Here in the South, everybody knows New Year’s Day is the time to eat greens, black-eyed peas and maybe some hog jowls. Perhaps substituting some ham or other pork if you’re a generation or two off the farm. And if you’ve strayed far enough from your roots that you’re grossed out by greens, there are plenty of non-traditional ways to eat them. Try slipping them into some soup and they’ll go down easy.
Greens found their way to the New Year’s table because they’re the color of money, but in other parts of the world, other foods look like money. In Italy, eating lentils on New Year’s Day is thought to bring prosperity because they’re round and look like coins.
In Greece, they skip the symbolism and lookalikes and just eat money directly. Or at least they bake a coin in a sweet bread called vasilopita and whoever gets the slice with the coin is going to have good luck and prosperity in the New Year. Which is going to be helpful if the lucky recipient of the coin chips a tooth on it. Things are a little less dangerous in Sweden and Norway where they welcome in the new year with a nice bowl of rice pudding. An almond is used to single out the recipient of good luck in the coming year. An almond may be harder to spend than a coin but is far less likely to dent your bridgework.
In Spain, luck and prosperity forecasting is a little more detailed and a lot more specific. At midnight, along with a toast to the new year, it is customary to gobble down a dozen grapes, one for each month of the coming year. Each sweet grape will get you a good month, and each sour one means you’re in for a bad month. Make sure your grapes are good and ripe. Your whole year depends on it.
And speaking of toasting, that’s one of the few new year’s customs that is worldwide. The custom originated in medieval England. Back then, the clinking of glasses was accompanied by the exclamation “Waeshaeil,” Middle English for “Be well.” The word “toast,” came along later in the 17th century when pieces of spiced, toasted bread were placed in drinks, quite likely because there was a lot of really nasty wine in those days, and even a crust of spiced toast could improve the taste of some of that bilge.
In Denmark, grabbing a little good luck for the future is not as passive as simply eating the right food. A little physical exertion is required. While folks in the rest of the world are toasting and tossing back booze and grapes, many Danes are busy jumping off chairs at the stroke of midnight. Leaping banishes bad luck according to Danish legend. The theory goes that evil spirits cannot enter your body when you’re in mid-air, so that’s the best way to start the new year.
When you’re done jumping, if you want to continue on the Danish theme, go throw plates at the front doors of all your friends. In the morning, the person with the most broken plates at their door is the person with the most friends. Those Danes know how to live.
Disclaimer: The Mount Airy News Lifestyle page assumes no responsibility for readers driving around town on New Year’s Eve breaking plates on front doors, especially if the plate breaking follows a night of toasting.
Minestrone with Collard Greens and Black-eyed Peas
Usually made with escarole or kale and white beans, but it’s New Year’s in the South, so might as well use collard greens and black-eyed peas in this classic Italian soup and call it a day.
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 pound (about 2 bunches) collard greens, stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes
2 cans (19 ounces each) black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice
Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomato paste, and cook, stirring, until onion is coated, about 30 seconds. Add collard greens, thyme, and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until collards start to wilt, 2 to 4 minutes. Place 1/4 of peas in a bowl, and mash them with the back of a spoon (this will help thicken soup). Add all the peas to the pan, as well as tomatoes with juice and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer, until collards are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; serve with grated Parmesan, if desired.
Escarole and Meatball Soup
Mix it up with your greens. Slip some escarole into a nice, hot meatball soup and you’re good to go for New Year. who’s to say that the spherical-meatballs don’t represent the earth and its trip around the sun.
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup dried currants
2 tbsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 head escarole (about 6 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed
1 small dried chile pepper, crumbled
Soak bread with milk in a small bowl for 2 minutes. Squeeze excess moisture from bread, and tear into small pieces. Stir meats, soaked bread, onion, garlic, currants, and oregano in a large bowl until well mixed; season with salt and pepper. Roll into 1 1/4-inch balls. Heat oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Cook meatballs, turning often, until browned and cooked through, 12 minutes. Bring stock to a boil in a medium pan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add meatballs, escarole, beans, and chile; cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Lentil Salad with Grapes and Feta
2 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup French or brown lentils
2 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. honey
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 ounces feta, crumbled (1/2 cup)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add lentils, reduce to a simmer, and cover; cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together red-wine vinegar, lemon juice, and honey. Whisk in olive oil. Stir in lentils, walnuts, grapes, celery, and thyme. Add feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Vasilopita (Brandy-Orange New Year’s Cake)
This New Year’s Day traditionally has a coin hidden inside just before it is placed in the oven and whoever cuts the piece of cake with the coin inside, is said to have luck for the year, as long as they don’t chip a tooth on the coin.
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 & 1/2 tbsp. orange zest
1/2 tbsp. lemon zest
3 & 1/2 tbsp. brandy
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
(Optional) coconut flakes & icing sugar for topping
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10-inch circular pan, line the bottom with parchment paper. With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar well. This will take around 10 minutes on a high setting. The mixture has to change to a very pale yellow color. Add all the eggs, one egg at a time, ensuring that it has been incorporated into the batter before adding the next egg. Add the brandy and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Add the orange and lemon zests. Don’t worry if your batter begins to curdle at this stage. Stir the baking powder and flour together. Next add the orange juice and flour, alternating with small amounts of each as you add these ingredients, starting and ending with flour. Pour the batter into the pan. If adding a coin into the cake, tightly wrap the coin in plastic wrap, and drop it into the batter. Ensure the top of the batter is smooth so that it is not obvious where the coin has been dropped. I sometimes make the “edges” higher than the center of the cake (so it almost dips in the center) with a spatula so it cooks better, but don’t overmix the batter when you do this. Place in the oven for 60 minutes. Test the center of the cake with a toothpick after 60 minutes to ensure it is cooked. Remove and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool on a cooling rack. If you wish, dust icing sugar and coconut flakes on top before serving.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.