Along with that champagne toast Friday night and the midnight kiss, consider manifesting your hopes for an auspicious new year with a food ritual.
Cultures around the world have celebratory repasts aimed at bringing luck and prosperity in the new year. They may be rooted in superstition, but they sure taste great.
In Spain, a relatively recent tradition involves eating 12 grapes, one at each stroke of the midnight chimes. Each grape is meant to represent one month of the year, and if the grape is sour, that doesn't augur well for the month in question. While this custom seems to have its origins in a marketing ploy organized to help producers with a grape surplus in the early 1900s, it is now a widespread way to celebrate hopes for a fruitful and sweet year.
In keeping with the idea of the calendar representing a circle of time, ring-shaped and round cakes, pastries, and breads are a popular New Year tradition.
In Greece, families bake vasilopita, a round cake containing a hidden good-luck coin (see recipe). In some families, the oldest gets the first slice, and in others a real gold coin is used, adding to the pleasure of finding it.
New Year's Eve parties in Germany and at the homes of expatriates living abroad often feature fresh round jelly-filled doughnuts called berliners.
In Holland, the Dutch indulge in small fruit-studded doughnutlike balls called ollie bollen. And in the Philippines, seven types of round fruits are served - seven being a lucky number and the fruit symbolizing prosperity.
A pomegranate - chock-full of seeds and long a symbol of abundance and fertility - is eaten in Turkey and other Mediterranean countries to mark the new year.
Serving lentils is an Italian new year tradition, because of their resemblance to small coins. And because lentils grow larger as they cook, they also symbolize expanding wealth and prosperity.
Dried beans in general represent security and plenty, as they can be both stored to serve throughout the winter or planted to create the next harvest. So Hoppin' John, black-eyed peas, are served with greens, resembling folded currency, in the American South.
Green is the color of money in a range of cultures. Kimchi, sauerkraut, and sarma (stuffed green cabbage) all represent the hope of having more green in one's wallet.
In Peru, though, the color of money is gold Papas a la huancaina, a golden-hued dish featuring potatoes tinted with turmeric or with a saffron-colored spice called tadillo, served on New Year's Eve with hope that enjoying this dish will also help line one's pockets with gold.
Fish also heralds fortune in some cultures.
German and Scandinavian folklore dictates eating herring at the stroke of midnight for good luck.
Likewise, Poles eat pickled herring as their first bite of food for the new year. This may have initially been done with hope of a bountiful catch for fishermen in the coming year, so that all who relied on the fisherman would also be well-fed. Now the tradition simply invites bounty in a more general way.
In Italy, baccala, or dried salted cod, is the fish of choice for New Year's Eve. Unfortunately, the once-plentiful Atlantic cod is now endangered as a result of overfishing. Fresh sardines make a nice substitute, though. They're easy to prepare and rich in omega-3.
The habits of pigs make these animals prized as New Year's food talismen, too. As pigs root for food, they move forward, signifying progress. They are plump and their meat is rich, so serving pork dishes signifies plenitude.
Roast suckling pig is served on the new year in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria, where the table is decorated with small marzipan pigs. The Pennsylvania Dutch serve a pork kielbasa and sauerkraut, and pig's feet bring in the new year in Sweden.
The attributes that make the pig seem prosperous also explain why superstition holds that chickens and turkey - which move backward and scratch for their food - should be avoided on this day, when what you eat seems to matter more than usual.
Who wants to spend the coming year "scratching like a chicken for a living"?
Brandied Orange Pound Cake
Makes 8-10 servings
7 ounce package of almond paste
1/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
One shiny coin (optional)
For the brandied orange topping:
One navel orange, washed well
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup of Grand Marnier, or good quality brandy
1. Line an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan with parchment and butter the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. With a mixer or by hand, cream the almond paste and the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until well creamed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the bowl several times. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low until completely incorporated and the batter is smooth.
3. Spread batter into prepared pan. Now is the time to slip in a coin, if you are using one. If the coin is placed with the round sides parallel to the edges of the cake, then when the cake is cooked and sliced, the coin will be more likely to end up inside a slice rather than getting hit by the cutting knife. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until lightly brown across the entire top and the sides are just pulling away from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Turn the cake onto a serving dish whose edge is wide enough to hold a bit of syrup.
4. While the cake is cooking or cooling (or a day ahead) prepare the oranges. Trim the ends of the orange. Slice the remaining orange into 1/4-inch rings. Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed high sided sauté pan (approximately 8 inches in diameter) and lay the orange slices in a single layer on top. Add enough water to just cover the slices and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let cook, turning the slices once, about 20 minutes, until the syrup is very thick and the oranges are soft. Pour Grand Marnier or brandy over and let cool.
5. Prick the top of the cake 20-30 times with a toothpick and pour the syrup over. Garnish the top of the cake with the orange slices.
Per serving (based on 10): 494 calories, 7 grams protein, 69 grams carbohydrates, 51 grams sugar, 20 grams fat, 88 milligrams cholesterol, 171 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Lentils With Sausage
Makes 10-12 servings
1 fennel bulb, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks.
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dried French lentils (lentilles de Puy)
1 pound of sweet Italian sausage – pork or turkey, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 stalk celery, washed and chopped fine
1 carrot, sliced into thin "coins"
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1-2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
water or chicken stock, as needed
1-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish, (optional)
1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Toss the fennel and pepper pieces in the 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and spread on a sheet pan. Season well with salt and pepper. Roast in hot oven for 12-16 minutes, stirring once, until browned and softened. Reduce oven to 300.
2. Check the lentils for stones or other debris and rinse well with cold water.
3. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan with tight-fitting lid, heat the remaining olive oil over medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the sausage, and brown well on all sides. Remove sausage from pan. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and browning. Add the celery, carrots, spices and lentils. Add enough additional water (or stock) to the pan to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for about 1/2 hour, or until the lentils are swollen and softened. There should be a small amount of residual water or stock. Add up to 1/2 cup more if needed.
4. Add the browned sausages and the roasted fennel and pepper pieces and cook covered in a 300 degree oven for one hour. Stir in the chopped parsley, taste for seasoning.
5. Drizzle with olive oil before serving and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds if desired.
Per serving (based on 12): 243 calories, 17 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, 31 milligrams cholesterol, 508 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Sauerkraut With Apple Rings
Makes 6-8 servings
1 pound fresh sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup white wine, preferably Riesling
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 crisp apples
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or juice of 1/2 a lemon
4 tablespoons butter
1. Place the sauerkraut in a nonreactive saucepan and add the wine and caraway seeds. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 10-15 minutes.
2. Core the apples while they are whole, with an apple corer or sharp paring knife. Slice into 1/4-inch-thin rings and toss gently with vinegar or lemon juice, taking care not to break the rings.
3. Melt the butter in a large saute pan until it is foaming and hot, but not yet browned. Add the apple rings and brown well on one side.
4. Carefully remove the apple rings from the pan and place, browned side up, around the border of a serving platter, mound the warm sauerkraut in the center of the apples.
Per serving (based on 8): 91 calories, trace protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 6 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 457 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText