Kitchen Diva

Black-eyed peas, originally from Africa, are one of the world’s most widely dispersed beans.

By Angela Shelf Medearis

Black-eyed peas have had a tremendous influence on both my writing and culinary career. My first book for children was entitled “Picking Peas for a Penny.” It was a rhyming story about my mother and my Uncle John picking black-eyed peas for a penny a bushel basket on my grandparents’ farm in Oklahoma during the 1940s.

Black-eyed peas also figure prominently in my career as a cookbook author and chef. Black-eyed peas, okra, peanuts and sesame seeds, and the oil they produce, are documented contributions from Africa via the slave trade to our American cuisine. I prepared black-eyed peas any number of ways while doing research for my first cookbook “The African-American Kitchen.”

Originally from Africa, black-eyed peas are one of the most widely dispersed beans in the world. It was a nutritious staple in Africa long before it was brought to the American South. Black-eyed peas are often called black-eyed beans, or China peas (their bushy vines grew wild in Asia). Another name for the black-eyed pea is “cowpea,” as it was used in animal food.

Although called a pea, the black-eyed pea is actually an edible “bean.” Both peas and beans are legumes, and both have edible seeds and pods. The most common commercial black-eyed pea is called the California Blackeye. It is pale-colored with a prominent black spot. Black-eyed peas are extremely nourishing, both to people and to the soil.

If you’re looking for a delicious way to lose weight and improve your health, here are some reasons to eat more black-eyed peas:

  • Black-eyed peas are a low-fat and low-calorie food. One-half cup of black-eyed peas is generally less than 100 calories and contains about 1 gram of fat. Their protein helps cells grow and repair and provides energy to your body.
  • If you need more potassium and usually eat bananas and avocados, try adding more black-eyed peas to your diet! A 1/2-cup serving of cooked from dry black-eyed peas contains 239 mg of potassium, and the same amount from a can has 206 mg. Potassium is a nutrient that helps keep your blood pressure at healthy levels, which lowers your risk of heart disease. It also supports the health of your muscles and bones.
  • Protein also supports most parts of your body, including muscles, skin, hair and nails. One-half cup of dry and cooked black-eyed peas contains 6.7 grams of protein, and a 1/2 cup of canned black-eyed peas contains 5.7 grams.
  • Black-eyed peas are rich in iron, helping to prevent anemia, which produces fatigue and weakness. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout your body to your organs, cells and muscles. A 1/2 cup serving of canned black-eyed peas has 1.2 mg of iron, while 1/2 cup cooked from dry black-eyed peas contains 2.2 mg.
  • Black-eyed peas are high in vitamin B9 and rich in folate. Studies show that folate sourced from food can cut your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent. Folate also helps with cell formation and is especially important during pregnancy. Black-eyed peas also contain thiamine, one of the B vitamins.

If you can, get fresh black-eyed peas; they cook up in no time. But if you can’t get them fresh, then use the frozen or canned variety. Whichever you choose, they’ll be delicious in this recipe for Texas Caviar. It’s a flavorful and nutritious dip that keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.


2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

1 small red onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

2 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped

1/3 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons stevia, honey or agave syrup

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or more to taste

1. Combine black-eyed peas, black beans, bell peppers, red onion, celery, tomatoes and parsley or cilantro in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, stevia, honey or agave syrup, garlic powder, salt, pepper, vegetable oil and hot sauce.

3. Pour dressing over black-eyed pea mixture and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Stir before serving. Makes 12 servings.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.

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