New Year's is approaching, and I could not be more excited given the tone of the last three months of the year. (As I said elsewhere, the Libra horoscope for the end of 2014 was a picture of a dead albatross.) To make sure 2015 starts in the best possible way, I cannot forsake the Italian tradition of eating lentils on New Year's Eve to ingratiate the gods of money for the following year. This tradition is still popular in Italy, and appears to have originated in Ancient Rome, where it was customary to give a little bag of lentils on New Year's Eve in the hope that they transform into money in the new year. I know it's just superstition, but I have never skipped a year and, frankly, I'm pretty terrified to see what would happen to my "finances" if I don't have lentils on December 31.
Money concerns aside, I love lentils and I take every opportunity to eat them. Actually, I will say that lentils stir in me a deep affection and gratefulness that I don't have for any other food. This love for lentils exploded on a terrible night, four years ago. I was home with my husband and my then 5-day-old baby, and we got horrible food poisoning from a Whole Foods lasagna brought over by our well-meaning family. For an entire night, Mr Bee and I shivered like two demonically possessed while taking turns vomiting, excreting, and taking care of our very hungry and loud newborn. And if you're not familiar with the needs of a 5-day-old, please know this involves nursing and pumping every two hours, diaper changing and counting, diaper-content analysis, and worrying like mad that everything is normal.
What can I say? That was really a dismal night of fear and solitude that made us reconsider our nature as human beings. Luckily the truly dictatorial symptoms subsided after 12 hours, but the fear and depression persisted. I can vividly remember sitting on the couch the next day while the baby was sleeping, talking with Mr. Bee about how terribly scary everything was, and how completely unprepared for parenthood I felt even in the face my very well-honed aptitude for catastrophizing. In order to restore some of our strength, we decided to defrost a lentil soup I had stocked in the freezer. We ate in total silence, and suddenly a miracle happened: With every bite of lentils, our bodies were being replenished with ancient, rich nutrients that gave us a noticeable jolt of energy. At the same time, our mood noticeably improved, moving from completely-forlorn-to-the-ineluctable-destiny-of-all-things to kind-of-hopeful-that-this-parenting-thing-might-just-be-alright.
So eat your lentils on December 31. They might bring you money, health, and happiness even when you've lost all hope. And what more could you wish for 2015?
Happy New Year, everybody.
NEW YEAR'S BRAISED LENTILSThis recipe contains meat, but can be easily made vegan by replacing bacon with EVOO and using vegetable rather than chicken stock.
2-3 strips of pancetta or bacon cut in thin strips (optional, but if not using substitute with 3 tbsp EVOO)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cups dry lentils (I like the French ones, but green lentils will do)
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chopped San Marzano tomatoes and sauce
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
- Heat a large pan and cook the bacon strips until they release a decent amount of fat and appear translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook at medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft.
- Add the dry lentils and stir them around the pan.
- Add the wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, for about 8 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, the stock, and the bay leaf. Cover and cook for an hour or until lentils are cooked through, adding more stock or water if necessary.
- Adjust for salt, then serve sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, EVOO, and a little bit of apple cider vinegar (3 tbsp should suffice for the entire pot, but follow your taste).
Another thing. Lentils are usually served as a side dish, but you can add more stock and turn it into a soup. And if you're overstuffed already, a tablespoon is enough to get by, monetarily, in the next year.
Need more recipes for New Year's Eve? You should really try my Smoked Salmon Butter then.