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Gettin’ lucky in the new year

Brian Shaw
For the Nevada Appeal
Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal"Hoppin' Juan" is Brian Shaw's Southwest version of Hoppin' John. Made wil black-eyed peas, it's a way to dish up some good luck for the new year along with snappy flavor.
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You may have noticed that for a lot of people the year 2010 was not so good. With rising unemployment, falling home values, and a government paralyzed by bickering, a hopeful outlook has been tough to muster. So I say it’s time to take matters into our own hands. Shape our own future. Make our own good fortune for the new year. How? By eating black-eyed peas.

For centuries people all over the planet have eaten certain foods in an attempt to ensure good crops, fair weather and prosperity in general. And although most cultures have their own peculiarities, there seems to be some consistencies.

In Spain as well as most of her South and Central American colonies, 12 grapes are eaten at midnight, one for each month of the new year. If one of the grapes is sour the corresponding month is predicted to be a rough one.

Cooked greens like kale and chard are thought to resemble money, and are consumed in Denmark sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or in Germany in the form of sauerkraut to encourage future wealth. Here in America, southerners believe in collard greens, the more you eat the bigger your fortunes.

I know from personal experience that my grandmother who came over on the boat from Sweden thought that fish, especially pickled herring, was the key to a brighter future. And in Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life and sardines for a good harvest.

Pork is another popular food for New Year’s. In Austria, not only do they fancy their pork in the form of sausages and roast suckling pig, but they also decorate the table with miniature pigs made from almond paste. The power of pork is in its rich fat content signifying wealth and prosperity.

Cakes and pastries are one of the most common good luck foods, especially if they are in the shape of a ring which symbolizes the completion of a cycle. A lot of cultures place a coin or some other surprise in the cake with the recipient assured of good luck in the coming year.

And finally there are legumes, dried beans, peas or lentils, which are thought to resemble coins that grow larger when cooked symbolizing expanding assets. To make sure that it works, it is customary to leave a few peas on your plate.

Whatever you do, don’t eat lobster or chicken and expect positive results. Lobsters go backwards connoting regression and setbacks. And any good luck you may have coming to you might fly away if you eat winged creatures like chicken or duck.

Our recipe for today involves legumes, specifically black-eyed peas, and is based on the Southern dish, Hoppin’ John. Traditionally consisting of the peas mixed with rice and served hot, we have turned it into a salad and omitted the rice. Because it can and should be made a day or two before serving, it’s perfect for a New Year’s Day party where you don’t feel like cooking. Also, in keeping with our Southwestern inclinations we added some diced tomatillos and pickled jalapenos and renamed it “Hoppin’ Juan.” With the addition of the andouille sausage it has twice the good luck punch.

By the way, Del Rio is closed for our winter break, but will reopen Jan. 21. In the mean time whip up a batch of Hoppin’ Juan and get ready for opportunity and prosperity to come knocking. Best of luck for the New Year.

Hoppin’ Juan

Good Luck for 12

1/2 pound dry black-eyed peas or two 15 ounce cans

2 stalks celery, diced

6 medium sized tomatillos, husked, washed and diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 ears fresh corn, cooked and cut from the cob

4-5 small green onions, white and light greens, sliced

12 ounce andouille sausage, half inch cubes

1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoons minced pickled jalapenos

If using dry peas follow the instructions on the bag. For canned, drain and rinse the peas. Place in a bowl with the celery, tomatillos, red bell, corn and green onions.

For the sausage, heat a large skillet or saute pan with a little oil. When hot, add the cubed sausage in a single layer, shake the pan a little then leave it alone for a minute. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the sausage is a little seared. Pour the sausage into the bowl with the vegetables and allow to cool. I found andouille at Raley’s, but kielbasa or any smoked, cooked sausage will work. Even though the sausage is fully cooked when you buy it, searing it just before adding to the salad allows the smoky flavor to release and permeate the vegetables.

Meanwhile, make the dressing: Place the rice vinegar, corn syrup, bay leaves and lime juice in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add the jalapenos and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Pour over the salad and toss to combine. Taste for salt, cover and refrigerate. Allow to marinate at least 6 hours and preferably overnight. It will keep, refrigerated, for a couple of days. Just re-toss it before serving.

• Brian Shaw and his wife Ardie own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.