Though black-eyed peas have been around forever, they generally don't get a lot of attention. But you really ought to give them a second look.

These peas - which really are a bean - originated in Africa and found their way to ancient India and Asia thousands of years ago.

As early as the 5th century people were eating them for good luck on New Year's Eve. But they didn't make their way to America until the 18th century, a product of the slave trade.

It was during the Civil War that black-eyed peas became a staple of the Southern diet, as well as token of good luck in the new year. The story goes that as the Union army stormed through the South, appropriating crops and livestock as provisions, they turned up their collective nose at black-eyed peas. The troops in blue considered them mere "field peas," fit for livestock, not people.

So black-eyed peas, paired up with greens, became a dietary staple of the surviving Confederates.

This was a stroke of singular good luck. Black-eyed peas are super-nutritious - high in potassium, iron and fiber, and a terrific source of protein. Pair them with greens and you're looking at an incredibly healthy dish.

On New Year's Eve in the American South, each of those ingredients takes on symbolic value: the peas are coins, the greens are bills. Put some cornbread on the side and you've got gold, too.

This recipe is a mash-up of traditional favorites from the American South, and the Middle East. I'm talking about falafel.

As a New Yorker, I've been eating at falafel stands throughout the city my whole life. Typically, the dish is based on ground chickpeas combined with tahini (sesame seed paste) and served with a garlicky lemon sauce. Jam these delicious little deep-fried nuggets into a pita with some shredded lettuce and heaven is just a bite away.

My falafel are not deep-fried, but you're not going to miss it. The crust we crave is made by coating the falafel with panko breadcrumbs, then sauteing them. And I don't puree all of the peas. I hold some back, then add them for texture later.

I made each falafel "mini" for entertaining purposes, then top them with a light, spicy garlic mayo instead of the usual tahini sauce. The finishing touch is chopped scallions, a nod to the green part of the original good luck dish.

No matter how or where you celebrate the New Year, this tasty little hybrid will contribute not only to your good luck, but your good health and happiness, too.

Black-Eyed Pea Falafel with Spicy Aioli Sauce

Ingredients:

•4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

•1medium yellow onion, diced

•1 1/2 teaspoons minced

•garlic, divided

•3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

•1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

•1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

•15 1/2-ounces black-eyed peas

•1 large egg

•2 tablespoons well-stirred tahini

•1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

•1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise

•1 teaspoon lemon juice

•hot sauce to taste

•3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

•Chopped scallions, to garnish

Directions:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to moderately low, and cook for

5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until it has softened. Add

1 teaspoon garlic, the cumin, coriander and cayenne. Cook for 1 minute, then transfer to a medium bowl.

Drain and rinse the black eyed peas. Pulse them in the food processor fitted with the chopping blade just until they are coarsely chopped. Remove 1/2 cup of the chopped black-eyes peas and add to onion mixture.

To the remaining black-eyed peas in the processor, add the egg, tahini and salt. Process until very finely ground, then stir them into the onion mixture. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the spicy aioli. In a small bowl stir together the mayonnaise, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of garlic and the hot sauce. Set aside.

Once the black-eyed pea mixture has chilled, shape it into 18 patties. Spread out the panko in a pie plate lined with waxed paper or parchment paper, then dip each patty into it to coat on all sides, lifting the paper on both sides to move them around. Shake off any excess.

In a large skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil until hot. Working in batches, add the falafel patties and cook until crisp and golden on one side. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and turn the patties; cook for 3 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

To serve, arrange the falafel patties on a platter and top each with aioli and scallion.

Servings: 6 (makes 18 falafel)

Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories; 170 calories from fat (61 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 22 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 7 g protein; 610 mg sodium