The turning of the calendar page from one year to the next is an annual occasion for great celebration and reflection on the times being left behind and, even more so, the beginnings it brings. Countless cultures have developed superstitions surrounding this change, finding symbolism and good luck in myriad foods meant to sway the fortunes of the new year to come.
Many of the customs that have come to dominate the foods of New Year fortunes are broken up into similar categories. A common thread is symbolism in visuals and ideas, be it the shapes and colors that are seen as representative of prosperity or other good tidings, or the actions and figurative significance of certain foods like fish and pigs.
Shape plays a big role, with things that resemble coins believed to curry favor when the calendar turns. Lentils and other legumes like green peas and black-eyed peas fit into this category.
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Hoppin’ John, a staple dish of some Southern states in America based on pork and black-eyed peas, is a perfect example of people doubling down on the idea of lucky ingredients.
Round fruits like pomegranates have a long history of predicting how much money is likely to come in a new year. One superstition is that the fuller a pomegranate is with seeds, the more likely the future is filled with fortunes for those who eat them.
Grapes have been used in European and South American traditions as a way of determining which months will be good and bad in the coming year. Eaten by the dozen, each grape is said to correlate to that month, with sweet portending good times and sour bringing the bad.
Round grains are also valued for their representation of money and fertility, in addition to being a healthy staple of sustenance throughout time.
Cakes and sweets that are round are eaten as a symbol of a year coming full circle and providing closure. Reflecting on the good and bad of the past can be a way of creating a path to better results in the new year.
Certain colors have been considered lucky or fortunate throughout time, certainly in modern times where green is thought of as “the color of money” more than just about anything else. Eating greens around New Year’s is a widely accepted way of ensuring luck and potential riches.
While in America we think of the traditional stewed collard greens of the South as an iconic dish of fortune, the practice of eating a variety of greens to stay in prosperity’s good graces goes on around the world as well.
Another factor in the color of greens is that green, leafy vegetables are thought of as part of a healthy diet, so they play a role in ensuring continued good health or restoration in a new year. One could imagine any number of resolutions of healthier eating no doubt beginning with a green juice cleanse or kale salad.
Animals and fish
The pig has come to signify different aspects of good things to come. For one, the pig roots forward, nose first, making progress as it moves. Eating any number of the delicious products that come from the pig, from hams to bacon to pigs’ feet and pork chops, is thought to harness this idea of a positive step forward.
In fact, so many items are derived from pork, it is seen as a food that symbolizes prosperity and abundance, both good things for those who wish for greater wealth with their side of bacon.
Fish are similarly diverse in their multiple signs of good things for a new year. The scales of the fish are round and abundant, which goes back to the correlation between shape and money. Fish also swim forward, which has come to be seen as a way to ensure positive momentum.
Tyler Fox is a personal chef, Chow Town blogger and freelance writer for The Star’s Food section.
Putting together a good fortune party menu
With luck, health and fortune to be had in the food we eat, who wouldn’t want to celebrate New Year’s with a lively and fun feast as delicious as it is auspicious?
WHAT TO EAT?
When considering what food to serve for a New Year’s soiree, it is best to decide the format and flow for the evening. Many people don’t want to be tied down to a table with a formal sit down dinner, which tends to keep people from moving and mingling as midnight approaches.
Some peoples’ ideas of cocktail parties run the gamut from high-end appetizers served by waiters in gloves, to your aunt Sheila’s Lil Smokie Surprise festering in a mid-’70s era, ketchup-crusted slow cooker. Or worse yet, those gatherings where people are left to fend for themselves with sad combinations of broken chips and leaden dips.
Creating a menu of small bites highlighting fantastic ingredients is the perfect way to allow your guests to roam freely from conversation to conversation with delectable small bites in between. Featuring foods traditionally eaten throughout the world to bring luck and prosperity for the new year, this menu is designed to maximize flavor and good fortune in every bite, allowing you and your guests to celebrate in style.
WHAT TO DRINK?
In the modern age of encyclopedic wine lists, craft beer and cocktails, there are more choices than ever to indulge in on special occasions, though true French Champagne and sparkling wine are the accepted standards.
The toast is a way for people to raise a glass in solidarity, ushering out the old and drinking in the new. In keeping with that spirit, I think it is nice for everyone to be sipping something similar and festive.
The shimmering bubbles of sparkling wine and carbonated kick of a good beer make ideal selections for a New Year’s toast, rather than a roomful of Moscow Mule mugs clanking awkwardly with brandy snifters and various cocktail glasses.
When choosing either sparkling wine or beer, you have a few factors to consider, such as the possible food, atmosphere and audience of your party. Both can be as high end or down to earth as you choose, so look at a few different options to decide what is best for your celebration. I asked two local professionals for their advice.
