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Cooking black-eyed peas for better times

It is believed that the versatile, nutritious and easy-to-cook 'lobia' brings good luck  

Cowboy caviar aka videsi lobia salad (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
Cowboy caviar aka videsi lobia salad (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

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In the American south, black-eyed peas are served with collard greens to welcome a new year. The combination of greens and beans is supposed to bring good luck.

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Black-eyed peas are a variety of legume that was brought to the US by slaves and many heirloom varieties have since become part of the cuisine in the southern states. In the new year special dish called Hoppin’ John, which originated in the Carolina states, these peas are cooked with rice and ham hock and served with corn bread and collard greens.

Given the pandemic, I am willing to believe in anything that promises better times. Whether you believe in luck or not, however, the nutritional profile of black-eyed peas, better known in India as lobia (Hindi) and karamani (Tamil), is truly worth banking on all year round. It is rich in protein, fibre, calcium, folate, zinc and selenium. Its reasonably neutral flavour and use in cuisines around the world makes it a versatile ingredient. It requires less planning than chickpeas or kidney beans, just two hours of soaking time compared to the 8-10 hours needed for the bigger-sized legumes with thicker skins.

Wash and soak the lobia for four hours. Drain the water. Place in the pressure cooker and cover with fresh water. Add salt and pressure-cook for one whistle. After the cooker has reached full pressure, reduce the flame and continue cooking for five minutes. The salt not only seasons the beans but also prevents it from overcooking to a mush. To use in salads, turn off the heat after one whistle.

The beans can also be cooked on the stove top in a pan of water; this should take around half an hour or more.

Once the black lobia is cooked, you can take inspiration from the Maharashtrian usal, Tamil-style sundal, Kerala’s olan with pumpkin or Punjabi-style gravy. The prepared curry can also be used to prepare warm chaats instead of the dried peas curry that is often used. The warm lobia curry can also be used inside pani-puris, with the cold pani offering a delicious contrast. If you are like me and like to add cooked beans to salads, try the Cowboy Caviar, a cross between a salad and a salsa made in the American south.


Serves 4
1 cup cooked lobia
1 large cucumber
1 small onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 green capsicum (or a mix of colours)
Half cup frozen corn kernels
1 ripe avocado (optional)
1 tsp finely chopped jalapeños (or green chillies)
Quarter cup chopped coriander leaves
3 cloves garlic, grated

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lime
3 tbsp lime juice
Half tsp salt
Half tsp crushed black pepper


Take the cooked lobia in a large mixing bowl. Peel and finely chop the cucumber and onion. Deseed and finely chop the tomatoes and capsicum. Place the frozen corn kernels in a glass bowl with water and a pinch of salt. Microwave for three minutes. Drain well.

Cut the avocado into a fine dice. Add all the prepped ingredients along with the jalapeños, coriander and garlic into the bowl. Toss gently to combine well.

Take all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and whisk well until thick and creamy. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. The beans soak the flavours of the dressing and the salad tastes better after an hour or two of making it. Serve it as a salad or as a dip along with nachos or crackers.


Lobia chaat. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
Lobia chaat. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

Serves 4

1 cup black-eyed peas, soaked for 4 hours
A pinch of baking soda*
2 tsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
A pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp green chilli paste
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp amchoor powder
1 tsp salt
Half tsp black salt

To prepare chaat

Finely chopped onion
Finely chopped tomato
Finely chopped coriander leaves
Green chutney
Tamarind chutney
Chaat masala
Crushed papdi and sev (optional)


Drain the soaked black-eyed peas and transfer to a pressure cooker. Add three cups of water along with a pinch of baking soda and pressure-cook for 10 minutes (on sim for 10 minutes after first whistle). Open the lid of the pressure cooker and mash some of the beans with a potato masher so that the curry is thick, allowing some of the cooked beans as is, retaining some texture.

In a pot, heat the oil and fry cumin seeds. Stir in the asafoetida, ginger paste and green chilli paste. Fry for 30 seconds over a low flame. Add the lobia and the rest of the ingredients. Mix in some hot water and allow the curry to simmer for five minutes. Keep aside.

To prepare the chaat, pour a couple of ladles of lobia in a wide bowl. Top with onion, tomato, coriander, green chutney, tamarind chutney, chaat masala and lime juice. Top with crushed papdi and sev. Serve immediately.

* Baking soda helps the black-eyed peas break down into a mush, which is the texture we want for this chaat.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is Everyday Superfoods. @saffrontrail

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