Thanksgiving and Christmas grab all the glory when it comes to holidays devoted to food. But across the world, food plays a big role on New Year's Day when the phrase "you are what you eat" becomes a total truism, when people eat traditional dishes designed to bring good luck, fortune, abundance, and prosperity. So rather than spend New Year's loafing on the couch watching parades or sadly taking down all your holiday trimmings, head to the kitchen and mix up one of these traditional dishes. And be sure to use plenty of organic ingredients to ensure that your lucky new year starts off on a pesticide-free foot. (Whichever dish you do decide to serve, pair it with a side of asparagus! It'll help with your holiday hangover.)
1: Pork and Sauerkraut. Not only do pork and sauerkraut taste good together, they'll bring you good luck if eaten together on New Year's Day, according to the Pennsylvania Dutch. The reason is that pigs are forward-thinking creatures—all four hooves point forward and they root forward—and the long strands of sauerkraut symbolize long life. If you're so inclined, make your own sauerkraut, and use it in this recipe for Alsatian Smoked Pork Chops and Sauerkraut, which tastes just as good with a traditional glass of New Year's bubbly as it does with sparkling apple cider.
2: Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens. Down South, it's not pork and sauerkraut that bring good fortune but black-eyed peas and dark leafy greens. The peas represent good luck and the greens, because they look like money, represent good fortune and prosperity. Some people even throw in pickled peaches, which look like gold, for extra good luck.
If you've never tried black-eyed peas, try them in a Hoppin' John, a simple dish that mixes black-eyed peas with onions, rice, green peppers and bacon or ham (the recipe linked above includes a vegetarian variation). Or you can combine Southern tradition with Pennsylvania Dutch and try this recipe for Southern-Style Pork, Black-Eyed Peas, and Collard Greens.
3: Grapes. A uniquely Spanish tradition, the idea of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s dates back to 1909 when Spanish wine makers had a grape surplus and needed a creative way to sell them. Each grape corresponds to a certain month of the year, so if, for example, the fourth grape you eat is sour, April may not be a great month for you. People who manage to eat all 12 grapes before the clock stops chiming will get extra good luck and prosperity.
This time of year, grapes are in season in California and South America. So buy organic to help compensate for the eco-impact of food miles and to make sure your New Year doesn't start off with contaminated with pesticides.
4: Beans and Lentils. Like Southerners with their black-eyed peas, a lot of cultures eat lentils and beans on New Year's Day because the small beans look like coins and thus represent good fortune. Italians usually pair lentils with sausage or pork (eaten for the same reasons the PA Dutch eat it). Vegetarians can follow the tradition of Brazilians, who eat lentil soup or lentils with rice.
5: Pomegranates. If one of your resolutions is to follow the uber-healthy Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to do everything from increasing longevity to curing heart disease, eat pomegranates on New Year's Day. Mediterranean cultures associate the fruits with abundance and fertility (that's why it's the national fruit of Armenia). Eat pomegranate seeds straight from the fruit, or get creative and serve them for breakfast in this Moroccan Pomegranate Mint Yogurt or with these Pomegranate Glazed Pork Chops.
6: Herring: Nothing whet's your New Year's appetite like a nice plate full of pickled herring, right? The Germans and Poles both eat herring on New Year's Day because it represents good luck, and before you turn up your nose, consider this: Herring has some of the highest levels of naturally occurring vitamin D of any food you can eat, and it's rich in omega-3s. Plus, the Monterey Bay Aquarium rates it as a "good alternative" because of responsible fishing practices and the fact that they have low mercury levels.
Herring can be used in place of sardines and anchovies in most recipes, and it doesn't necessarily need to be pickled to bring good luck. Use herring instead of sardines in this Sicilian Sardine Antipasto or instead of anchovies in Maria Rodale's recipe for "Fooey" (aka savoy cabbage with anchovies and hot peppers).