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Good luck in 2013

December 26, 2012

My sister-in-law is not a superstitious person, but on New Year’s Day, she insists on serving black-eyed peas with her holiday dinner. This is supposed to bring good luck for the New Year for everyone who sits down at her table. Mind you, she’s not from the South, where this tradition comes from in the U.S., and she’s not Jewish either. (I bet you didn’t know that eating black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, also is considered lucky.)

This weekend, I know she’s going to call to wish us a Happy New Year and she’s going to urge me to cook up some black-eyed peas. Hoppin’ John, another Southern dish, would meet her criteria also because it combines black-eyed peas, rice, chopped onion and sliced bacon.

Other cultures eat other kinds of beans—lentils or chickpeas, for example—to celebrate the New Year. Beans, particularly dried beans, are seen to symbolize money—little “coins” that swell up or expand during cooking.

Greens are often served on New Year’s Day in several countries, because—you guessed it—green is the color of money. (If only one could eat his or her way to prosperity.) Anyway, we’re talking about serving up chard, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, cabbage or some other greens to your family or dinner guests; you take your pick.

After a little research, I’ve discovered that golden-colored food also means good luck and prosperity in some cultures. Cornbread is mentioned, and also Carolina gold rice (although sadly, that’s now reportedly extinct).

Pork is also frequently served for good luck in countries like Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Germany and Sweden. Why pork? For one thing, the pig moves forward when rooting in the dirt for food. (And heavens, if you’re superstitious don’t consider chicken for your holiday meal; chickens move backwards when scratching for their food. Who knew?)

Another explanation for pork is that the fat symbolizes wealth and prosperity.

So, there you have it. I think I have just planned my New Year’s Day meal: pork, greens, beans, rice and maybe cornbread.

What’s for dessert?

Swiss Chard Gratin
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
3 ounces Tomme- or Gruyère-style cheese, grated (1 cup)
1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise, germ removed if green, and garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (preferably chives, tarragon, and flat-leaf parsley)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 pounds Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated and both cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound spinach, coarse stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and toss with bread crumbs, grated cheese, garlic, herbs, half of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

Boil broth in a small saucepan until reduced by half. Add cream and keep warm.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute, and then slowly whisk in broth mixture and boil, whisking, 1 more minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cook onion in remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a wide 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Add chard stems, remaining nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until vegetables are tender but not browned, about 8 minutes.

Increase heat to moderately high and add chard leaves and spinach by large handfuls, stirring, until all greens are wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer vegetables to a colander to drain well and press out liquid with back of a large spoon. Toss vegetables with cream sauce and transfer to a buttered 12-inch oval gratin or 2-quart shallow baking dish, spreading evenly.

Top vegetables with bread crumbs and bake in middle of oven until bubbling and topping is golden, about 20 minutes.