Lentils for New Year’s Luck


What do you eat to promote luck in the New Year? I can’t think of anything that dyed-in-the-wool New Englanders serve up to ensure good fortune. I suspect that most of us think that is a silly superstition, and that we make our own luck as best we can by industry and thrift.

So some down South eat Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice with a bit of bacon in it), some in Europe eat greens because it looks like money, or pork, because pigs, who root forward, symbolize progress. Italians and the French eat a lentil soup because the little lentils are round like coins and swell, which we certainly like money to do.

I made some of that Italian lentil stew last New Year and we ate it. I am not so sure about the luck part, but it tasted awfully good, and after a couple weeks of feasting on richer fare, the homely dish of lentils with carrots, celery, onions, and fennel were a welcome break. Then I made it a few more times, not for luck, but because we liked it.

I cooked the lentils in a bean pot, in fact, tucked into one corner of the oven of my old Dual Atlantic wood and gas cook stove. The oven in that stove is a bust as far as real baking is concerned – it can barely nudge itself past 250 degrees, but that is perfect for baked beans, bean or pea soups, and other long, slow, low-temp cookery. You could use a slow cooker (what we used to call crock pots) for the same effect.

The recipe for the lentil soup reminded me that a cook can make almost anything taste very good by starting with the basic aromatic vegetables of onion, celery, carrots, and if you like it, garlic. Add a bay leaf, or rosemary, salt and pepper, maybe a little red pepper. If you want a heartier dish, this soupy stew can handle the addition of a sweet Italian sausage, or some chourizo, or ham. As it stands the recipe works for vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-avoiders. I used some chicken broth in addition to water, which deepened the flavor somewhat.

Surely you know by now how smart it is to make a lot of a soup and freeze up a quart or two for another time. This recipe did the two of us for supper, then some lunches and I still had enough for another supper with meat added. So maybe the luck for prosperity part is really about cooking economically. Hmmm.

New Year's Lentil Soup
  • 2 ½ cups of brown lentils
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 6 cups of water or broth
  • 1 bay leaf or stalk of rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Rinse the lentils and soak overnight in enough water to cover them generously.
  2. Put the olive oil in a soup pot, and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook until they are slightly softened.
  3. Add the water to the vegetables, and then the soaked lentils and bay leaf.
  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft but not mushy.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.