Chow Town

Celebrate New Year’s traditions with lentil soup

Lentil soup is often served on New Year’s Day to bring good luck and money.
Lentil soup is often served on New Year’s Day to bring good luck and money. Special to The Star

I will be celebrating 2015 with a traditional Sicilian soup for good luck. There is a lot of history and tradition behind this.

I can’t remember a New Year's day without my grandmother or my father serving lentil soup. I also remember my mother passing out black-eyed peas on New Year's Eve for good luck. She always gave them to customers at our restaurant, as well as employees, family and friends.

As a Sicilian family, we are very superstitious. If something was to bring you good luck then we had to have it. In our family, red pens were never allowed because if you wrote in red, you were always in the red. That's just one example of many superstitions still passed down today.

I did some research and I found that almost every country incorporates some type of good luck food for New Year's Day. Since my ancestors came from Sicily, I was very interested in what they ate. Lentils are eaten as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Lentils are green and resemble money. They also resemble coins. In Sicily, my cousins also add a little bit of spinach, as it is green and resembles the color of money. They also chant an old poem passed down from their great aunt.

I just returned from Le Marche where the finest lentils in the world are grown. They are named Castellucio and are a Slow Food Arc of Taste ingredient.

I also found out in Bologna, Italy, they enjoy lentils with "Zampone,” a sausage mixture stuffed into the skin of a pig's foot. In the Piedmonte area, lentils are enjoyed with little grains of rice which also resemble money.

For dessert, Sicilians like to end the evening with an espresso and Struffoli, little fried dough balls drizzled with honey. This little "dolce" represents sweet promises for the new year.

I talked to my good friend, tour guide, noted food writer and cooking school instructor Judy Witts Francini in Tuscany and her family enjoys lentils also.

Francini also told me that in Naples, the Napolitanos throw things out the window and fire guns. Italians also like to light fireworks on New Years.

I called noted Washington, D.C. chef and my mentor Roberto Donna and asked about his customs from his Piemontese home and he told me they enjoy lentils and cotechino, an Italian charcuterie product, similar to salami, but requiring cooking; usually it is boiled at low heat for about four hours. Its name comes from cotica (rind). According to tradition, it is served with lentis on New Year's Eve, because lentils—due to their shape—bring money for the coming year.

My Kansas City friend Benny Anthony, Sicilian documentary writer and researcher of "Sicilians Across the Globe" tells me his family also eats lentils and in Sicily, coins are a big part of New Year's. His family's custom is to have coins outside their doorway, so money will arrive all year long.

That being said, I am presenting you with my family’s traditional recipe for Sicilian lentil soup. I do hope you prepare and enjoy it and start a new tradition. That is what it is all about.

Nana Mirabile's Sicilian Lentil Soup

1 pound lentil beans

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup of minced carrots

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced onions

1 tablespoon chicken base

sea salt, dried oregano & red pepper flakes to taste

3 quarts water

Sicilian fennel sausage

In a large pot, add olive oil, onions, carrots and celery and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes. Add lentil beans in water and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Add chicken base. In a separate sauté pan cook sausage. Drain all grease and add to soup. Continue to cook for 30 minutes.

Served with grated cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.