Black-eyed peas soaking in water
Last year, I didn’t cook much but the start of the New Year found me preparing my first meal of the year. That’s a good start to 2010, huh? I think so.
I find it interesting that depending on the country or culture, certain foods, when eaten at New Year’s, are considered to bring good luck. The traditions may be different but the foods and the beliefs in the type of luck they bring are similar, worldwide. The foods range from cakes, grapes, fish, pork, greens to legumes. Here are a few examples of what’s eaten all over the world:
Special cakes are made between Christmas and New Year’s: In Greece, it’s vasilopita, a cake baked with a hidden coin; in Mexico, it’s a rosca de reyes, a ring-shaped cake, baked with surprises and decorated with candied fruit; in Scotland, it’s a black bun, a type of fruit cake; in Italy, it’s chiacchiere, honey-drenched fried pasta dough balls. dusted with powdered sugar; in the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland, they are donuts; in Holland, it’s ollie bollen, puffy donut-like pastries filled with apples, currants and raisins. I’ve wanted to make ollie bollens for the longest time. Perhaps that’s what I’ll make next year.
Grapes (12 grapes — one for each stroke of the clock) are eaten just before midnight in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Peru, Venezuala, Mexico, Ecuador and Cuba.
Pork generally stands for progress, wealth and prosperity. In one form or another, it’s served in the U.S., Italy, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Cuba and Portugal.
Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils represent money. Brazilians eat lentil and rice or lentil soup; while Germans eat split pea soup with sausage or lentils with sausage; Japanese eat sweet black beans called kuro-mame. Italians eat cotechino con lenticchie (a large spiced sausage and green lentils). One New Year, I actually made cotechino con lenticchie. It was good.
Greens such as kale, collards, cabbage and chard (because their leaves are thought to look like folded money) also symbolize financial wealth. Germans eat cabbage (sauerkraut); Danes eat kale (stewed and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon); while American southerners eat collard greens.
I learned from Stephen Cooks and Christine Cooks about the southern American tradition of eating black-eyed peas (normally with cornbread, rice, ham and collard greens). After doing a little bit of reading, I found out that this practice of eating black-eyed peas started with Sephardi Jews in the 1730s in Georgia. Around the time of the American Civil War, non-Jews later followed this custom. Very interesting!
Using Stephen’s recipe, I decided to make Black-eyed pea soup. My soup turned out well and tasted very good. I ended up making it two days in a row because a certain picky eater in my household liked it so much. The only changes from the original recipe was that I didn’t use ham hocks and instead of garnishing the soup with scallions, I used cilantro. Actually I first used the scallions but preferred cilantro. My soup tasted really good. To insure extra luck, I made sure to have an extra serving of my black-eyed pea soup.
May we all have lots of luck this New Year.
Black-eyed pea soup with a healthy squirt of hot sauce.
Black-eyed Pea Soup
Yield: 8 one-cup servings
8 oz dried black-eyed peas
1 strip bacon, cut in small pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 celery rib, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Hambone or smoked ham hocks (optional)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and hot sauce, to taste
1. Inspect the peas to be sure there are no stones included (most beans are mechanically processed and there are occasional inclusions). Soak them overnight, then drain and rinse well.
2. Sauté the bacon slowly in a skillet until just starting to crisp. Remove to a side plate.
3. In the bacon pan, slowly sauté the onion, carrot, celery and sweet red pepper until the onion is translucent.
4. Place the peas, bacon, vegetables, thyme, red pepper flakes and hambone or hocks (if using) in a slow cooker or soup pot. Add about 6 cups water. The peas should be at least covered by the water. Cook at a slow simmer for about 2 hours, until beans are tender. If you’re using the optional ham bone or hocks, skim fat from the surface occasionally.
5. Whisk the cornstarch into a cup of the soup broth and then stir into the soup. Cook another 15 minutes or so until the soup thickens.
6. Correct seasoning.
Mmm… Mmm Good!