Black eyed peas with rice, onions, celery, bell pepper, pork, and creole/cajun seasoning makes a classic Southern recipe also known as “Hoppin John.” In the South, it’s a tradition to eat Hoppin John on New Year’s Day and is said to bring you good luck in the year ahead. The traditional recipe is made with smoked ham, sausage, or bacon. This Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Healthy Hoppin John is made with lean pork tenderloin and large portions of veggies, making it ultra-healthy. Perfect macros for fat-burning and muscle building. Great for meal prep too!
In the South, Hoppin John is usually served with cornbread and collard greens. Our Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle Healthy Hoppin John is a complete meal all by itself, but it never hurts to add more greens. You might want to skip the cornbread though, as it’s made with butter and sugar, which would bump the calorie count of this meal quite a lot. But as a dessert or snack, if you have the calories, check out our Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle high protein cornbread muffins.
If you look through popular cookbooks for classic Hoppin John, you’ll see that it’s usually made with high-fat, high-calorie meats such as full-fat smoked ham, sausage, or bacon. Yeah, it’s tasty, but it makes the traditional recipe much more caloric and less healthy.
Nothing wrong with splurging on occasion. But most of the time I use and recommend lean, unprocessed meats to keep the saturated fat, additives, and calories down.
I chose tenderloin, so it’s still pork, but pork tenderloin is ultra lean. This is one of the most underrated proteins out there. It’s also a nice change up from chicken. An individual 5 ounce (141 gram) serving of pork tenderloin contains only 154 calories with 30 grams of protein, 3.2 grams of fat and no carbs.
We also keep the calories low by using generous portions of low calorie fibrous carbs including celery, onions and green bell pepper. If you prefer, use yellow or red bell pepper. I started using yellow bell pepper because it makes the dish even more colorful.
The veggies give this Hoppin John a great crunch (especially the celery) and also reduces the calorie density. Sometimes I scale up the celery to two full cups for even more crunch and to increase the volume without increasing calories. (You can’t overeat foods like celery).
We also keep calories low by using moderate portions of the starchy carbs – notably the rice. Only two cups of cooked rice and one 15 oz can of black eyed peas is needed for this recipe.
With all my modifications, you get a satisfying plate full of food with fewer calories per unit of volume.
For a recipe that contains two starchy carbs, this is very low in calorie density. You’ll be amazed how filling this is at under 400 calories a serving. In fact, light eaters might even stretch this batch out to five servings
For people with blood sugar regulation concerns, it’s also nice to know that black eyed peas are very healthy as starchy carbs go. They are low on the glycemic index, which means the carbs are digested and released into the bloodstream slowly. One study from the University of Colorado found that in carb sensitive adults, eating black eyed peas helped to reduce the glycemic response to an otherwise high glycemic meal.
Traditional Hoppin John is usually made as a one pot recipe (using chicken broth). You could alter the cooking method here to make it a one pot affair (though you’d probably want to use white rice).
However, to make this recipe super simple and convenient, we use canned black eyed peas and cook the rice separately in the rice cooker. You can also use leftover already cooked rice. The cooking time is shorter with this recipe than the one pot method where you have to let it simmer in broth a while.
To make this Hoppin John, you can use any pot or even a large deep skillet, but my favorite cookware for this is a Dutch Oven.
For spices, all you need is some creole seasoning and a pinch of salt and pepper. If you’re using a commercial creole seasoning that’s high in salt, then you won’t need additional salt, though it’s an option to season the tenderloin directly with salt before cooking.
Popular commercial seasonings include Slap Yo Mama cajun and Tony Chachere’s Creole. Or, you can always fall back on McCormick from your local grocery store.
I’ve used Tony Chachere’s and it’s delicious. Two teaspoons and your Hoppin John comes out flavorful and moderately spicy, but that’s also 2040 mg of sodium. Divided over 4 servings that’s only 500 mg, which is not crazy high, but it’s not low sodium either.
Here’s an insider tip: Instead of using the well-known popular seasoning brands, check the labels on some of the lesser known brands. I stumbled on one called Watkins organic cajun seasoning. I was pleasantly shocked to see it only had 210 mg of sodium per teaspoon. And it tastes great.
An alternative that lets you control the salt and the spiciness (cayenne) is to make cajun seasoning from scratch at home.
Here’s our home-made from scratch cajun seasoning recipe:
2.5 tsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp cayenne powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
Yield: makes 1/4 cup (if you like it, you can make bigger batches and store in an airtight spice jar so it’s on hand for future use).
If you like hot and spicy food, adjust the amount of seasoning to suit your tastes. Some traditional Hoppin John recipes call for cajun or creole seasoning by the tablespoon, but I settled on two teaspoons. In fact the first time I made this I only used one teaspoon.
Better to start off milder and add more spice at the end, because once it’s in there you can’t take it out. If you’re eating with family or friends and not everyone is into hotness, you can always leave the main batch mild and add then hot pepper sauce to your own plate. (Trappey’s Red Devil, Franks Red Hot, Tabasco sauce, etc).
Keep in mind that making this taste good depends on the seasoning. If you use zero salt, no pepper and only a little cajun/creole seasoning, this is going to taste bland… like… well… plain veggies and plain meat, because that’s what it will be. When you get the seasoning just right, this tastes amazing!
Knowing that smoked ham is one of the protein sources used in traditional Hoppin John, some people have told me they use liquid smoke for additional flavor.
If you want to drop the calories even more you could lower the amount of rice, dropping it from two cups cooked to 1.5 cups or even only a single cup. With or without reducing the rice amount, you could also increase the amount of black eyed peas, so it’s a more black eyed pea dominant recipe. I simply keep the volume of veggies higher than the starchy carbs to reduce the calorie density.
In some of the traditional recipes I’ve also seen different herbs and seasonings used instead of cajun/creole seasoning. Thyme, black pepper, cayenne and salt is a common combination. I’m sticking with creole/cajun – I think it’s great. Give it a try and let me know what you think – post in the comments below.
-Tom Venuto, Author of, Burn The Fat Guide To Flexible Meal Planning For Fat Loss
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- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 20 oz pork tenderloin (567g)
- 2/3 cup long grain brown rice (dry) (120g)
- 15 oz black eyed peas (130g / 1 can)
- 5.6 oz onion, diced (160g / 1 cup)
- 5.3 oz celery, chopped (150g / 1.5 cups)
- 5.7 oz bell pepper yellow or green (161g / 1 large)
- 1 Tbsp garlic, fresh minced (3 cloves or more to taste)
- 2 tsp Cajun or Creole seasoning (or to taste)
- .5 tsp salt (optional if seasoning is salty) (or to taste)
- .5 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
- Hot pepper sauce (Tabasco, Frank's red hot, etc) (optional for extra spicy)
Start the rice in the rice cooker (or use leftover rice)
Chop onions, green peppers, and celery. Mince garlic. Trim visible fat from tenderloin, then cut into small bite-sized pieces
Add 2 tsp of olive oil to a large deep skillet or Dutch oven heated to medium high
Cook onions about 2 to 3 minutes or until they begin to soften
Add tenderloin. Cook about 4 to 4.5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally for even cooking
Add garlic, bell pepper, and celery. Stir and cook about another 2 to 3 minutes
Drain can of black eyed peas. Add peas and cooked rice and stir
Add Cajun / Creole seasoning and black pepper. Salt to taste if seasoning is low sodium. Extra salt is not required if seasoning is salty
Optional: For extra heat and flavor, add hot pepper sauce (Tabasco, Frank's Red hot, etc) to taste
Calories: 395kcal | Carbohydrates: 43.6g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 7.4g
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 52,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details