Saturday, December 31, 2011

Meatless Monday: Ring in the New Year with a Hearty Bowl of Lentils!

At midnight tonight (Danish time), my cousin and her family will jump to the floor from atop their dining chairs, leaping confidently into 2012. [I know this is true. Kate has told me this is so.] I have never heard that they observe the second widely reported Danish custom of breaking dinner plates by throwing them against your friends’ doors; the bigger the mess, the more friends you have.

Niece Nora who is spending junior year abroad in Spain informed me yesterday of the Spanish custom of trying to eat 12 grapes between midnight and 12:01.

Ryan Seacrest’s list of interesting New Year’s customs includes the donning of colored underwear, throwing a bucket of water out a window, visiting a graveyard, and pouring molten lead into a bowl of water. According to another listin Germany and Austria, people gather around their televisions to watch "Dinner for One," an 18-minute comedy sketch about an Englishwoman celebrating her 90th birthday which has nothing to do with New Year's Eve or Day.

Many cultures ring in the new year by cooking and consuming a healthy serving of legumes of some kind. In the US South, the traditional dish is Hoppin’ John. When I saw my neighbor Gene earlier today, he was hurrying home to make a big batch. He had purchased some kind of meat on a bone which he was planning to simmer with black-eyed peas, to serve over rice with collard greens on the side. According to Epicurious, this tradition traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, residents of the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ran out of food while under attack. They discovered black-eyed peas and thereafter the legume was considered lucky.

My friend Kevin is of 50% Italian ancestry, as am I. He lived and worked in Italy for many years and I consider him my go-to source on things Italian. He is also an excellent cook and was kind enough to send his recipe for the traditional lentil dish Italians enjoy on New Year’s Day. Lentils are tiny, disk-shaped legumes thought to resemble coins. They swell when cooked, and eating them is purported to ensure prosperity in the coming year.

Lentils are an inexpensive source of protein, are high in fiber, and are packed with nutrients — an excellent food! You can read much more about their health benefits here.

The recipe follows. The traditional version includes some sort of pork, but Kevin has offered some suggestions to make it suitable for Meatless Monday. He also recommends using both red and green lentils to add a festive appearance to the dish. If you use both colors of lentils and add the suggested dollop of cheese, you will have the colors of the Italian flag!

Kevin’s New Year’s Lentil Soup
  • 1 lb. bag lentils, rinsed
  • 2 medium onions  chopped
  • 4 stalks celery  finely chopped (chop the leaves too, if present)
  • 5 carrots  finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 6 Tbsps. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta, prosciutto, or unsmoked ham (omit for a totally vegetarian soup)
  • 2 large cans whole Italian tomatoes chopped, juice reserved
  • 4-6 cups broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
  • 2 cups wine (I use red or Marsala, preferring the latter. If you don't have Marsala, use sherry).
  • Salt & pepper to taste (Substitute some crushed dried hot red pepper, if you want the soup to have more of a kick. And if you use canned broth go easy on the salt, unless it is unsalted).
  • 6 Tbsps. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
[Optional: If you have a ham bone, roast until browned & add it with the lentils. 
If you keep the rind from your Parmigiano (and you should— it's a great add to soups & spaghetti sauce while they cook & keeps for ages in the freezer), now is the time to pop it in as well.]
  • Sauté the onion in the oil until light golden brown. 
  • Add the celery, carrots, and garlic. Continue sautéing approx. 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the pancetta, if using, & sauté 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes & their juices. Stir & bring to a  gentle simmer. Simmer uncovered 25 minutes, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon.
  • Add the lentils & stir to incorporate. Then add 4 cups of broth, the wine or Marsala, salt, pepper of your choice, & the optional hambone and/or rind. Stir, then bring to a steady simmer.
  • Cover & cook until lentils are tender, usually 40-45 minutes. Some types of lentils can absorb a surprising quantity of liquid, so check from time to time & add broth as necessary.
  • Remove the rind & bone, if used. Taste & adjust seasonings. Then stir in 6 Tbsps. freshly grated Parmesan. 
  • Serve as is or add some cooked brown rice with freshly grated Parmesan available on the side. In lieu of more grated cheese, you can put a dollop of mascarpone or cream cheese in the center of each bowl on top of the lentils.
  • Left-over lentil soup tends to thicken, so add some broth or wine when re-heating if you want to thin it out. 

This news just in… Kevin just sent me a message that he has just made a batch using three pounds of lentils. That should yield a whole lot of prosperity!

Happy New Year, and here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2012.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the most informative information I've read. It really helps a lot. Thanks for sharing this and teaching some of your Idea's.
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