Jews during the holidays.

So, live a little.  Put away the sour cream and the tzimmies (sickeningly sweet candied carrots and raisins) and enjoy a Jewish tradition that pre-dates the shtetle by a few hundred years.

Let’s get cooking…

1 ½ C dried black-eyed peas (rinsed and picked for stones)

2 large, sweet onions thinly sliced or chopped

3-5 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 TBS olive oil

1-2 jalapeno peppers, minced (seeds removed if desired)

3 large Roma tomatoes, diced (or 14oz can drained)

1 C zucchini, diced (optional)

3 C vegetable stock

1 ½ tsp ground cumin

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

¼ C lemon juice (or to taste)

¼ C (packed) chopped fresh cilantro

salt & freshly ground pepper to taste (see notes)

 [NOTE:  It is possible to substitute canned black-eyed peas.  But be sure to read the label for pork ingredients if your Invisible Friend has a rule against eating pig.]

Place the black-eyed peas in a deep pot and cover with cold water (enough to cover the peas/beans by one inch).  Heat to boiling, and then reduce heat to slow simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow to stand at room temperature for 2-3 hours.  Drain the beans in a colander, return them to the pot, and cover with cold water.  Cover and allow to simmer for 45 minutes, or until tender.

[NOTE:  Do not add salt to the beans until the soup is almost finished.  Adding salt to (any) cooking beans will keep them hard, rather than soft and delicate.]

In another large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook for 4-6 minutes, until soft.

[NOTE:  In this soup I use onions cut “Middle Eastern Style”, rather than chopped.  Cut the onion in half (long-wise from root to shoot).  Then, slice the onion thinly along its long axis.  This gives a consistent size that cooks evenly.]

Add the minced garlic and stir constantly for one minute.  Do not allow the garlic to brown or the soup will have bitter undertones.  Add the remaining ingredients, except for the zucchini (if using) lemon juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Add in the pre-cooked black-eyed peas.  Cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the zucchini (if using) and the fresh cilantro, recover, and cook for another 10-15 minutes.  Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper (sparingly) and stir in the lemon juice.  Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread or home-baked pita.

If desired, the vegetable based soup can be made velvety-rich by putting a spoonful of sour cream on top of each bowlful just before serving.


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