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.
- 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
- Rinse the lentils and soak overnight in enough water to cover them generously.
- Put the olive oil in a soup pot, and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook until they are slightly softened.
- Add the water to the vegetables, and then the soaked lentils and bay leaf.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft but not mushy.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.