Traditionally January is seen as a time to throw out the old and welcome in the new.
A new year has long been regarded as an auspicious time by cultures around the world. The desire to party and make pledges for a better future – even if they do prove too onerous for most of us to keep – isn’t just confined to these shores.
And as food has always been central to any celebration, it’s hardly surprising that dining on certain dishes at the appropriate time has become associated with providence.
Few occasions have more ‘lucky’ foods linked to them than New Year.
As you might expect, there is a recurring theme. Foods that represent wealth, happiness, good health and moving forward – as a new year symbolises – feature high.
Here we dish up a selection of New Year foods from around the world that will, fingers crossed, help you eat your way to success in the next 12 months.
So, in no particular order, here are your ‘good luck’ foods...
Didn’t your mum always say that greens were good for you? Well, it turns out they are lucky too.
But it’s got nothing to do with green foods being packed with vitamins and minerals.
We may have waved goodbye to the pound note here in the UK, but traditionally green has been the favoured colour for paper money.
Therefore, the more greens you eat on New Year’s Day the wealthier (and presumably healthier) you will be.
Cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts (assuming you didn’t have your fill over Christmas) are all in season.
But don’t just eat greens on their own. Why not spice up your cabbage with mustard seeds, a dash of curry powder, a pinch of fenugreek and softened onions for a warming side dish? Or rustle up a timely and hearty Scotch broth with kale?
This is a fatty meat and in many parts of the world plumpness is revered as a sign of wealth and happiness.
Pigs are also thought to be lucky in many cultures because they ‘root’ forward when they are looking for food.
In the American Deep South it is traditional to dine on a dish called Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Eve, which is pork, greens and beans.
And pork is also a lucky New Year food in Hungary, Portugal, Austria, Spain and Cuba.
Because of their length, noodles are seen as a symbol of a long life. So the longer the ones you eat, the better.
In Japan they eat soba, or buckwheat noodles, at midnight on December 31, when they are called toshi-koshi, which translates as ‘from one year to another’.
Noodles are also popular in China and other Asian countries at New Year. For maximum luck they shouldn’t be cut when cooked, so they are often eaten in a stir-fry.
Fish are lucky as they swim in schools, which links to abundance, and their silvery scales are thought to symbolise coins.
In China, the word for ‘fish’ also sounds like that meaning ‘abundance.’
For extra luck a fish should be served with its head and tail still on, so you are blessed from the start to the finish of the coming year.
Pickled herring proliferates throughout the Baltic states and it is this surfeit which makes it a favoured New Year food in the eyes of the Scandinavians, Poles and Germans who regard it as a sign of plenty moving forward.
It’s the custom to hide coins or lucky charms in the Christmas pudding.
Likewise, in many countries it is typical to bake ring-shaped cakes with tokens inside.
A round cake is a symbol of life and the year coming full circle and, providing you don’t crack a tooth, it’s also deemed a sign of wealth and prosperity to find one of the trinkets or coins.
With their vibrant red skins, beautiful round shape and glistening crimson seeds, the pomegranate has always been an admired food.
It’s been associated with both life (the seeds representing fertility) and death (the fruit’s deep red juices are said to represent blood).
It doesn’t sound like a fruit you want to eat at New Year. But people are still attracted by its exotic appearance, bold flavour and jewel-like colour.
In Turkey it is viewed as an especially auspicious New Year food. The red skin represents the heart and therefore life as well as health. The abundant small, round seeds, meanwhile, signify prosperity.
You can’t ask for anything more than a good life, health and wealth at the turn of the year.
And as fortune would have it, pomegranates are in season, so there’s no excuse not to pick a few up alongside your greens.
LENTILS AND BEANS
It was Liza Minnelli who sang in Cabaret that “money makes the world go round”.
And we’re back with money again as lentils (especially the green variety) and beans are said to represent wealth due to not just their round shape but the fact that a multitude are usually served at a time.
In Italy a popular New Year meal is Cotechino con Lenticchie, or green lentils with sausages. Eat this and you could double your luck by having two blessed foods in the one dish – pork and lentils.
This recipe could be a boon for other reasons too: it’s a hearty comfort meal that will help soak up the alcohol-induced New Year hangover!
Presumably eating a pomegranate will count as a round fruit, so you may be able to kill two birds with one stone.
Any round fruit would seem to be in order, however, so it’s lucky that the shops are full of satsumas, clementines, apples, grapes and passion fruit at the moment.
The shape is significant: it’s about coming full circle. The cycle is complete and you are ready to start off on the next.
