Food for Thought
Start Your Year Out with Tradition
As our New Year emerges the world welcomes a fresh start, usually with hopes of a new beginning with some luck thrown into the mix. The practice of welcoming a new cycle in the calendar is probably one of the most universal holiday celebrations in the world, and often celebrated with enjoying certain foods, especially legumes, for luck.
Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are symbolic of money and thus considered a harbinger of prosperity and good luck into the New Year. Several of them resemble coins and the fact that they swell up when soaked in water, also extends the analogy that the prosperity grows with time.
Traditions vary in different parts of the world. In Italy, there is a preference for sausages with green lentils that is eaten just after midnight. In a similar vein in Germany they bring in the New Year with split peas, and in Japan lucky foods eaten during the first three days of the year include sweet black beans.
Closer to home in the Southern United States, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas in a dish called Hopping John. When the dish is served with collard greens, the odds of prosperity are increased as green symbolizes the color of money.
Our New Year often comes with resolutions for eating healthy and legumes are healthy and readily available during these winter months when other things are somewhat lean. The cornucopia of red, yellow, green and white lentils, along with the dozens of red, white and black beans ensure that we have plenty of options to pick from at the beginning of the New Year and beyond.
Legumes are rich in protein and high in fiber and are lower in calories than most meat-based sources of protein, offering a healthy and filling option for your plates and palates. While most legumes will cook down to soft and satisfying goodness, they have a whole variety of flavors, tastes and textures ensuring that your palate is interesting and innovative.
For my recipe of the Southern dish, I have ditched all meat-based products to create a dish that is flavorful, delicate and if served with love and affection will indeed convince you that this year you shall be lucky with or without money. My secret ingredient is that I do, in fact, cook my black-eyed peas from scratch and save some of the simmering liquid, and use it for cooking my rice dish. The dish resembles a pilaf which probably takes it closer to the Senegalese roots of this traditional dish. To maximize the green, I garnish my variation of Hopping John with finely chopped green onions. New Year’s or otherwise, add this dish to your table and you are bound to feel well-nourished on a cold day. I love it.
rice cooked with black-eyed peas
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 medium sized onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
1 or 2 carrots, diced
1 cup of white rice I used basmati rice, which will give this recipe a very delicate and elegant finish.
2 ½ cups of stock or water
¾ cup of cooked black-eyed peas
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar optional
chopped green onions for garnish
In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, add in the olive oil and the butter and heat until the butter is melted. Add in the onion and garlic, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens considerably and begins to turn pale golden. Add in the celery and the carrot and stir well. Stir in the rice and mix well. Add in the stock or the water and the cup of black-eyed peas. Add in the salt and the pepper and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook the rice for 18 minutes Please note, this time works for the basmati rice; for other rice varieties allow a few more minutes, essentially the rice should be soft and all the water should be absorbed.
Let the rice rest for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the rice. Sprinkle with the red vinegar if using and garnish with the green onions if using.
Notes: If you are cooking the black-eyed peas yourself, save the cooking liquid and add in to the rice, in lieu of the stock or water.
Yield: 6 servings