Jeremy Danner, ambassador brewer of Boulevard Beer, suggests popping a top on Boulevard’s Saison-Brett, a farmhouse ale from its Smokestack Series. He says the “lively, prickly carbonation is similar to the higher CO2 levels achieved in a bottle of Champagne,” and it has “dry, unique grapefruit/citrus hop notes,” giving it versatility in pairing with food. Saison-Brett is seasonal, so it can be harder to find. He suggests Boulevard’s Tank 7 or Long Strange Tripel for more readily available alternatives.
Caitlin Corcoran of Ca Va in Westport suggests Joel Falmet Champagne and Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux as affordable but elegant options for a bubbly New Year’s toast.
Smoked Salmon on Cucumber With Crème Fraiche, Lentil “Caviar” and Dill
This gluten-free canapé recipe integrates a sensual mix of vivid colors and varying textures — with the luscious, fishy flesh and fat of smoked salmon and richly sweet crème fraiche playing foil to the crunchy green cucumber and earthy lentils.
The fish meets the green colors of cucumber and money-like lentils to bring future riches in waves of flavor. Fresh dill helps round out the mix. Pair it with the bright bubbles of Champagne at the stroke of midnight or anytime. It’s a sinful enough bite for a New Year’s Eve party, but healthy enough to usher in that New Year’s resolution, too.
Makes 24 pieces
2 English cucumbers, cut in 1/8-inch thick rounds
12 ounces lox-style smoked salmon, cut into 11/2- to 13/4-inch long rectangular segments
1 cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
1/2 cup black or French green lentils, cooked according to package directions
2 tablespoons fresh dill fronds, for garnish
On a serving tray, lay out rows of cucumber rounds. Take smoked salmon segments and curl one end to the other, creating a cone like pocket. Place salmon pieces on cucumber, then spoon 1/2 teaspoon of crème fraiche into the center of salmon. Place 1/4 teaspoon of black lentils, about 4 to 6 individual lentils, on top. Finish by placing a frond of dill on top facing up.
Per piece: 84 calories (41 percent from fat), 4 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 12 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 116 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Grape and Ricotta Crostini With Roasted Hazelnuts
Grapes have a long history in New Year’s traditions, especially whether consumed by the dozen at midnight or used to detect which coming months may be sour or sweet. This bite makes for a lovely balance between sweet and slightly savory flavor tones.
With rich ricotta cheese, sweet seedless grapes and nutty, round hazelnuts, you’re guaranteed future pleasure when this bite hits your lips.
If you wanted to make a gluten-free version, substitute rice crackers for the crostini to get a similar crunch without the wheat. A light sprinkle of flaky sea salt heightens the sweet with a subtle hint of savory salinity.
Makes 24 pieces
1 baguette, cut on the bias in 1/8-inch thick pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 pound red grapes, seedless, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Olive oil and flaky sea salt (optional garnishes)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baguette pieces on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and place in oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.
Spoon 1 tablespoon ricotta neatly onto the center of each baguette slice. Place one grape half, cut side up, into center of ricotta, pressing slightly to secure it. Add a pinch crumbled hazelnut, followed by a light drizzle of olive oil or a pinch of sea salt, if desired.
Per piece: 100 calories (36 percent from fat), 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 134 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Beer Braised Black-Eyed Peas With Bacon, Brussels Sprouts and Whole-Grain Mustard
This recipe is a nod to the traditional Hoppin’ John dish eaten for luck in the American South, incorporating ingredients like greens to bring money, black-eyed peas for humility and pork, which symbolizes prosperity, but even more so, deliciousness.
Bacon may be the perfect example of the pig’s multifaceted grandeur, wealthy with weaving layers of fat and meaty flesh. Coin-shaped, tart mustard seeds pair with raw Brussels sprout greens for earthy, tart complements to the full flavors found in beer, bacon and beans. Black-eyed peas were one of the first New Year’s foods I was introduced to as a child, but now I recognize and enjoy their wealth of flavor year-round, though few applications could be as satisfying as this lucky combination.
You can serve this bite in small, flat-bottomed serving spoons or in small cups, and this lucky dish is equally delicious with a beer or Champagne toast.
Makes 24 servings
1 pound thick-cut bacon, cut in 1-inch wide pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup beer, such as Boulevard KC Pils
2 cups black-eyed peas, cooked according to package, or 1 (14-ounce) can
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and whole leaves separated
1/4 cup whole-grain mustard
Place bacon into a cold pan, turn heat to medium low, and cook until bacon has rendered its fat and become crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. When crispy and cooked, remove bacon pieces and blot on a paper towel-lined plate, saving all but 2 tablespoons fat; stir in garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add beer to pan, scraping up any brown bits with a spatula; bring beer to a simmer and reduce until most liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in cooked black-eyed peas and fresh thyme leaves.
To assemble, place flat bottomed serving spoons or small cups onto a serving platter. Spoon in 1 teaspoon black-eyed pea mixture, then lay a bacon piece flat on top. Place Brussels sprout leaf on top of bacon, then 1/4 teaspoon of whole-grain mustard dolloped inside the leaf.
