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Posted on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 : 8 a.m.

Try a dish of ham and shrimp with black-eyed peas for National Voodoo Day

By Mary Bilyeu


Today is a holiday in the West African country Benin: it's National Voodoo Day.

Mary Bilyeu | Contributor

Now, before anyone starts thinking I'll be offering a recipe for a magic potion, let me assure you that the true practice of Voodoo doesn't involve all the propaganda that is usually associated with it.

According to Martine De Sousa, a museum curator and expert on the religion: "People have a negative image of voodoo ... (as) a sort of a witchcraft, where you can put a bad spell on someone when you are jealous of that person."

Instead, Voodoo features a single creator in addition to a hierarchy of major divinities who rule over the Earth, the sky and the water; this then explains the power that fetishes and other inanimate natural objects are believed to hold, imbued with spirituality as they are.  There are also lesser deities which can act as intercessors in a role similar to that of saints in the Catholic church. According to Wikipedia, "about 23 percent of the population of Benin, some 1 million people," are followers of Voodoo.

In honor of today's festivities, I modified this recipe a bit from one I found in The New York Times International Cookbook by Craig Claiborne. My copy of this classic is ancient and decrepit; in fact, it's so old that it's taped together, it shows evidence of encounters with spilled ingredients, and Benin is still called by its pre-1975 name of Dahomey!

In southern Benin, corn is the primary starch; in the north, yams are. Fish and seafood play a significant role in the cuisine throughout the country, as do rice, tomatoes, peanuts, and black-eyed peas. Meat - usually goat or pork - is a luxury, so it would be reserved for an occasion such as today's.

This dish offers great flavor, meat served in honor of the holiday, and black-eyed peas which are thought to bring good luck if eaten in the new year.It's got everything you need for a celebration!

Ham and Shrimp with Black-Eyed Peas

1 cup dry black-eyed peas
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup finely diced ham
1/3 pound pre-cooked shrimp, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2/3 cup chili sauce
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce rice, for serving

Place the peas in a medium bowl and cover generously with water; soak overnight at room temperature.
Drain the peas and place them in a medium saucepan; add water to cover generously. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes; drain.
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browning. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the ham, shrimp and salt; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the chili sauce, water, and cayenne pepper sauce; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve the dish over rice.

Serves 2-4.

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Mary Bilyeu writes about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

You should also visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.



Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

Yum! Be sure to use Michigan shrimp, not imported shrimp from 3rd world countries.

Kris Bradley

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 11:43 a.m.

Sounds like a great recipe, thanks for sharing! I do however dislike the "People have a negative image of voodoo ... (as) a sort of a witchcraft,". While there is certainly nothing wrong or "bad" about practicing Vodoun, there is also nothing negative or "bad" about witchcraft, a magical practice part of many people's religious beliefs. I'm not sure why anyone would feel they have to discredit one to bring the other forward.

Mary Bilyeu

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : noon

Good morning! Not being an expert in either Voodoo or Wicca, I think the comment was merely poorly worded; I took it as trying to distinguish the true practice of Voodoo from the misconceptions people have of attempting to manipulate forces to do harm, rather than necessarily discrediting Wicca. The word "witchcraft" itself has so many negative connotations that it seems to have lost its genuine intent about being a craft used - as you say - as part of many people's religious beliefs ....