It’s time to welcome in the New Year. For many people it’s an opportunity to let go of the old and welcome the new. Many cultures around the world celebrate the New Year with specific foods. Some foods are eaten at midnight or as a meal on the first day of the year. Eating certain celebratory foods is not only traditional but also believed to bestow prosperity, luck, good health and longevity.
In the South, Black-eyed peas or a dish called Hoppin’ John (also known as Carolina peas and rice) is traditionally served on New Year’s Day. The one-pot meal contains Black-eyed peas made with thick-cut bacon or ham hocks and promises good luck, fortune and romance — particularly if you leave three peas on your plate when finished. Greens like cabbage, collards or mustard greens are also served on first day of the New Year. They signify wealth (green signifies money) in Ireland, Germany and the U.S. There is an adage: “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.” So, don’t forget the cornbread.
In Italy and Brazil lentils are served the first day of the year. The disc-like lentils resemble coins and are believed to bring good fortune for the year ahead. Italians feast on the traditional dish Cotechino e Lenticchie made with the hoof of a pig and lentils.
Pasta is served in many Asian countries to celebrate the upcoming year. A symbol of prosperity and longevity, soba noodles are served at midnight in Japan. The belief is that it is important to draw in the whole noodle without breaking to ensure longevity. In Korea, Tteokguk, a soup made with broth, rice cakes, meat and vegetables and topped with eggs, seaweed and scallions is prepared for good luck in the year ahead. In China, sweet rice dumplings stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as sweet bean paste, sesame seed paste and nuts or fruit, are eaten during the New Year and believed to foster togetherness and family union.
To move forward in the year ahead, eat pork on New Year’s Day. Think of the pig rooting around in the dirt, its snout leading it headfirst is symbolic of the desire to move forward and advance in life. Pork is also believed to bring prosperity, which is symbolized by the fattiness of the pork.
In Scandinavia, herring is eaten (the silver herring represents coins) and thought to bring a year of prosperity and bounty. The herring pickled or creamed is eaten at midnight with a smorgasbord of smoked and pickled fish, pâté and meatballs.
Some of the more unique New Year’s traditions originate from Spain and Mexico where eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight is practiced. Eat one grape for each hour the clock chimes for wishes to come true and bring good luck.
In Greece, breaking pomegranates by throwing the fruit on the doorstep symbolizes fertility and abundance. The more seeds dropped, the more luck gained.
In El Salvador, they crack a raw egg in a glass of water a minute before midnight. In the morning everyone assesses what his or her yolk represents and reveals for the year.
Ring-shaped cakes and other rounded sweet treats offer a full circle of luck. In numerous traditions, a coin is baked inside to bring an extra serving of luck to the one who finds it. In Germany, Glücksschwein, a sweet pig confection made from sugar and almond paste is gifted. The marzipan pigs are said to bring good fortune.
The Swedes serve rice pudding with an almond hidden inside. Find the almond and obtain 12 months of good fortune.
As the snow falls and we ring in 2019, pour the champagne, prepare a feast and celebrate in whatever way brings great joy, love and good health.
Priya Hutner’s Lucky Black-Eyed Peas & Rice | Serves 6
3 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
2 C dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight or 2 cans of black-eyed peas
6 C chicken stock
1 small ham hock
1 bay leaf
2 t salt
1 t pepper
Cayenne pepper, optional
White or brown rice, cooked
In a large stockpot or Dutch kettle, sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add celery and red pepper and simmer for 8 minutes. Add chicken stock, bay leaf, black-eyed peas and ham hock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer until beans are tender, about 45 to 50 minutes. If you use canned beans, cook for 20 minutes and add salt and pepper. Serve over rice with collard greens or sautéed chard and cornbread.
If you have an Instant Pot, add all the ingredients, including the rice (not cooked), and hit the bean function. So easy.