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In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a bit of onion sizzles at once. Add the onions and cook until they are fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ham hocks and garlic, turn the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring often so the onions soften and wilt without much browning.
Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes more. Add the stock, black-eyed peas, and 3 cups water. Increase the heat to bring everything to a boil, and stir well. Add the salt and pepper and adjust the heat to maintain a lively simmer.
Cover partially and cook, stirring now and then, until the peas are tender, about 2 hours. Remove the ham hocks and set them out on a plate until they are cool enough to handle. Remove the meat, chop it finely, and return it to the pot. Stir well. Serve the stew hot or warm.