By Minnie Apolis
An assortment of foods generally are included in the New Year's menu in the folk belief that they will improve one's fortunes in the coming year. And in precarious times such as ours, that practice may increase, with folks figuring that they need all the extra luck they can get.
The list of good-luck foods generally fall into two or three groups.
The first is that the food resembles paper money. All salad greens fall into this group, as well as greens that are normally cooked, like collards, kale, and cabbage.
A second group of foods resemble coins, or at least is a semicircular shape. Ideally you will have carrots that are cut into coins on your plate, but many other foods are acceptable or traditional representatives of money. The Italians traditionally eat a midnight dinner of lentils and sausage, called Cotechino con Lenticchie. The sausage is cut into chubby discs which are served on top of a bed of cooked coin-shaped lentils. Reportedly lentils have been eaten for luck since Roman times. Lentils are also considered good luck in Hungary, where they are preferred in a soup.
Other foods are assumed to suggest coins, although frankly I think they are stretching a point. Those foods include black-eyed peas or the similar crowder peas, which are cooked up with rice in a dish called Hoppin' John.
And to really stretch that point (of a resemblance to coins) you may eat any round fruit – oranges, in particular – or round breads like bagels and doughnuts. Remember the novel Joy Luck Club? The women always included money-attracting oranges at their luncheons. Spaniards and Portuguese eat a dozen grapes at the stroke of midnight. I'm sure I could force myself to eat a dinner of doughnuts.
Some foods are thought to resemble mineral wealth, as in gold and silver. Silver is suggested by the scales of fish. Ideally one has a whole fish on the platter, to symbolize a good year from start to finish. So don't cut off the heads or tails before serving it on New Year's Eve. Germans, Poles and Scandinavians all prefer to eat pickled herring, instead. Eat it at the stroke of midnight. Reportedly the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for abundance, another reason for eating it on New Year's. As for the whole fish stipulation, that is a little difficult but I am sure that little sardines will fill the bill.
Gold is represented by anything yellowish or even orange – again, as in the orange fruit. Golden Delicious apples would be good. Cornbread is a traditional favorite for year-end feasts, too, exactly because of its golden color which suggests gold. You can increase the luck by including whole kernel corn in the bread, which represent nuggets of gold. Or cook up a batch of paella, whose rice is traditionally enhanced by the addition of threads of saffron for a golden color. Alternatively, you might elect to eat a curry dish instead.
Still another group of foods symbolize long life or health. Most notable among them are long, unbroken noodles, which symbolize the lifespan. You might have Japanese soba noodles or some Italian spaghetti on the menu. Do not, repeat do not, break the noodles in the cooking process, to safeguard your health luck.
Eat pork. The Orientals view pigs as a very smart, clever animal and therefore a sign that is usually successful in business, plus they always move forward. You have many options to choose from when it comes to pork products – sausages, bacon, a roast, ham, a whole roast suckling pig -- or even anything in the shape of a pig, such as cookies.
Many traditions have a coin or something representing a coin baked into a cake. An almond often subs for the coin, and whoever gets the piece with the almond can make a wish and expect it to come true in the coming year.
Here's wishing all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year in 2013!!
Links to some recipes below:
Paella: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/easy-paella/ (Actually, Paella can be made using whatever meats you have in the frig – any sausage, chicken or pork, scallops or other fish or seafood, etc.)
Curried Chicken for 2: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/indian-chicken-curry-ii/
Hoppin' John: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/hoppin-john/
Jiffy Corn Casserole: http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,188,153171-231207,00.html
Soba Noodles with Kale: http://gastronomyblog.com/2012/03/31/healthy-soba-noodles-with-kale/