People in many cultures love to eat special foods that usher in good luck, longevity, abundance and hoped-for wealth in the new year. By and large, the foods are symbols of such – leafy greens, for example, to represent wealth.
Further, these dishes display the longstanding cultural creativity in cuisine.
Here are some ideas for good luck foods as you get ready to celebrate a new year.
Throughout Asia, long noodles signify the good fortune of a long life. To prevent bad luck, the eater is supposed not to break the noodles before cooking, or, when cooked and soft, until fully inside the mouth.
Southern cooks in the U.S. often bake cornbread because its golden color looks like, well, gold. They (and others throughout the world) also cook greens of various sorts due to their resemblance to the paper money in many lands.
But around the world, green vegetables of all sorts – Brussels sprouts, cabbage, green beans – are also a stand-in for “green gold.” Even kale.
The pomegranate’s seeds or arils mean abundance to many in the Levant, especially in Turkey. Its red color also signifies the longevity of a healthy heart.
In Scandinavia, herrings are silver, like silver. To many cultures, pork is a sign of a healthy future because the pig is an animal that does not move backward. It is also rich, luxurious meat, by and large. (Many cultures up the good luck ante on New Year’s by combining pork with another fortunate food, for example, Germany’s pork and pickled cabbage.)
Spaniards eat a dozen grapes, one at a time to ring in the new year, a symbolic countdown for the 12 months ahead. Attending to the taste of each grape in turn, if any is bitter or overly sour, the eater pays extra caution during that upcoming month.
But, above all other foods, lentils hold significance to many all over the world as a lucky food especially at the beginning of the year. Not only are many types of lentils green, like many currencies, but they’re also shaped like coins; they swell and increase size in water; and therefore they signify abundance, growth, and wealth. It’s safe to say that all tables in Italy are graced to ring in the new year by some food containing lentils.
Lucky foods: New Year’s Day Lentil Soup
From cookingwithnonna.com; serves 6
1 pound dry lentils
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium red onion, sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
4 bay leaves
1 generous sprig of fresh rosemary
2 carrots, cubed
Extra virgin olive oil
Wash the lentils and put them in a deep pot. Cover the lentils with water with 1 1/2″ water above the lentils.
Add all the other ingredients except the olive oil. Cover the pot and let the contents come to a boil. Let it boil for about 10 minutes.
Uncover the pot and let it continue to cook. On the side, boil some water and add it to the pot if the lentils become too dry.
Cook for another 10 minutes. Taste the lentils and stop cooking them when they reach your desired tenderness.
Serve with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.
Bill St. John has written and taught about restaurants, food, cooking and wine for more than 40 years, locally for Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and KCNC-TV Channel 4, nationally for Chicago Tribune Newspapers and Wine & Spirits magazine. The Denver native lives in his hometown. Contact Bill at [email protected]