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MailTribune.com
  • New Year's traditions start with food

  • We all could use that little extra something for 2013, couldn't we?
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  • We all could use that little extra something for 2013, couldn't we?
    Cultures around the world have various beliefs and superstitions about the best food to eat to presage a lucky or happy new year. Pork is favored by some because a pig roots forward to search for its food (as opposed to other animals who root backward); pork and sauerkraut is eaten by the Pennsylvania Dutch and others of German extract in part because eating sour cabbage on New Year's is thought to bring on sweetness for the rest of the year. In Italy (and other cultures) lentils are thought to resemble coins and portend good fortune in the New Year. A specialty sausage of the Emilia-Romagna region called cotechino is a traditional New Year's accompaniment.
    Like lentils, black-eyed peas are also sometimes viewed as stand-ins for coinage, although the stories behind Hoppin' John as a New Year's tradition are varied. One says that the discovery of black-eyed peas in besieged Civil War Vicksburg, Miss., saved many from hunger. From then on, black-eyed peas were a sign of good luck. The dish, however, has unclear origins that date much earlier than that.
    Preserved fish is another New Year's tradition in many different forms and in many European countries. You'll need to get started at least two days in advance, but gravlax (cured salmon) is relatively easy to make and beautiful to present.
    Set out a buffet of all four at your New Year's Eve or New Year's gatherings, and perhaps one of your guests will have just a slightly better chance of hitting a $100 million Powerball jackpot in the new year.
    GRAVLAX
    1/3 cup granulated sugar
    1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) chopped fresh dill
    1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/4 cup fine sea salt
    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    2 thick, fresh salmon fillets (about 1 pound each)
    Thoroughly combine the sugar, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
    Lay 1 of the salmon fillets skin-side down in a large, clean dish so it is completely flat. Spread all of curing mixture evenly over salmon fillet.
    Place other fillet flesh-side down on top of first fillet. Wrap fillets tightly with plastic wrap. Weigh them down with a plate and 1 to 2 cans or other weights totaling between 1 and 2 pounds.
    Refrigerate for 48 hours, turning every 12 hours and draining off fluid. After 48 hours, unwrap fillets and pat dry with paper towels. To serve, cut thinly on a diagonal with a very sharp knife. Serve with brown bread and butter, if desired.
    Makes about 16 appetizer servings.
    — Recipe adapted from "Cooking Season by Season" edited by Emma Callery and Susannah Steel (Dorling Kindersley, 2012).
    HOPPIN' JOHN
    1 (16-ounce) package black-eyed peas
    1/2 pound salt pork, chopped
    2 medium bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
    2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
    1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
    2 tablespoons butter
    1/4 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
    1 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
    2 to 4 teaspoons salt, or to taste
    Rinse and sort the peas according to package directions. Place in a large Dutch oven, cover with water 2 inches above peas and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then cover, remove from heat and let soak for 1 hour. Remove from Dutch oven and drain.
    Saute the salt pork in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 6 minutes, or until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon, reserving drippings in pan. Add the bell peppers and onions; saute 5 minutes.
    Add 7 cups water, return peas and pork to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
    Add the rice, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and rice is done. Remove from heat; stir in the butter and remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.
    Makes 10 to 12 servings.
    — Recipe adapted from "Southern Living Heirloom Recipe Cookbook," featuring Marian Cooper Cairns (Oxmoor House, 2011).
    PORK AND SAUERKRAUT
    2 pounds sauerkraut
    Salt, to taste
    3 1/2 tablespoons flour, divided
    2 pounds bone-in rib pork chops
    1 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings or vegetable oil
    1 onion, peeled and sliced
    1 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 tablespoon paprika, or to taste
    Wash the sauerkraut thoroughly and squeeze dry. Place in a medium pot, add water just to cover, bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cook covered for 1 hour.
    Mix salt to taste with 2 1/2 tablespoons of the flour and dredge the meat in mixture. In a large frying pan, heat the bacon drippings over medium-high heat and fry meat until golden. Add the sliced onion and continue cooking until onions are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
    Drain sauerkraut and add it to frying pan. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove sauerkraut and pork to a plate with a slotted spoon, leaving drippings in pan.
    Mix remaining flour with water to form a slurry. Bring drippings to a boil; add flour slurry to thicken drippings as desired. Stir in the garlic powder and paprika until fully dissolved, then let cool slightly. Return pork and sauerkraut to pan, heat through and serve.
    Makes 4 to 6 servings.
    COTECHINO WITH LENTILS
    1 (about 1 pound) cotechino sausage
    1 cup dried lentils, washed in cold water and drained
    1 tablespoon chopped onion
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    1 tablespoon chopped celery
    Salt, to taste
    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    Cook the sausage. If using a partially dried or heavily salt-cured sausage, soak in cold water for at least 4 hours or overnight. Drain.
    Place sausage in a pot with enough cold water to cover it. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a slow boil and cook for 2 1/2 hours. Turn off heat and let rest for 15 minutes.
    When sausage has been boiling for 1 1/2 hours, make the lentils. Bring 1 quart water to a simmer in a saucepan. In a heavy pot, cook the onion in the oil over medium-high heat, stirring, until it turns a pale gold, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the chopped celery, stir to coat in oil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
    Add lentils to pot, stirring thoroughly to coat. Add enough simmering water to cover lentils and cook, covered, at a very low simmer, until lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. If necessary, add more simmering water to keep lentils covered, or add some cooking water from sausage for more flavor in lentils.
    When lentils start to get tender, stop adding liquid so lentils will absorb all remaining cooking liquid. If lentils reach doneness with liquid still in pot, turn heat to high and boil away remaining liquid, stirring lentils as they cook. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
    Transfer sausage to a cutting board and cut into slices 1/2 inch thick. Spoon lentils onto a warm platter, arrange sausage slices on top, and serve. Makes 6 servings.
    — Recipe adapted from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking," by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, 2010).
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