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Good Luck Eats: A Cross-Cultural Menu for Health, Happiness in the New Year

By:  Mackensy Lunsford Dec 29, 2013
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Good Luck Eats

The holiday season is all about excess. From Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, overindulgence runs rampant. But New Year's Day gives you time to repent with a fresh set of resolutions.

New Year’s resolutions are typically geared toward improved health and wealth in the year ahead, and many cultures eat good luck foods to get a head start.

Eating for better health is no superstition, particularly in traditions where good luck fare and health dovetail. For example, Italians believe that eating coin-shaped lentils brings good fortune. And the American South substitutes black-eyed peas for the same reason.

Whether or not your coffers will swell as a result of eating legumes is something we can't guarantee. But we've created three recipes using good luck foods from around the world that, when eaten together, make for a well-balanced, healthy and delicious New Year's Day menu.

Roll With It

Good Luck Eats

Many cultures are on board with kicking off a new year in good health. The Chinese have associated whole foods with health, wealth and happiness for millennia.

According to Chinese tradition, 2014 will mark the Year of the Horse, considered an ideal year for self-improvement. During the Chinese New Year celebrations, which begin this year in late January, superstitious eating kicks into high gear.

When it comes to luck, the Chinese like to engage in a little word play, and homonyms are often woven into good luck menus.

According to The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, in Mandarin carrots are called hong luo bo, which sounds like the word for “red,” a color that symbolizes good fortune. In Mandarin, chives are known as jiu cai,which sounds like “forever vegetable,” and are eaten to ensure a long long life. The word for fish, yú, is pronounced the same way as another word for “increase in prosperity.”

And the spring roll represents wealth because its shape is like that of a gold bar. But, particularly in the case of the recipe we've shared here, which wraps raw carrots, cucumbers and chives with fresh lettuce leaves and smoked salmon, it's also a symbol of a fresh, healthy start.

Fresh Vegetable and Smoked Salmon Spring Rolls

Serve this dish with store-bought peanut dipping sauce. In China, peanuts represent health, long life and wealth.

Ingredients:

6 rice paper wrappers (can be found in many Asian-ingredient stores)

6 or so lettuce leaves, such as green oak, butter crunch or Bibb

1 large carrot, julienned

1 European cucumber, outside portion only (no seeds), julienned

1 small bundle of chives

½ cup fresh cilantro

4 ounces smoked salmon, divided into 6 pieces

Method:

Lay damp paper towel over cutting board to make a work area to roll spring rolls. Soak one piece of rice paper in warm water (per instructions on package) and then carefully remove and lay flat on work surface.

Place one slice of salmon down first in a thin stripe across the middle of the paper from one end to the other. Create layers of the remaining ingredients on top of salmon. Roll paper into a tight cylinder around contents. Slice roll into 2 or 3-inch pieces. Repeat for each roll.

Set spring roll slices, cut end down first, on serving platter. Serve with peanut dipping sauce.

Salad Days

Good Luck Eats

Greens are eaten for good luck in the New Year seemingly everywhere. Some lore has it that it's because the greens look like folded money (please don't eat your actual money).

But greens have practical applications, too. Kale, a cousin of collards, is increasingly popular for its health benefits. The leafy greens, which can be eaten cooked or raw, are high in iron, vitamins, calcium and low in calories and fat.

But health doesn't have to mean austerity; in this recipe for kale salad, we've mixed in half a cup of shredded cheese. We've also added pumpkin seeds for crunch and pomegranate seeds, which add brightness, too.

Eaten by Mediterraneans in the New Year to ensure prosperity and a long life, pomegranates are nutrient dense and heart healthy, and support mental clarity.

Raw Kale, Pumpkin Seed and Pomegranate Salad

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale (look for Lacinato. Optional: mix with red-leaf kale for extra vitamin power)

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of ½ a lemon

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Fresh-ground pepper to taste

½ cup finely-grated Parmesan, asiago or manchego cheese

½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds/pepitas

½ cup pomegranate seeds

Method:

Wash kale leaves and then strip from stem, trying to keep leaves as whole as possible. Roll leaves into a tight cigar shape and slice thinly, crosswise. This is called “chiffonade.”

Combine sliced kale, lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Work salt into the leaves to help break down the fibers.

Toss with cheese, nuts and fruit. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve.

Bean There, Done That

Good Luck Eats

Legumes are revered around the world as a cheap source of healthy protein. But, come New Years Day, the humblest of ingredients can be said to bring wealth and prosperity.

Traditionally, legumes like back-eyed peas and lentils are said to represent coins, and thus are symbolic of wealth. In Italy, lentils are practically required eating on New Years Day, where they're often garnished with parsley, another symbol of economic prosperity.

Here, we've cooked up a dish of lentils and sausage. Pork is also symbolic of prosperity, as pigs are known for rooting forward (a Pennsylvania Dutch observation). But sausage isn't the healthiest of meals, so we've kept it in a supporting roll, rather than the star of the show. All things in moderation.

This lentil dish is also served with winter squash, the gold color of which is said to bring wealth to the Chinese.

Sausage and Lentils with Roasted Delicata Squash

Delicata squash is sweet and, as the name suggests, delicate. Its skin is soft enough that it can be eaten when cooked, meaning no peeling is required.

The lentils and sausage portion of this recipe can be served as a single-pot meal, cuttng down on dishes to clean — and that's a great way to start the new year.

Ingredients:

1 pound Italian sausage links (check your grocery store's butcher case)

1 delicata squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups dried, green lentils

1 cup diced diced yellow onion

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery ribs, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 quart stock

Method:

Carefully cleave squash in half, lengthwise, and de-seed. Slice the squash in 1/4-inch crosscuts. Season with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in preheated 350-degree oven. Roast until golden-brown and soft, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat dutch oven or lidded wok over medium heat on stovetop. Place sausage in pan, turning occasionally to brown and render fat. Once lightly browned, push sausage to the side and add onion, celery and carrot, sauteing until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add stock, lentils and seasonings and bring to a boil. Remove sausage and set aside. Turn heat down to a simmer, cover and cook, removing lid and stirring occasionally to release liquid, until lentils are just softened, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Add sausage to top of lentils and cook, covered for last several minutes.

Slice and arrange sausages over top of lentils with sliced squash in pot. Garnish with parsley and serve.