5 Essential Foods for a Lucky, Healthy, Prosperous New Year, with Recipes

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All throughout the world, different cultures have their own way of celebrating and ushering in the New Year. (And, of course, not everyone celebrates the New Year on January 1.) And while most Texans are familiar with the idea of having a pot of black-eyed peas or Hoppin' John on New Year's Day, there are a few other foods that are ideal for this time of year: foods that are meant to bring luck, health and prosperity in the New Year, as well as foods that will simply keep you warm and nourished on a cold winter's day.

Greens: Greens -- which can be anything from cabbage to collard greens -- represent wealth and prosperity, since the leaves resemble folded money. This tradition is found in many countries, not just the United States. The Chinese eat cabbage at their New Year, as do people in Germany and Ireland, where the dishes of choice are sauerkraut and colcannon, respectively. In Denmark, kale is the most popular choice at New Year's, while collard greens are frequently seen here in the South in dishes like Hoppin' John.

Pork: A fat, plump pig represents plenty as well as progress, since the pig itself always roots in the ground with its snout in a forward-facing direction. Pork is consumed everywhere from China to Cuba for the New Year. A roast suckling pig is the most common feast item in countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Hungary, while the pig's feet are more popular in Austria and Sweden. In Germany, you'll find pork sausages and here in the South you'll find ham hocks in stews.

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Even kittens know it's good luck to eat a round cake at New Year's.
Black-eyed peas: Legumes and beans of all kinds are a traditional favorite at the New Year, since they're said to resemble coins and will usher in wealth. In Japan, they eat sweet black beans while Brazilians make sure to have lentils and rice as their first dish of the New Year. In Italy, both pork and lentils are combined into one lucky dish -- cotechino con lenticchie -- to be eaten just after midnight.

Fish: Ever since Jesus made a feast of loaves and fishes, the fish has been associated with plenty and abundance. Its shiny scales are also said to resemble glittering treasure and wealth. People also consider the fish "progressive" in the same way pigs are, since they're always moving forward. Herring, cod and carp are enjoyed during New Year's celebrations throughout Europe, while roe is eaten in Japan. In many parts of China, fish is served at the New Year's feast -- but a little is saved for leftovers, as the Chinese phrase "may there be surpluses every year" sounds similar to the phrase "let there be fish every year."

Cakes: Round or ring-shaped cakes are considered especially lucky at the New Year, as they represent wholeness, continuation and the completion of a cycle. Traditional galette du rois, or King's Cake, is the predecessor of the King's Cake served at Mardi Gras time and features a coin baked inside for good luck. In Mexico, it's rosca de reyes, in Italy it's pannetonne and in the Netherlands it's oliebollen.

Here's a wonderful -- if time-consuming recipe -- for American-style pannetonne, if you don't want to buy a pre-made version from Italy (and there's no telling how long those have been on the shelves sometimes...). But if you're in the market for something a little simpler and a little different, here are two more recipes that combine the a few of the lucky New Year's foodstuffs into one, easy dish.

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Calenda Cabbage
Serves: 6

This recipe combines greens and pork into one lucky dish, and even serves as a sort of all-in-one dinner. It's an old Southern favorite that comes from the kitchens of the Melrose Plantation in Nachitoches Parish, Louisiana, one of the first and only plantations to be owned and run by former black slaves -- all descendants of Congo-born slave Marie Therese Coincoin.

Ingredients:

1 small head cabbage
1/3 c. rice
1 c. chopped cooked chicken
1/2 c. finely chopped cooked ham
cheese sauce (recipe below)
paprika
salt
pepper

Core cabbage. In a large saucepan, cover the whole cabbage with water and season with salt. Cover and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid and allow cabbage to cool. Meanwhile, combine rice and 2/3 cup water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook 12 minutes. Once cooked, combine rice with chopped chicken, ham, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper.

Beginning at the outside of the cooked cabbage, gently open the leaves. Starting at the center, fill the space between the layers of leaves with the meat and rice mixture and press the leaves back in place. Tie the cabbage firmly with a piece of string and return the stuffed cabbage to the pan. Add the 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid, cover and cook until heated through, about 20 minutes. Place on a warm serving platter, remove string and spoon cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle with paprika. Pass remaining cheese sauce around the table.

Cheese sauce:

In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Blend in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper. Add 1 1/4 cups milk and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick and bubbling. Stir in 1/2 cup shredded sharp American cheese. Heat until cheese is melted, stirring constantly. Serve warm.

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Van's Famous Black-Eyed Pea Prosperity Dip
Serves: 10 to 12

This recipe combines both black-eyed peas and pork in one terrific, party-pleasing recipe and comes courtesy of an old family friend. When my father makes this, he substitutes smoked turkey for the pork sausage, which is equally good. Just make sure to leave the bacon intact.

Ingredients:

2 bags (1 pound each) dried black-eyed peas
6 c. water
1 Texas sweet onion
7 large carrots
butter
salt
pepper
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 lbs. cooked bacon
7 cooked pork sausages
2 cloves garlic
6 to 10 fresh jalapenos, to taste
12-oz. jar sliced, pickled jalapenos with juice

Wash and soak black-eyed Peas for at least an hour. After peas have soaked, empty soaking water and add fresh water. Add salt, pepper and garlic cloves and bring to a simmer. In separate pan, dice onions and caramelize in butter until soft and brown. Meanwhile, slice carrots into coins.

Add caramelized onions, carrots and jalapenos (with juice) to simmering peas. Cook for one hour on low, stirring often. Add brown sugar, cooked bacon and sausages. Stir every 15 to 20 minutes while simmering for an additional 2 to 3 hours. Serve hot with chips or crackers for scooping.



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