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Joe Ely's Black-Eyed Peas

1 pound dried black-eyed peas or other beans

1/2 pound thick-sliced smoked bacon, cut into ¼-inch wide pieces

1 medium onion, cut into small dice

2 ribs celery, cut into small dice

1/2 red bell pepper, cut into small dice

1/2 green bell pepper, cut into small dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil and wine vinegar (optional)

Pick through the beans to discard any pebbles or other debris. Rinse the beans well. Soak in plenty of water to cover for at least four hours or overnight. Drain the beans and set aside.

In a heavy pot, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until it browns, about 10 minutes. Stir in the onion, celery, bell peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften but still have some crispness, about 5 minutes. Scoop out half the mixture and set aside (refrigerate if you're not planning to serve the beans as soon as they're cooked.)

Add the beans to the remaining vegetables in the pot and enough water to cover by 1 inch (6 to 8 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat so the beans slowly simmer. Do not cover the pot. Start testing after 20 minutes, though they may take as long as one hour. When the beans start to feel soft, stir in the salt and pepper. Stir the beans occasionally as they cook; they're done when just tender, but not much. (Note: For a thick bean broth, puree 1/2 to 1 cup of the beans and return them to the pot.)

Ladle the beans, with some of their liquid, into bowls or cups. Spoon on some of the reserved bacon mixture (reheat if necessary in skillet or microwave). For extra flavor, drizzle with olive oil and a splash of vinegar to taste.

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