What do good-looking men, lentils, no housework and kissing all have in common? According to superstition, they all bring good luck in the new year.
January seems to have more hopes pinned on it than any other month. As the first month of a brand new year, it has come to signify a clean slate, starting over and new beginnings. Many people will go to great lengths to ensure that they have a successful new year; therefore, numerous traditions have sprung up over the centuries.
For instance, the first person to step through your door on New Year's Day should be a good-looking, dark-haired man. He has to knock and be let in, be carrying a piece of coal (so that your house will always be warm), a loaf of bread (to ensure that your household will always have food), money (obvious) and greenery (for long life). This individual brings extra luck if he comes on a horse.
Just about everyone has heard of New Year's superstitions surrounding food. Hopefully, you enjoyed the traditional southern meal of black-eyed peas and pork to ensure good luck in 2011. On our first New Year's Day as a married couple, my husband informed me that I had to prepare black-eyed peas and hog jowls, or we would be doomed for the next 365 days.
I remember raising my eyebrows as if a man on a horse with groceries and cash had just knocked on my front door. He may as well have asked me to personally pickle some pig's feet. Turns out, black-eyed peas or lentils bring riches and safety.
Eating pork is lucky because pigs eat moving forward, thus guaranteeing that you will also move forward in the next year. I managed to convince my husband that any part of a pig would do, not just the jowls. This soup contains everything we needed to bring good fortune in our immediate future. I used ham hocks to season the soup, but if you have a hambone or two, you can use that instead. The result is a hearty, smoky, and slightly spicy dish that pairs nicely with warm crusty bread and a glass of red wine, perfect for any chilly night.
Lucky Black-Eyed Pea Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced leeks, white parts only
1 medium (1 cup) green bell pepper, diced
1 stalk (3/4 cup) celery, diced
3-4 cloves minced garlic
4 ham hocks or ham bones
1 pound dried black-eyed peas
2-1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon Creole or Cajun seasoning
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1-1/2 cups diced cooked ham
Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add onion, leeks, bell pepper and celery. Cook until slightly softened, about five minutes. Add garlic, ham hocks or ham bones, and black-eyed peas. Sauté for five minutes. Add chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Cover pot and simmer for two hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
Remove ham hocks or ham bones and allow to cool. Remove any meat from the bones and return the meat to the soup. Discard ham hocks or bones. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer until the ham is heated through, about five minutes.