There are various traditions associated with round fruit at New Year.
In Mexico they eat a grape on every stroke of midnight, each chime representing a month in the coming year. If one is bitter it means that month could be unpleasant too.
In Europe it is considered good luck to eat 12 round pieces of fruit on New Year’s Day, again representing the calendar months.
SHORTBREAD, BLACK BUNS AND A DRAM
If you’re adopting the Scottish tradition of ‘first footin’’, which literally means the ‘first foot’ to step inside a house after midnight, then you’ll need to take a symbolic New Year gift.
Usually this is a lump of coal or salt, shortbread, a black bun or whisky.
The gifts mean the household will stay warm as well as fed and watered for the coming year!
Nowadays, with coal fires almost consigned to the history books, it is usual when first footin’ to stick with the whisky, shortbread and a slice of black bun, a rich fruit cake wrapped in a pastry case traditionally served in Scotland at Hogmanay to welcome in the New Year.
You probably won’t have the time or inclination to make your own black bun at this stage. But head up to Brocksbushes Farm Shop at Corbridge, Northumberland, where they’re selling their own home-made version.
Try these delicious and ‘lucky’ New Year recipes from top chef John Calton
If no luck comes your way in the next 12 months, at least you will have learnt something new and step into January well fed and with a smile on your face.
Pan Roasted fillet of Seabass with Cream Lentils, Chorizo and Charred Curly Kale (Serves four)
4 pieces of sea bass from the centre of the fillet (175g each)
100g good quality chorizo, peeled and diced into 1cm chunks
1ltr chicken stock
1 bunch kale, stalks removed
Knob of butter
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
Clove of garlic, crushed
Sprig of thyme/rosemary/ bay leaf
Handful chives, chopped
Handful parsley, chopped
Handful coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper to season
Maldon Sea Salt
Sweat the vegetables in a splash of olive oil, add the saffron, rosemary, bay leaf and lentils and stir until cooked.
Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Skim and simmer for a further 30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender but holding their shape. Turn off the heat.
Blanch the kale for one minute in boiling salted water. Refresh in cold water.
Place a non-stick frying pan on a good heat and add a splash of olive oil.
Season and score the fish and place skin-side down in the hot pan. Cook until opaque.
Add the thyme and the crushed garlic clove, a generous knob of butter and the chorizo. Allow the butter to foam and baste the fish two or three times.
Remove from the heat and allow to rest.
Season with salt and pepper and a squirt of lemon juice.
Meanwhile, bring the cream to the boil and fold through the lentils, season and finish with the chopped chives and parsley.
Place a pan on a medium to hot heat with a thin layer of oil, add the drained kale and cook until slightly charred and blackened.
Finish with Maldon sea salt and a squeeze of lemon.
Add the lentils to a large dinner bowl, scatter over the kale, place the fish and chorizo on top and finish with the chopped coriander.
Passion Fruit and Lime Cheesecake with Pomegranate and Mint Salad
For the base:
30g caster sugar
30g demerara sugar
30g ground almonds
30g plain flour
30g melted butter
For the filling:
650g cream cheese
2 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
100g double cream
Zest of 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 lime
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
200ml passion fruit juice (bought is fine) reduced to 100ml liquid by boiling down to a syrup
For the glaze:
1 gelatine leaf soaked in cold water
100ml clementine juice
50g caster sugar
For the fruit salsa:
1 pomegranate, seeds and juice
2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves removed and chopped
1 orange and 1 lemon, segmented
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3.
To make the base, cream the butter and both sugars together with an electric mixer. Add the almonds and mix for one minute.
Add the flour and continue to mix until just combined.
Spread into an even layer on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and pulse into a crumb in a food processor.
Add the melted butter, mix together and press neatly and evenly into a springform tin lined with tinfoil. Set aside.
Reduce the oven temperature to 100C/200F/gas mark ¼.
To make the filling tip all the ingredients into a bowl and place over a pan of boiling water. Whisk until the temperature reaches 60C.
Liquidise, pass through a fine sieve and pour the filling onto the crumb base.
Bake in the oven for about an hour or until there is a slight wobble in the centre. Remove from the oven and chill in the fridge for a few hours.
For the glaze, bring the clementine juice to the boil with the sugar and remove from the heat.
Whisk in the softened gelatin, cool and pour over the top of the chilled cheesecake.
Serve with a good quality lemon ice cream and a salsa made by mixing together the pomegranate seeds, juice, fresh mint, orange and lemon segments.