Cowpeas: An Underrated Southern Staple

Hearty and versatile cowpeas are a beloved comfort food in the South, but have yet to receive recognition in the culinary world. Read on to learn more about cowpeas, how they taste, and how to prepare them.

History of Cowpeas

There’s not a lot known about the exact history of the cowpea, but it’s widely believed to have originated in Africa. From there, it was brought to Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean, where it was consumed by Greeks and Romans.

Cowpeas reached America around the 17th and 19th centuries, during the slave trade, and likely came from Africa. The cowpea plants thrived in the warm climate of the southern states and farmers in the area developed and grew different varieties of the legume for both human consumption and as livestock feed.

Image Credit: Flickr user IITA Image Library ( CC BY-NC 2.0 )

Today, cowpeas are primarily enjoyed in the South. But, as farmers’ markets and grocery stores expand to include more unique produce, the humble cowpea is starting to grow in popularity throughout the country. 

Taste of Cowpeas

Cooked cowpeas are starchy and earthy with a hint of nuttiness. There’s a wide variety of cowpeas available, with some kinds leaning more towards buttery sweet while others have a stronger vegetal flavor.

How to Cook Cowpeas

Fresh cowpeas can be cooked immediately but dried cowpeas should first be softened in water. You can soak them in hot water for a couple of hours or in cool water overnight. Some recipes will also call for dehulling the cowpeas by rubbing them between your hands to remove the outer skin. Once your cowpeas are ready, you can sauté, fry, or simmer them in sauce.

Uses for Cowpeas

For a classic southern cowpea recipe, sauté your cowpeas in lard or butter with garlic and onions, then simmer in stock or water with a little ham. Serve it as an appetizer or a side dish for dinner or a summer barbeque. Try cowpeas for yourself by substituting them for black eyed peas in our Vegetarian Black Eyed Pea or Hoppin’ John recipes. 

In Africa, cowpeas are often mashed and made into crispy deep-fried fritters, reminiscent of Middle Eastern falafels. They’re then served with spicy tomato salsa. In India, cowpeas can be made into curry, sauteed with aromatic masala paste, and simmered until rich and tender.

Feature Image: Nandalal Sarkar from Pixabay 

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments