I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions. But when it comes to hosting a nice, relaxed New Year’s Day brunch, that’s a whole different kettle of black-eyed peas.
To the first point, resolutions. To me, the two most sacred phrases in our language are begin again and start over. So the idea that an entire culture would set aside one particular day for everyone, for course-corrections and the making of new habits, above another, is anathema to me. Why would January 1 be any better than, say, October 13th or March 27th for resolving to do whatever it is you want to do, and starting to do it? And, if you believe, as I do, that incremental and for-the-better change can happen at any moment, at any time, isn’t every morning, indeed every moment, at least potentially, “new”?
But mine is a minority opinion. Every culture has its New Year ( a movable feast, if that culture’s calendar is lunar, as are those of most Asian countries). And most New Yearses, no matter when they fall, are loaded them with expectations of, if not dramatic self-improvement (that seems to be primarily an American custom, vigorous self-reinventors that we are) then with the idea of using the day to predict or seek luck and good fortune. Of wishing it for others, and ourselves. Of going after it, often in some way propitiating fate, the gods or one’s ancestors. Of courting it, by wearing particular colors, taking particular actions, and yes, eating particular foods.
Which brings me to my second point, hosting a low-key New Years brunch.
Since I’m always fascinated by food as a window into human hopes, fears, aspirations, and customs, I have offhandedly been exploring for years the traditional New Year’s dishes said to bring luck. If you look at those dishes, you can also get a good idea of what human beings equate luck with. (Money is a major contender, but by no means the only one.)
Though I’m not hosting such a brunch this year, I have done so many times in the past. Never has it been anything less than enjoyable, for me and my guests.
What I’ve always looked for in the general vibe of this occasion is guided by a few principles:
One: by the time New Years Day rolls around, everybody is partied-out. Over the holidays. Not as in hung-over (hopefully), but as in over-over: over fancy party food, eaten standing up in slinky, glittery, and/or dry-clean-only garments. The allure of artichoke and crabmeat dip, brie wrapped in pastry, Christmas ham, Chanukah latkes, of I’ll-just-have-one-more-tiny-slice-of-pecan-pie, has worn thin (even as we inevitably, have worn fatter). By New Year’s Day, “simple” is sounding good, and stress-free/low-key even better. (And no Christmas music. Please! No Christmas music! I was ready to go postal at “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Day of the Year” back around December 15th! So… I say, jazz; acoustic folk maybe. But that’s just me.)
Two: it’s got to be easy on the host. Incrementally done-ahead dishes are good. Unfussy, easy-to-serve dishes are good. Dishes which are easy on the post-holiday wallet are good too. Buffet, not sit-down. Open-house timing, spread over two or three or four hours, not at a set time. Not too many people (no press of the crowd) but not too few (while 6 to 8 is perfection for an intimate sit-down dinner party, it’s just not enough for this kind of thing).
Three: fancy, no (see number one); delicious, oh yes, of course. Even the most informal drop-in party is still a party. The food should taste as good, and be in some way special. Yet it ought to be be as comfortable as the day’s clothes feel — jeans, Uggs, sweaters you can throw in the wash.
Four: in keeping with the occasion and the many cross-cultural New Years traditions of lucky foods , what’s served should look forward, with hope. Even if you’re resolution-free, at least by the calendar it’s the dawning year’s first hurrah. As at all beginnings (though I think every day is one), we may pray for wisdom, courage, and humility.
But it doesn’t ever hurt to wish for good luck, too.
Here is my take on a just-terrific New Years Day brunch menu, with three of the recipes here and some to come in the next post, which follows. This gives you plenty of do-ahead time. Part 2 will also tell you a little bit more about all the luck you can hope to harvest by serving this particular selection. For many of the world’s cultures, as I’ve said, have cooperated in providing us with a number of traditional good luck foods for the various New Years celebrated around the globe, and I’ve riffed off of that here.
And that these foods are delectable, healthy, inexpensive, easy to do ahead — well, that, in itself, is just plain good luck.
Spicy-Smoky East-West Black-Eyed Peas
Brazilian Style Collard Green Salad
Extra-Moist Cheese and Black Pepper Cornbread and Southern-Style Gluten-Free Cornbread
Four-Citrus Pico de Gallo
Golden Orange-Pecan Cake with a Citrus Glaze
Spicy-Smoky East-West Black-Eyed Peas
Serves 6 to 8
Although bean dishes in general are a great do-ahead and freeze beautifully, and this is certainly no exception, a slow-cooker (with a 6 quart capacity) makes these a snap to prepare, largely the night before. And of course, the slow cooker acts as a self-contained warmth-keeping serving dish, there by followingVibe Rule # 2: easy on the host.
These black-eyes, untraditionally, don’t have ham or bacon in them; their smokiness comes from chipotle pepper and toasted sesame oil. Miso, a fermented soybean paste, is available at natural foods supermarkets (in the refrigerator case) and Asian groceries; it adds and the sesame add the “East” to these delectable beans. Improbable though this combination may sound, your guests will swoon over it.
In the next post, you’ll learn why black-eyed peas are said to be so lucky.
1 pound dried black-eyed peas
5 cloves garlic, 3 chopped, 2 left whole
½ dried chipotle pepper, broken in half
2 large onions, 1 quartered, the other chopped
1 to 2 heaping tablespoons dark or light miso
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil, such as canola, soy, or peanut
2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped, optional
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
(additional water, or vegetable or chicken stock, optional)
salt, to taste
fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste
1. Last thing before you go to bed on New Year’s Eve, rinse the black-eyed peas well and place them in the slow-cooker with enough water to cover them by about three inches. Add the two whole garlic cloves, the dried chipotle, and the quartered onion. Set the cooker to High, cover, and go to bed.
2. In the morning, heat a large, heavy skillet, and add the vegetable oil. Add the chopped onion. Sauté, stirring often, for about 8 minutes. Add the carrots and continue sautéing, stirring often, for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add the celery and red pepper and sauté a few minutes longer. Finally, lower heat, add chopped garlic, and sauté 2 minutes more.
3. Stir the vegetable sauté, with the sesame oil, and miso, into the simmering, now-tender black-eyes. Fish out the dried chipotle piece and discard it, and stir the beans very well to distribute the miso and sesame oil. If you like, scoop out ¾ of a cup or so of the beans and mash them, then add them back to the cooker, thickening the beans. Or, if you feel the beans are too thick, add a cup or two of water or stock. Add salt (beans need quite a bit) and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to Medium, and continue simmering the beans at least one hour. Your guests will arrive to delicious cooking fragrance and even more delicious beans.
4. Taste for seasonings again just before you serve the beans.
Brazilian Style Collard Green Salad
Raw collard greens? A a few brief years ago it would have hardly been comprehensible to most Americans, especially Southerners. But times have changed with the advent of kale salads. While many find the texture of kale objectionable – it’s curliness, if it is not cut finely enough, can get caught in the throat – this is not a problem with it the flat-leaved and more mildly flavored collards, especially given the method of slicing here: very thin slices, almost threadlike. One bite of these sprightly green ribbons and their couldn’t-be-simpler dressing, and you’ll be a convert.
If you can’t get collards, use lacinato kale, Sometimes called dino kale, it’s flat-leaf, not curly. Another plus: unlike a salad of more tender greens, such as mesclun, this dish is happy to wait, just as good an hour or two after being made as immediately. Another make-it-easy-on-the-host factor.
In some parts of Brazil, these greens are de rigeur with fejoiada, the the famed national bean dish packed with, as they say, “every part of the pig but the squeal” — and those parts not just fresh, nut preserved in many ways (dried, smoked), some whole, some chopped. These accompanying greens lighten this dish, much in the way we perceive coleslaw as lightening and thus necessary, with barbecue. But the salad is every bit as good with the East-West Black-eyed Peas given here.
Make sure your slicing knife is good and sharp: the only trick, as mentioned, is slicing the greens very, very thinly. you can do this slicing the day before, packing the ribboned greens into zip top bags and stuffing them in the refrigerator until a couple of hours before the guests are due.
Two large bunches collard greens or kale, well washed, tough stems removed
Coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 lemons, halved
- Stack the leaves of collard or kale, and roll them up tightly the long way, making a firm green cigar-shaped roll. (You may have to do this in batches). On a cutting board, with your sharpest knife, cut as thinly as possible across the greens, making thin ribbons of green. This can be done up to two days in advance, if you store the cut greens in zip-top bags and refrigerate them.
- Up to one hour before guests are due to arrive, put the greens in your largest salad bowl. Drizzle the oil over them, then salt and pepper them well, and finally, squeeze the lemons over them (if the lemons have a lot of seeds, squeeze them through a strainer directly onto the greens).
- Toss well, then rub the greens between your clean hands a bit, to slightly wilt the greens and rub this minimal dressing in a bit. That’s it!
Extra-Moist Cheese and Black Pepper Cornbread
Makes 2 8-X 8 pans
You might want to double this; most people will want at least two pieces. The batter will fill the pans only about halfway up; it’s so moist that otherwise the middle part won’t be done. This way, you get the nice moist center, but a lovely crisp-crunchy cheese topped crust.
This recipe, too, can be largely done ahead: combine the dry ingredients a night or two or three before. Leave this dry mix in a tightly covered mixing bowl. Combine the wet ingredients, and refrigerate them, again, a couple of nights before is fine, in a suitably sized container. Have the grated cheese ready, too. Then, on the day of, preheat the oven, pick up at step 4, and you’re in business.
Vegetable cooking oil spray
1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 ¾ cups stoneground yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (use a coarse grind)
2 3 cups milk
1/3 cup mild vegetable oil, such as corn, canola, or peanut
1 cup canned creamed corn
1 3/4 cup (8 ounces) grated sharp cheddar or Jack cheese, or a combination
1 tablespoon butter
Salt, for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 400. Spray 2 8 X 8 baking pans with cooking oil, and set aside.
- Stir together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl.
- Break the eggs into a second medium bowl, and whisk them well. Whisk into them the milk and oil.
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients, using a whisk (batter will be thinner than the usual cornbread). Still, use as few strokes as possible. Stir in creamed corn and half the cheese, mixing just until ingredients are well combined.
- Pour the batter to the prepared pans, and top with the reserved cheese. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and top with the butter and a sprinkle of salt. Serve, hot, right away.In the next Deep Feast post, look for the recipes for
o Southern-Style Gluten-Free Cornbread
o Four-Citrus Pico de Gallo
o Golden Orange-Pecan Cake with a Citrus Glaze
Plus, the low-down on why each recipe featured here is reputed to bring you luck, and a certain two-faced Roman god…