I must be on a comfort food streak because warm, yummy, and tummy filling foods keep coming up on my radar, and therefore onto my plate. I made a big batch of chicken noodle soup for my son, which he loves, a hearty corn, quinoa and hamburger stew for him, which he didn't love, a chanterelle mushroom, chevre, leek and dill bread pudding, and black eyed peas and johnny cakes all in one week. Yep. Hello February.
I have always relied on dried black eyed peas to be a fast cooking bean option for my clients' menus. I do try to cook dry beans when I can, but also use canned beans for convenience. The soft, saucy beans I made this week are perfect for smothering over Johnny cakes hot off the griddle. Johnny cakes are basically little cornbread pancakes, with the addition of fresh corn (or frozen) to the cornmeal batter. This little cakes and beans duo can be a meal in itself but both are great items to bring to a potluck gathering. Pair with some braised greens, scrambled eggs, okra, sauteed bell peppers or whatever you come up with.
The standard wisdom is that black eyed peas will take 15 minutes in the pressure cooker at 15 lbs pressure without soaking. Those of you with new-fangled cookers like Instant Pots can use that too. Or, soak those beans overnight and pop them on the stove. Most soaked black eyed peas have cooked soft in anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes for me, but if you have a pressure cooker go ahead and use it.
The flavor components are nice and simple. Molasses or blackstrap molasses, which has a more intense flavor, onion, clove, smoked paprika, garlic, bay leaf, sea salt, Dijon, and a little peanut oil or olive oil. I like the flavor of the unrefined peanut oil. There is an age old controversy about adding salt to beans while cooking. You will get all sorts of anecdotal answers on this. Some say it prevents the beans from softening, some say it doesn't matter, which I tend to believe, but I choose to add the salt and mustard, which has salt, at the end. The molasses should be added at the end as well as it is acidic and will keep the beans from softening.
The result is something sweet and savory, but less sweet than most prepared baked beans and with a little more complexity. Sweetness and bitterness come from the molasses with a slight smokey flavor from the paprika. Onion, bay, and clove add savory notes. Consider cumin, black pepper, chipotle, a pinch of allspice, and of course thick sliced bacon, to be fried in the pot before adding the beans, as flavor options as well. I wanted molasses to be in the spotlight all by itself for a change as opposed to brown sugar which is often used to sweeten beans. Brown sugar is simply white sugar with molasses added back in anyway! Maybe molasses will make it's way to your pancakes, cakes, puddings etc. It goes way beyond gingerbread, and I love the flavor.
Now, onto the Johnny cakes. Nobody will dock you points for just cooking these up and slapping some butter and maple on them, but I think they are great in a savory setting with gravy or beans especially. Letting the cornmeal stand with your choice of milk before making the batter is a key factor in creating soft cakes. Even when using a fine cornmeal, there can still be some crunch left if it is not allowed to soften with the liquid for a couple of hours. I used grassfed whole milk in one test, and then almond milk in the next and they both turned out to be delicious.
The dough is pretty straight forward, with one additional step. Depending on how much texture you want your cakes to have, the corn must be pulsed or blended smooth with the batter. You can add the corn to the batter an blend it all at once in your food processor, choosing to pulse until there are little chunks of corn, or puree until smooth. I chose to mix everything EXCEPT the corn into the batter, and then I pureed the corn with about a cup of the batter and incorporated it back in. Leave the corn more coarse if you want texture or puree if you want smoother cakes.
With the leavening mixed in, the batter is a thick but somewhat fluffy consistency. I am a sucker for batter of all kinds so I can report that it is also very tasty. 1/4 C of batter makes a roughly 4 inch cake. You may have to flatten and push the batter just a little as you pour each because you want each cake to be about 1/2 in thick to cook through. They will puff up a little as they cook, and they smell really, really good!
Johnny cakes are not exactly like pancakes in that they sometimes take a little coaxing to flip. Gently peek under one edge to check that the bottom has attained a nice, crispy, deep golden-brown crust, which takes about 2 to 3 minutes for the first side. Then, use your thinnest spatula and begin by releasing the edges, working your way under the cakes gently until you get under the whole thing. The second side takes about 2 minutes to cook. I like to use my cast iron pan and I find it necessary to take care in flipping them. If you are using a slick non-stick surface they may release easier.
This recipe makes about 9, 4 inch cakes, but chances are you're going to have to try one right off the griddle. So, let's say 8, a nice round number. Enjoy!
Molasses Black Eyed Peas and Johnny Cakes
For The Johnny Cakes
- 1 1/2 C Fine ground cornmeal
- 1 C Milk of your choice
- 1 Tsp Baking powder
- 1/2 Tsp Baking soda
- 2 Tbsp Maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 Tsp Sea salt
- 1 C Fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels
- Oil for brushing the pan
Mix the milk and cornmeal in a bowl to form a thick paste and let stand, covered, two hours or overnight if possible. When the cornmeal mixture is ready, add the baking powder, baking soda, maple syrup, olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Mix this together thoroughly. In a food processor or blender, combine about 1 C of batter with the corn kernels and puree until very smooth. If you need to take a little more batter to make it blend, go ahead. Add this mixture back into the batter and mix well.
Prepare a griddle, cast iron pan, or non-stick skillet over medium heat. Have a little oil ready for coating or brushing the pan between batches of cakes. A high heat oil works well, but I used unrefined peanut oil. If you are careful to modulate the temperature of the pan you can use olive oil as well with minimal smoking.
When the pan is hot, ladle 1/4 C of the batter into the pan for each cake. Each cake should be about 1/2 inch thick to cook well, so gently spread the batter or wiggle the pan to get each pour to flatten evenly. Cook the first side for three minutes or until you can see the bottom of the cakes turning a deep golden brown when you peek under with a spatula. Gently work your way around each cake to loosen it from the pan, flip it, and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes on the second side. Serve the cakes hot.
Yield: Approximately 9, 4 inch cakes.
The cakes will keep for one week in the refrigerator.
For The Black Eyed Peas:
- 2 C Dry black eyed peas
- 4 C water
- 1/4 Medium yellow onion (a big wedge)
- 1/4 Tsp Smoked paprika
- 1/8 Tsp Clove
- 3 Large garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1/4 C Molasses
- 1 Tsp Sea salt
- 1 Tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 Tsp Unprocessed peanut oil
Pick though the beans for grit or funky beans. Rinse the beans and combine them in the pressure cooker with 4 C water, a wedge of onion (about 1/4 of a medium onion), the ground clove, smoked paprika, garlic, and bay leaves. Bring the peas up to 15 lbs. pressure and maintain for 15 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally and add the molasses, sea salt, mustard, and peanut oil. Stir the pot and allow the peas to simmer for a few more minutes over low-medium heat.
Serve the black eyed peas hot over the hot Johnny Cakes and enjoy!
The peas will keep for one week refrigerated and freeze well.
Yield: 6 Servings