Some think good luck happens upon us by chance, like a spicy shishito pepper. Others believe we make our own luck; that, in the words of Roman philosopher Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” We think it’s a bit of both…but if there’s a chance one could eat good luck for dinner, count us in.
That’s why next week, we’re joining revelers from New Orleans to Napoli to Rio in chowing down on some lucky legumes. On our menu: Lucky Orecchiette and Chicken Cassoulet, each strewn with black-eyes peas, and Brazilian Lentil Soup.
Black-eyed peas have long been associated with good fortune. Sephardic Jews eat black-eyed peas for good luck on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a tradition often traced back thousands of years to the Babylonian Talmud. Gil Marks writes in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food that the Talmud actually directs Jews to eat fenugreek — a relative of the pea whose Aramaic name rubia is similar to sheh-yirbu (“may our merit increase”) — to help ensure a good year. Sephardim confused the term rubia with lubia, the Arabic name for black-eyed peas, and a new ritual was born.
So, the American South owes its association between black-eyed peas and good fortune to Sephardic Jews? Not exactly…Black-eyed peas first made their way to America on slave ships, before Jews settled in the colonies. The eye-like beans are also said to represent abundance for the many tiny beans contained in one serving, and because they were an important part of how Southerners sustained themselves after the Civil War.
They’re often served with cooked greens, symbolizing dollar bills, like the mustard greens in our Lucky Orecchiette. While collard greens are the standard in the South, the Danish celebrate with cinnamon-sugar stewed kale, and the Germans favor cabbage.
Lentils’ link to luck is a bit more straightforward: the small, round pulse resembles coins. Italians eat green lentils and sausage (pork has its own positive associations) in the first minutes of the New Year; Germans also pair the auspicious legume with sausage, typically in the form of soup. Brazilians begin the year with lentil and rice, or lentil soup. Our take on the Brazilian soup is loaded red lentils and veggies —including kale — and served with crisp tempeh empanadas on the side.
Superstitions aside, we’ll be feeling lucky to warm up — and soak up some of that bubbly — in 2016 with our lentils and black-eyed peas.