I am totally superstitious. I knock on wood, cross my fingers, step over cracks on the sidewalk, and wish my thespian friends good luck by hoping they break a leg. By the same rule, I avoid black cats, leaving my hat on the bed, or passing the salt from hand to hand at the table.
Many of these bad luck omens are buried in ancient customs, and most of them make sense to avoid: walking under ladders, pouring wine backhanded, opening an umbrella indoors. The worst luck of all is breaking a mirror—not only is it bad luck, it forebodes seven years of misery.
On the other hand, good luck charms and ways of fighting the bad are just as abundant, if not even more so: four-leaf clovers, laurel leaves, horseshoes, rabbits’ feet, ladybugs, and wishbones, just to name a few. Lucky foods also abound, from pomegranates to pork.
In Spain, where I grew up, it’s tradition to have lentils in the New Year, as the coin-shaped legumes are said to bring prosperity and wealth. In South Carolina, where I now live, it’s tradition to eat black-eyed peas and collard greens for the same reason. It’s also a show of humility and a wish for growing wealth, as beans and lentils expand in size when cooked. As the saying goes, “Eat poor on New Year’s, and eat fat the rest of the year.”
This January, to celebrate the New Year, create positive vibes, and share good wishes for all, I am absolutely having lentils for lunch. I am also making an extra batch and delivering gift parcels to my friends to share the good fortune—we all need all the help we can get! In my opinion, as long as this is done during the month of January, we are within the allotted time and it counts.
And for even more assurance, I’ll be starting the year with another Spanish tradition: eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, as the clock strikes the hours. It will bring good luck for every month of the next year.
On the Menu
For this New Year’s lunch at home, I am serving a hearty lentil and chorizo stew that reminds me of the rustic country stews of Seville. The lentils become smoky and slightly spicy, infused with the deep pimentón flavor of the chorizo as they cook.
The result is so full of flavor that little else is needed, but adding a few crunchy homemade croutons on top dresses up the humble dish and elevates it to entertaining status. At the table, I serve it with a dash of red wine vinegar. It just makes all the flavors explode.
Beyond just the New Year, lentil stew is a great addition to your cooking repertoire. It’s so easy to make, and both nutritious and flavorful, and you can use all sorts of seasonings and add-ins to change it up. I love it with spicy chorizo sausage, but it also works with Cajun sausage, kielbasa, ham, bacon, or crispy pancetta. You can also throw in your favorite vegetables, such as colorful peppers, spinach, or leafy collard greens—for an extra boost of good luck.
To contrast the hearty stew, a crisp endive salad is a wonderful addition to the table. I slice the endives very thin and simply toss them with my favorite vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, and a little mayonnaise just before serving.
Finally, for dessert, a thick and creamy, sweet-tart pudding made with Greek yogurt and fresh lemon juice is the perfect ending to this good luck meal. This is one of those desserts from the annals of cooking lore—it uses Jell-O pudding mix to transform yogurt into a luscious treat.
The pudding needs at least an hour to set, so make it in the morning or the day before. I make it in individual bowls for a prettier presentation, but it would also be perfect set in a larger dish and scooped into champagne coupes or small glasses to serve. Garnish with some berries or other fresh fruit if you have them around.
Setting the Table
I am laying a bright and cheerful table with red roses and camellias from the garden in small vases. I have set deep soup bowls and salad plates on rattan placemats, for a charming combination of elegant and rustic perfect for lingering at the table and confirming our New Year’s resolutions. (Which we have not yet talked about. At all.)
Lentil Stew With Chorizo and Homemade Croutons
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 links chorizo sausage (about 1 pound), sliced into thin rounds
- 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 large Idaho potato, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 15-ounce can tomato purée or plain tomato sauce
- 3 stalks of celery, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 pound green lentils (2 1/3 cups), washed and drained
- Red wine vinegar, for serving
For the Croutons
- 4 slices whole wheat bread, crusts trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
In a large stockpot over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the chorizo until it browns and releases some of its fat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions begin to soften and absorb the flavor and color from the chorizo.
Add the carrots, potatoes, celery, and tomato purée and stir to combine well. Add the bay leaf and chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then add the lentils, cover the pot, and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer the lentils until they are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Discard the bay leaf before serving.
Meanwhile, make the croutons. In a medium frying pan, pour about 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, so not to overcrowd the pan, fry the croutons, turning them until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle croutons on the soup and serve hot, with a dash of red wine vinegar.
Simple Endive Salad
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 endives, ends trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and mayonnaise to make a smooth dressing. Season with salt and pepper and taste to adjust seasoning.
Just before serving, add the sliced endives and toss to coat well. Serve at room temperature.
Greek Yogurt Lemon Pudding
Serves 4 to 6
- 20 ounces Greek yogurt, full-fat or 2 percent
- 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
- Juice and zest from 2 lemons (about 5 tablespoons juice, 2 tablespoons zest)
- 1 (3.4-ounce) envelope lemon-flavored Jell-O instant pudding
- 1/2 cup warm water
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the yogurt, powdered sugar, and lemon juice and zest. Dissolve the Jell-O powder in 1/2 cup of warm tap water and quickly fold into the yogurt mixture, mixing well until completely smooth. Pour into a decorative bowl or individual ramekins. Set for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Decorate with mixed berries and serve cold.
Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home.