Many cultures start January 1st with various rituals meant to bring luck and good fortune in the coming year. It’s no surprise that my favorite of these traditions involve what some consider to be lucky foods. The Italians have their lentils, usually served with a delicious sausage called cotechino. The lentils round shape represent coins, signifying wealth in the New Year. Many think that eating pork is lucky with the pig symbolizing progress and the rich fat content signifying wealth and prosperity. The Chinese enjoy very long noodles to ensure a long life usually with shrimp, whose curve is said to resemble the hunched back of an elderly person. The Spanish eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight for luck, each grape representing a month of the year. It’s not as easy as you’d think. Round foods are also common as the shape is said to signify a complete cycle or a complete year. And hey, if I can eat my way into some good fortune in the New Year, then why not?
My favorite, and a New Year’s Day tradition this non-southern girl has readily adopted, is Hoppin’ John with greens. Throughout the South, this humble dish of “peas and rice” is the very first thing eaten on New Year’s Day. Many believe that if your first bite in the New Year isn’t black-eyed peas, then all bets are off and some make sure to eat one pea for every day of the year. The peas are meant to symbolize pennies and the greens, folded money. Eaten together, the dish is said to bring wealth and good fortune in the New Year. Given this fiscal cliff business, I think we could all use a little good fortune in 2013.
As for the origin of the name “Hoppin’ John”, I couldn’t find an explanation. It may be one of those things that’s lost to time but if anyone knows, please comment as I’m curious. As for the recipe, many versions abound with black-eyed peas the most common but I’ve seen red beans or pigeon peas used as well. One thing that’s constant is there is always some form of pork: a hock, bacon or chopped ham that builds flavor.
Since I had some spectacular leftover Christmas ham (made by a friend), I worked that into the mix with some sautéed onions, garlic and a hit of crushed red pepper. For the greens, I braised a bunch of collards with more onions and garlic, bacon and a shot of vinegar at the end to flavor the “pot likker”. With some freshly baked cornbread to sop up that delicious liquid, this is a fantastic breakfast after a night of revelry. And if it brings me good fortune, then so be it.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: SHARE THE WEALTH. Eating for luck and prosperity is extremely appealing and this dish is not only relatively easy, it’s sort of healthy and rather delicous. I’ve often had people over for New Year’s Day football extravaganzas and had a table laden with a bunch of lucky foods. Why have one lucky dish when you can have 8? Multiply that good fortune and share the wealth! Happy New Year, my friends. May 2013 bring you good luck, fortune and a wealth of happiness.
HOPPIN’ JOHN WITH BRAISED COLLARD GREENS
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup diced ham (or a smoked ham hock or 4 thick slices bacon, diced)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 cups dried black-eyed peas (about ½ pound)
6 cups water
1 cup long-grain white rice
- Wash and sort the peas, discarding any small stones or stray bits. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high and sauté the onion and ham until the onion is soft and translucent – about 5-6 minutes. (If using bacon, cook it partially then add the onion and sauté as directed)
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, bay leaf, black-eyed peas and water. ( if using a hock, add it now)
- Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the beans are tender but still have some texture – about 20 minutes. About 2-3 cups of liquid should remain.
- Add the rice to the pot, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, never lifting the lid.
- Remove from the heat and allow to steam, still covered, for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the cover, check the seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper if needed.
- Fluff the mixture with a fork, and serve immediately.
BRAISED COLLARD GREENS
2 pounds collard greens (or mustard or turnip greens)
6 slices bacon, diced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
- Clean and wash greens well, remove tough stems and ribs.
- Cut the leaves into 1” pieces and set aside.
- In a large pot over medium-high, sauté the bacon until some of the fat renders and it’s halfway cooked.
- Add the sliced onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the greens, crushed red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt and enough water to cover greens
- Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until the greens are tender, about 45 minutes. (While it’s traditional to really cook the greens down until soft, I like them with a little bit more texture and bright color so I cook them a bit less.)
- Add the vinegar and stir to combine.
- Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and vinegar if needed.