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- 1 to 1¼ pounds smoked ham hocks or smoked turkey pieces (see note)
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 head garlic, trimmed and cut crosswise
- 1 fresh or dried bay leaf
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 cup dried cowpeas or pigeon peas, soaked and drained
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1½ cups uncooked parboiled long-grain white rice
Recipe by Yewande Komolafe
Reprinted from Waffles + Mochi: The Cookbook. Available everywhere books are sold November 2021.
Sometimes a recipe travels a long way before it hits our plate.
Hoppin’ John evolved as a dish made with ingredients and techniques brought to the Americas by West Africans who were enslaved during the transatlantic slave trade—they were forced to work for free. Many of them grew rice on plantations. They passed this peas and rice dish down to their family members, and versions of it have since traveled through the generations.
A one-pot meal of peas and rice simmered in a rich, smoky broth, the flavor in Hoppin’ John comes from the choice of rice, beans, and smoked meat—like ham hocks or turkey pieces. The beans are cowpeas or pigeon peas, and the best substitutes are beans that have unique flavor and character of their own.
To a large Dutch oven with a lid, add the ham hocks, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs. Pour in 12 cups of water and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot with the lid, leaving it slightly ajar. Simmer until the hocks or turkey pieces have softened, about 3 to 3½ hours, adding more water as needed. What are some fun things to do while you wait?
Once the hocks or turkey pieces are tender enough to pull apart with a fork, allow them to cool slightly in the liquid, about 10 minutes, then move the meat, onions, and garlic to a plate or tray. Discard the bay leaf and thyme stalks. Measure out 4 cups of the stock and reserve the rest for another use.
Pull the cooked meat and skin off the bone and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Return the chopped meat, skin, and bones to the pot. Add the cooked onion, the 4 cups of cooking liquid, and the drained peas.
Do Ahead: you can cook the ham hocks or smoked turkey ahead of time. Reserve the stock and pull the meat. Keep both refrigerated until ready to use in the dish.
Did you know rice is a shape-shifter? It can be turned into cereal, noodles, pudding, milk, and even glue. In fact, it’s part of the mortar that holds the Great Wall of China in place!
Pop out any cloves of garlic by giving each cross section of the head a good squeeeeze! The cooked garlic cloves will pop out as a paste. Transfer the paste and stir into the pot. Discard the garlic skin. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring the pot to a boil over medium heat and allow it to simmer, with the lid on and slightly ajar, until the peas are cooked through and just tender, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir in the parboiled rice, place the lid on tightly, and move the pot to the oven. Cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and let it sit, covered (no peeking!) for 15 minutes.
It’s so hard to not peek under the lid at the rice, but we have to trust that the rice is doing its thing. Otherwise, we let out all the magical cloud of steam that builds up and helps soften the grains of rice!
Uncover the pot, fluff the rice and peas with a fork, and taste the dish. Does it need more salt or pepper? Add it if necessary. Divide among bowls and serve warm.
- Mushrooms make a meaty stand-in for the ham hocks or turkey. Prepare an umami-rich mushroom-infused broth by rehydrating dried mushrooms in hot water. Drain the mushroom pieces and reserve the broth for cooking. Proceed with directions above. Use vegetable stock if you need additional liquid for cooking.
- No pigeon peas or cowpeas? No problem! Use black eyed peas, kidney beans, adzuki beans or pinto beans. The cooking times and amount of liquid may vary depending on the beans you use, so watch carefully as you experiment so you can see when they are done.
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