Food is said to bring a lot of things. Comfort. Happiness. Extra inches around the waist.
And as 2013 slips into 2014, food is also eaten for good luck. Traditions around the world have us eating all sorts of things to make sure next year is as good as it can be.
For instance, some say eat ring-shaped foods like donuts and bagels because the hole represents the year coming full circle. That’s an interesting thought.
In Spain and Portugal, it is tradition to gobble 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight, each little gem representing a month of the year. Pop them in your mouth quickly, though. By 12:01 a.m. you should be done.
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The Greeks smash a pomegranate on the floor, spilling the crimson seeds as a representation of good luck and prosperity. (We recommend doing this outside. Those jewel-like seeds can leave some tough stains.)
In Brazil and Italy, lentils represent money, so put on a big pot of lentil soup and dream of that lottery win.
The Japanese eat long buckwheat noodles in one slurping motion don’t break them to symbolize long life.
And in the American South, Hoppin’ John served with greens (another representation for money) is a traditional New Year’s Day meal.
Hoppin’ John is a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice, flavored with meat, onions, herbs and spices. Some cooks use ham hocks, others sausage. Some bring heat with red pepper flakes or Cajun seasonings. Whatever the ingredients, cook them slow and low starting with dried black-eyed peas. Put on a big pot Wednesday morning and it’ll be ready come game time.
Wonderfully flavorful dish, but what a curious name. One story traces the name to the custom of inviting guests to eat with the request to“hop in, John.” Another story suggests that the name comes from an old New Year’s Day ritual in which the children hop once around the table before eating the dish.
Whatever the origin, Hoppin’ John’s history in the African-American community is clear. Black-eyed peas were brought to the United States by African slaves in the 1600s, and by the mid 1700s they were a major crop in Georgia. The black-eyed pea is one of the world’s ancient foods, originating in northern Africa and introduced to India more than 3,000 years ago.
And by the way, black-eyed peas are not peas of the English variety. They are really beans, more like kidney or garbanzo.
Have seconds for more luck.
1 pound dried black-eyed peas
2 small smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bone
2 medium onions, divided
3 large cloves garlic, halved
1 bay leaf
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 can (10 to 14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chili peppers, juices reserved
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced
2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 scallions, sliced
In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks and 6 cups water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and add it to the pot, along with the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 21/2 hours. Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf, onion pieces and garlic.
Add 21/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Mince the remaining onion, then add to the rice along with the black-eyed peas, tomatoes and their juices, red and green bell pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, seasoning, thyme, cumin and salt. Cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sliced scallions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot sauce and corn bread.