Per serving: 136 calories (65 percent from fat), 10 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 16 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 339 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Shimmering Champagne and Strawberry Glazed Doughnut Holes
What could be more indulgent and lavish than the tradition of a sparkly Champagne toast at the stroke of midnight? How about an edible toast in the form an indulgent, shimmering Champagne doughnut representing an edible countdown ball descending like glittering midnight taste bud bliss.
That’s just what these sugary delicacies are, with a glimmering assist from edible glitter and the sweet taste of strawberry and Champagne preserves, which can both be found in gourmet stores with a sizable pastry section.
Round cakes and pastries have long been a part of New Year’s traditions since their shape is thought to display the year as coming full circle. That’s a great idea, but this doughnut is also a fantastic way to live up the decadence of New Year’s Eve, one last bit of indulgence before the dawn of renewed healthy ways.
As the countdown begins, be ready to toast with a flute of the bubbly.
Makes 24 doughnut holes
For the pate a choux pastry:
1 cup water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Champagne (optional)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, cracked into separate bowls
Canola or grapeseed oil, enough for deep-frying
To finish the doughnuts:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Whole nutmeg, for grating
1 (1-ounce) jar, edible gold glitter (available at specialty bakery or specialty gourmet stores)
1 cup strawberry preserves with Champagne
In a medium saucepan, bring water, 1 tablespoon sugar, Champagne and butter to boil. Once butter melts, reduce heat to a simmer and add all the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until moisture is absorbed and a wet dough forms pulling away from the sides of pan, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 10 minutes.
Once the pastry dough is cool, either in a mixer or by hand, add in first egg, continuously stirring until it is absorbs fully into dough, taking a minute or so, going from a slick and separate appearance to a coarse dough. Repeat the process with each of the other 3 eggs. Place finished batter into a pastry bag or large ziptop food bag and allow to chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
To fry doughnuts: Place a sheet pan near the stovetop. Heat at least 2 inches or more (do not fill above halfway up pan) of oil in a medium to large pot over medium heat, until it reaches 370 degrees. Cut 1-inch hole from a pastry bag, then push about 1 inch of batter through bag, snipping off with scissors and dropping into the hot oil. Take precaution to make sure hot oil doesn’t splatter. Cook in batches of 6 at a time, making sure not to overcrowd as the doughnuts will puff and grow in size. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until doughnuts begin to puff, turn over in oil with a spatula or tongs and cook another 3 minutes, or until they are a golden brown color. Remove to a sheet pan and repeat until all batter is cooked.
To finish doughnuts: Mix 1 cup of sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon edible glitter in a large plate or pie pan. Toss doughnuts in sugar to coat, then transfer to a platter. Glaze with strawberry Champagne preserves, and a small dusting of glitter.
Per doughnut hole: 163 calories (39 percent from fat), 7 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 46 milligrams cholesterol, 23 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 18 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Quinoa and Kale Phyllo Cups With Pomegranate Seed and Amaranth ‘Popcorn’ Grains
These elegant little pastries of grains, greens and fruit are completely vegan.
Grains and seeds have been thought to bring prosperity of harvest and fortunes, which combine with the pomegranate’s role of predicting prosperous times ahead for a double dose of luck and guilt-free flavors.
Garam masala is an Indian spice blend consisting of fragrant spices like cloves, cardamom and peppercorns, among others. Quinoa and amaranth are ancient grains, found in many health food stores and ethnic markets. The popped amaranth mixes with the tart, juicy pomegranate seeds to play off earthy greens and quinoa grains, making every bite a healthy, tasty bit of fortune to savor.
Makes 30 phyllo cups
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bundle kale leaves, washed, rinsed, stems removed and cut in thin ribbons
1/4 cup quinoa, cooked according to package directions (for 1 cup)
2 tablespoons amaranth seed
30 packaged, pre-made phyllo pastry cups
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, from 1 whole pomegranate
Add olive oil to medium skillet over medium heat, then add garlic, garam masala spice and salt, stirring to mix until they are lightly cooked and become fragrant, 30 to 45 seconds. Add kale leaves and stir, cooking 2 to 3 minutes, until kale is wilted but not dry. Stir in cooked quinoa grains and mix. Allow to cool and reserve in a bowl.
To make amaranth popcorn, put a medium skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. When pan is hot, add amaranth seeds, shaking pan vigorously until seeds begin to pop and stop, forming tiny popcorn-like kernels, about 10 to 25 seconds. Reserve in a bowl.
Lay out rows of phyllo pastry cups, filling each to top with kale and quinoa mixture, about 1 heaping teaspoon in each. Finish by placing three to four individual pomegranate seeds on each pastry, then top with a sprinkling of amaranth popcorn on each.
Per cup: 30 calories (53 percent from fat), 2 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 87 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.