Taste of Africa: cowpeas

Cowpeas are one of the most important food legume crops in the semiarid tropics covering Asia, Africa, southern Europe and Central and South America. A drought-tolerant and warm-weather crop, cowpeas are well-adapted to the drier regions of the tropics, where other food legumes do not perform well. It also has the useful ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen through its root nodules, and it grows well in poor soils with more than 85% sand and with less than 0.2% organic matter and low levels of phosphorus.

Subsistence farmers in the semi-arid and sub-humid regions of Africa are the major producers and consumers of cowpeas. These farmers not only use the beans for human consumption and animal feed, but also use the leaves and fruits for cooking. Cowpea fields cover 12.5 million hectares worldwide annually.  West and Central Africa are the leading cowpea-producing regions of the world, producing 64% of the estimated 3 million tons of cowpea seeds produced annually.

100_3235As a master gardener, I have been growing ‘Whippoorwill’ cowpeas for two years now at Tipton-Haynes Historical Site in their slave garden. Cowpeas were brought to the United States in early Colonial times during the slave trade. They became a staple food in the Southeastern United States where they are eaten as green shelled peas or left to dry on the vine for later use. In Southern cooking, the most common cowpea is the black-eyed peas.

Cowpeas and pearl millet will be two crops I will try to grow in Tsumkwe, Namibia. So I am trying to learn how to cook them now. Jeremy and I had a very nice dinner last week of pork chops, sweet potatoes, and cowpeas.

Cowpea Recipe

Measure dry beans, I just used half a cup because they will expand to twice the size. Estimate at least ¼ cup per person, increase amount if you really love them. Rinse, then cover with warm water and let soak overnight. Or cover peas with cold water; bring to a boil, boil 1 minute, remove, and cover pan. Let peas stand for 1 hour.
1/2 pound of ham cubed                  Salt and pepper to taste                                                                     1 small onion                     Optional: Tabasco sauce and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes          1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Cook ham. Add onion and garlic, saute until onion is tender. Add peas and seasonings then enough water to cover. Bring to simmer, cover, and let simmer gently until peas are tender, 1 to 2 hours.

Jeremy doesn’t like peas of any kind so we are starting small. They were good and he did eat his whole serving. Hope you all enjoy also!!!


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