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% 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.