Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.
While black-eyed peas get most of the attention as lucky food for the New Year, Italians prefer coin-shaped lentils as harbingers of good fortune. And while they might not portend an auspicious year ahead, Italian-style lentils taste better than black-eyed peas.
To make sure the lentils keep that lucky coin shape, you need to cook a non decorticated variety. Corticate refers to anything with a rind or husk, and the awkward double negative non decorticated means that the lentil’s outer layer hasn’t been stripped off. But it’s never on the label, and that makes finding lentils that don’t break down during cooking a little tricky.
Fortunately, we grow a lot of lentils around here. French or du Puy green lentils grown in eastern Washington’s Palouse country or brown Pardinos from the Willamette Valley both come to market with hulls intact. Some specialty markets carrie brown lentils from Italy, too. Avoid red lentils and the pale green ones from the bulk bins; they’ll soften and get mushy.
Greens like cabbage are often eaten for New Year’s since some claim that the green color represents money. But not all currency is green, and Eastern Europeans eat sauerkraut with pork for luck, the long threads of the fermented cabbage supposedly representing long life.
The real good fortune derived from cabbage, as well as its Brassica family cousins like collard greens and kale, comes from a wide range of phytonutrients. Besides lots of dietary fiber and high levels of vitamin C, A, E, K, folate, calcium, iron, potassium, and phosphorus, only the Brassicas offer glucosinolates. These sulphur-rich compounds help prevent oxidative stress, induce detoxification enzymes, stimulate the immune system, and decrease the risk of cancer. Now that’s good luck.
Lucky Lentils and Cabbage
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ head green cabbage, chopped
1 Fresno or jalapeno chile, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher-style sea salt
1 cup nondecorticated lentils*
3 cups water or broth
*French green lentils or Pardino brown lentils work best
Use a pot large enough to hold 3-4 quarts. Cook the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in the olive oil and salt for about 5 minutes (add the chile, too, if you like it hot). Stir in the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Taste and add salt if needed.