Growing up in the Carolinas, I always knew what would be on the dinner table come New Year’s Day. Without fail, my Grandma would make collard greens, Hoppin’ John (field peas and rice), cornbread, and meat (usually ham). With a handful of other superstitions, this traditional Southern meal was eaten for luck and good fortune in the New Year. In fact, eating greens on New Year’s Day is a common tradition around the world with cabbage, kale and chard leading the bunch. For health, wealth or taste alone, starting the year with greens and peas is a delicious way to good health and fortune in the New Year.
At a young age, I learned that the greens symbolized money or economic fortune, and the peas were for luck. I’ve since grown to appreciate the wealth of nutrients in these foods. Collard greens are chock full of fiber, calcium, folate and vitamin A, which gives them a cancer fighting quality. Like other dark leafy greens, collard greens are also a great source of lutein which supports eye health.
In my opinion, the best flavor comes from young collard greens that you clean, cut and cook yourself. If the thought of preparing a big bunch of fresh collard greens is overwhelming, try the pre-washed and cut ones or experiment with turnip greens. Turnip greens are much easier to manage, but still nutritious and full of flavor.
Similar to black-eyed peas, field peas are a great source of fiber, magnesium and potassium, which are all great for keeping blood pressure levels in check. And, I don’t know about you, but whenever I eat dark leafy greens, beans and peas, I just feel healthier. It’s easy to find field peas or black-eyed peas in the dried beans or frozen vegetables aisle at the supermarket. Either option works.
Over the years, I’ve learned to create my own New Year’s Day meals with greens and peas minus the traditional salt pork and ham hocks used for seasoning. I cook the peas low and slow with onion, fresh thyme and chicken broth; this creates an amazing depth of flavor. I use a drizzle of olive oil to tenderize the greens, and red pepper flakes for a little bit of spicy heat. My great- grandmother pickled hot peppers that we would enjoy on greens all winter long. Though I don’t have her recipe, I mimic that tangy flavor at the table with a healthy dash of apple cider vinegar.
My recipes are always evolving and I use a variety of sources for inspiration. For instance, I recently found a recipe for a black-eyed pea stew that conveniently puts greens and peas all together in one pot. Now that was a stroke of New Year’s good luck!