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Why Eating Cabbage Rolls is Lucky on New Year’s

Photo by Kankana Saxena

In many parts of Eastern Europe, eating cabbage rolls for New Year’s is considered very lucky. Laura Kelley, author of The Silk Road Gourmet (iUniverse, 2009), says: “My mother said that cabbage rolls were considered lucky because the leaves looked like paper money. The New Year’s connection was to roll ingredients that symbolized different things — chestnuts and walnuts look like brains, so they signify intelligence; tomato is about health and transformation, etc. — into the leaves to bring these things to the family who ate them in the new year.”

According to Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg, the cabbage rolls, with cabbage on the outside and meat on the inside, are as a home should be: “Inside should be nice and comfy, but the outside? Don’t make the neighbors envious!” He says that in keeping with Hasidic Jewish tradition, the rolls are eaten on Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashana and Simchat Torah.

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Cotechino e Lenticchie, or What Italians Eat on New Year’s for Good Luck

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This hearty Italian dish from the northern Italian region of Umbria is said to bring good luck because the lentils look like coins when they are done cooking. “It is the traditional food eaten on New Year’s for good luck,” says Italy-based chef and owner of Cooking Vacations Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli. In particular, says Lauren, lentils are considered very lucky, “Dried lentils are often wrapped in little wreath-like decorations and passed out to friends and families ensuring health, happiness and good fortune in the new year.”

Cotechino sausage really belongs to Northern Italy, where it differs slightly from region to region. For example, in the town of Villastrada, they include a small amount of vanilla in the cure. “But in Piacenza, where my mother is from, the typical cotechino sausage is encased in a bladder or intestine, dried and aged for 30 to 40 days before being boiled. It has Barbera wine, peppercorns, and a mix of lean pork and fatty pork rind,” says home cook Christian Galliani. He recalls big family celebrations that focused on this dish during New Year’s Eve. “At least 20 people would come for my grandmother’s cotechino e lenticchie. They would talk of how the dish would lead to good fortune all year!”

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We’re Up All Night Sorting Through Black-Eyed Peas to Get Lucky

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There is an old saying in the American South: “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.” True to the saying, hoppin’ John, prepared with black-eyed peas, is served with collard greens and cornbread for a triple dose of good luck on New Year’s Day in the American South.

Chef Teddi Wohlford, co-author of The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook (Harlequin, 2012), recalls eating black-eyed peas and crowder peas for prosperity and good luck. “Although black-eyed peas can be purchased in the canned food section or in the freezer section of almost every Southern grocery store, there is something special and time-honored about going through the black-eyed peas (or any other dried bean), sorting and removing any bits of debris, pebbles or small dirt clods,” she says. In her family, this process of going through the dried legumes was known as “looking the beans.” Once the looking was done, the dried beans were soaked overnight to speed up the cooking process.

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Makowiec from Poland for Christmas Eve

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If you are Polish, then it is possible your Christmas and Easter holidays have been filled with the delightful makowiec, a lovely dessert with poppy seeds.

Laura and Peter Zeranski, co-authors of Polish Classic Desserts (Pelican Publishing, 2013), say their recipe for the dessert comes from Peter’s mother, noted cookbook author of the acclaimed Art of Polish Cooking, which she wrote in 1968 (Doubleday; reissued in 1989 by Pelican Publishing). No doubt she received the recipe from her mother, who got it from her mother — and so on. “Our branch of the Zeranski family has documented its roots in Poland to the mid-1800s, and it is entirely conceivable that this recipe goes back at least that far, since Christmas Eve suppers are highly traditional from generation to generation,” says Laura.

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Honey Cake for Rosh Hashana

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The coming of Rosh Hashana signals Jewish cooks everywhere to get ready to bake their much-loved honey cake to bring in sweetness for the coming year!

Second-generation American-Ukrainian-Romanian home cook Ali Waks says that honey cake is traditionally served during the Jewish High Holidays. “Honey is sweet and golden, and represents a life of sweetness and wealth, which is why we dip apples and challah in honey. We stay away from bitter foods, such as olives and bitter greens,” she says. In addition to making it for your own family, Ali recalls the cake being gifted to friends and family as a way to offer good wishes and good luck for the new year. She uses any leftover cake to make bread pudding!

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Lucky Foods: Jai (Vegetarian Buddha’s Delight) from China

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Farina Kingsley, an international culinary instructor and author of three Asian cookbooks, says eating jai, a vegetable delight made of 18 ingredients, on the first day of the new year symbolizes purification of the body. She learned to make the dish from her great-aunt, who was Buddhist. “Originally eaten by Buddhists in Chinese culture, there are regional differences in the preparation of jai, but most of the dried ingredients remain consistent, since they symbolize good luck. A number of the ingredients, like the black fungus (fat choy), lily buds (jinzhen) and gingko nuts (bai guo), all symbolize wealth and good fortune,” says Farina.

