We Southerners are full of tradition (and a little superstition) with New Year’s Day being no different. As long as I can remember, we’ve had a specific menu to eat on the first day of the new year, almost a checklist to go by. Our plates were always full of ham, black eyed peas, rice, legumes and greens. It was just a given that this was the New Year’s Day menu. No one even thought about serving anything else. Why? Because each food symbolizes a certain hope for the year and because they all go together deliciously.
This year, I decided to branch out a bit and try a recipe I discovered from Better Homes & Gardens via Pinterest. It’s all the traditional New Year’s Day essentials thrown into one dish, which sounded easy to me. I edited the recipe just a bit to include greens of your choice, an item very high on the must-eat list. The recipe is at the bottom. This dish might not look as pretty, but it tastes delicious and wasn’t hard to make. In case you’re wondering what the New Year’s Day traditional foods are I’ve listed the ones we grew up eating every January 1st in the South.
Black Eyed Peas & Rice: Also known as Hoppin’ John, this dish was one that families survived on during the Civil War. (Field peas and greens were items Union soldiers left untouched after scouring Southern farms and gardens.) Black eyed peas are said to bring luck and, supposedly, the more you eat the more luck you will have.
Greens: Because they are a Southern staple and because they are associated with money, a “mess of greens” is said to bring wealth in the new year. You can eat any kind of greens like collard greens, turnip greens, kale, cabbage, etc.
Cornbread: With its gold resemblance, cornbread is said to bring wealth in the new year in the form of “pocket money” or spending money.
Pork: It is said that pigs root around in the ground/mud before moving forward to eat, which symbolizes progress. We always eat ham, but sausage and pork roast work, too.
A few other traditions cover what not to eat on New Year’s Day: Chicken and lobster are both considered bad luck. Chickens scratch backward which could mean dwelling on the past or poverty (“scratching” the ground for money) and lobsters swim backward which could mean experiencing setbacks during the year.
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 2/3 cup long grain rice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 red sweet pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped greens, uncooked
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, half-and-half, or light cream
- 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper or several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup finely chopped prosciutto or ham (about 2 ounces)
- 2 cups cooked black-eyed peas or frozen black-eyed peas, thawed, or one 14-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained
- 2 egg whites
- 1/3 cup snipped fresh parsley
2. For sauce, melt butter or margarine in another medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, sweet pepper, greens and garlic; cook and stir for 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Add flour; cook and stir 1 minute more. Add milk, half-and-half, or light cream; cook and stir for 3 to 5 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat. Add salt, ground black pepper, and ground red pepper to taste.
3. Place 1/4 cup of the sauce into a small bowl; stir in egg yolks. Stir egg yolk mixture into sauce in saucepan. Add rice, prosciutto or ham, and black-eyed peas.
4. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form (peaks stand straight). Gently fold egg whites into black-eyed pea mixture in saucepan. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 2-quart square baking dish.
5. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. To serve, sprinkle with parsley. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Happy New Year! What other Southern (or other) traditions do you do every New Year’s Day?