According to Singapore-based home cook and blogger Katie Tan of Kitchen Tigress, the dish offers an additional blessing: “The Chinese believe that not killing animals is a good deed, and that good deeds beget good fortune. That’s why most Chinese make the effort to have a vegetarian breakfast — or at least a vegetarian dish on the first day of the new year.” To turbocharge your luck, Katie offers additional suggestions: Using knives on the first day of the new year brings bad luck. Hence, all the ingredients must be prepped in the old year. Be very careful while cooking so as not to dirty the floor. Sweeping the floor on the first day is equivalent to sweeping away wealth!

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How Eating Whole Fish Could Bring Good Luck

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Throughout most of Asia, fish is cooked and served whole (head and tail intact) for good luck. “Whole steamed fish with scallions, shiitakes and cilantro is classic. Every household in China has this recipe,” says award-winning food writer and cookbook author Corinne Trang. Whole fish symbolizes abundance, she says, and so for special occasions like weddings and birthdays, it is customary and good luck to serve a whole fish at the table. “I will make it any time I want to have it, and that’s not necessarily attached to a holiday like the Chinese New Year.”

Fish also has symbolic significance because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches (abundance). California-based Chris Yeo, founder of Straits Restaurant Group in California, recommends cooking your fish for 8 minutes, as 8 is a lucky number. “It is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honor at the table.” He offers an interesting insight into the dish: The fish is never completely eaten, as leaving a little bit of it represents the family’s ability to “always have enough.” Chris, who co-authored The Cooking of Singapore (Harlow & Ratner, 1993), prepares his fish inspired by the flavors he grew up with in Hong Kong and Singapore.

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The Luckiest Food to Eat in May: Vasilopita from Greece

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The delicious Greek cake vasilópita is considered to bring good luck to the person who gets the slice that contains the treasure of a floori, a coin baked into the cake. Author of the beautiful book Greek Chic Cuisine (Lulu.com, 2010) Stephanie Patsalis shares the legend behind the cake: “The most popular New Year’s custom is cutting of the vasilópita (bread for St. Basil) in honor of a miracle performed by St. Basil. The Roman emperor Julian had commanded St. Basil to collect a large tax. But before it could be turned over to the emperor to stop him from sacking the city, the emperor was killed elsewhere. In gratitude, the people gave two-thirds of the riches to charity. St. Basil then became responsible for returning the remaining riches to the people. However, they could not agree on the rightful owners. St. Basil suggested that the women bake the valuables inside a large pita. When he cut the bread, each owner miraculously received their right share of valuables. Today a single coin is baked inside each loaf to honor this miracle and the recipient has good luck.” The tradition has been around for centuries, and depending on the part of Greece you are from, it could be a cake or bread that you are baking and serving.

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A Lucky Armenian Chorag Recipe for Easter

Armenian ChoragPhoto by Kankana Saxena
Armenians bake a sweet chorag, a braided bread, for Easter. As with any family recipe, particularly one with such a rich history, there are many variations in technique and in tradition. The bread could be a single braided loaf or small individual rolls. Home cook and blogger Robyn Kalajian says that her recipe for chorag, one that she has been making all her life, came from a family friend. The recipe has a delightful combination of spices: anise, fennel, ginger and mahlab (ground cherry pits, found in Middle Eastern stores). “Whenever I make chorag, I think of past family Easter gatherings when it was customary to have relatives from both sides of the family crammed around the dining room table, talking and laughing. Colorful Easter eggs, Armenian string cheese, cured olives, dried Armenian meats — basterma and chor mees — fresh fruit and Armenian coffee rounded out the menu. Many of the elders are gone now, but this memory will never fade. I continue to serve this Easter menu every year even if it’s just for my husband and me,” she says.

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The Luckiest Food to Eat in March


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The Persian New Year, Nowruz, is celebrated in March, and, of course, cooking is a large part of the celebration. One of the foods prominently featured in the celebration is ash-e reshteh, a soup made with noodles.

“Like most Persian ash, this is a very thick soup, and it satisfies even the biggest appetites. Unlike other ash, ash-e reshteh does not include rice, but has noodles. The combination of all the beans, greens and noodles makes a very addicting meal. It is totally a warm hug in a bowl,” says food blogger Laura Bashar of FamilySpice.com. The noodles are considered lucky because they symbolize longevity, she adds.

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