New Year’s traditions are fraught with superstition. Grappling with the end of an era and beginning anew can be daunting, so it’s no surprise there are countless beliefs associated with easing the transition. If only there was a way to ensure good fortune for the next twelve months, surely that would provide a bit of comfort. Everyone has their own unique approach especially when it comes to guaranteeing good luck, though at the end of the day, it often comes back to the dinner table.
Black-eyed peas are famously linked with good luck, particularly in the southern states, sometimes causing a run on the humble staple in times of scarcity (otherwise known as supply chain disruptions in our modern day.) Native to West Africa, the dish began life as an all-purpose celebratory food without specific meaning, eaten for any joyous occasion. The peas could be seen as a charm to ward off the Evil Eye, and because they were numerous, growing in size when they cooked, they could represent growing fortunes or families.
Enslaved West Africans brought these traditions with them to the south, melding cultures to find New Year’s Day the best time for such an auspicious food. Their popularity spread just like the prolific field pea itself, spilling over into all households; good food is a universal language, after all. Some add greens into the mix to symbolize paper money, and the addition of cornbread is like gilding the bowl with gold leaf, in addition to simply being delicious. This is often known as Hoppin’ John, though the origin of the name is highly debated.
Considering such a wealth of historic flavor, I didn’t want to mess this up. I’ve made black-eyed peas before, but I never fully understood the significance. For an impoverished people that could count beans as currency, the tenacity, strength, and optimism it would take to proceed into another 365 days in good spirits is unimaginable. I have a hard enough time feeling positive about the future on a good day, and I’m aware of just how incredibly fortunate I am already.
In keeping with the spirit of the dish, I’m hoping that it will help increase my wealth this year, because I’m entering it in the Big Mountain Foods Recipe Contest! You can find out more about this dynamic meatless brand on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Taking the place of a customary ham hock or turkey wing, Lion’s Mane Mushroom Crumble adds an extra layer of umami along with a considerable protein punch. Though unconventional, I think it’s natural for the dish to continue to evolve as further cultural fusion occurs. Even before crafty cooks had access to a global palate of flavors, no two bowls of black-eyed peas would ever taste the same. Everyone has their own take on the concept, and of course, everyone’s own rendition is indisputably the best.
I need all the luck I can get heading into 2022, so I doubled up on auspicious offerings by putting cornbread right into the bowl. Rather than a fluffy square of golden corn, baked separately, I made mine as buttery dumplings that simmer right in the broth. It’s quicker, easier, and adds a satisfying heft and delightful chew, almost like fluffy cornmeal gnocchi.
No matter how you celebrate the coming New Year, I hope it’s full of pennies, dollars, and gold, literally and figuratively.
There’s no accounting for what provides comfort. Some things are nearly universal, such as spending time with the people you love, or burrowing deep under a heavy blanket when it’s cold out. Food has always factored in for me, of course, but some surprising things came to the fore at the height of the pandemic. Shut off from the world, distraction was the best way to cope, and that meant losing myself in the world of anime and donghua. There’s no such thing as a mild obsession, which describes my sudden and complete immersion in these words just as well.
In one of my favorites, Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师), there’s a passing mention of lotus root soup. Only once does it actually grace the screen, but that was enough to capture my imagination. To better inhabit this world, to more fully experience the drama, I needed to make this soup.
As a time-honored Chinese preparation, lotus root soup itself has been a source of comfort for centuries. Simple and spare, with a clean, clear broth that sings with ginger, dried jujubes infuse a touch of sweetness to balance out the flavors with grace. The lotus root becomes tender yet remains crisp even after cooking for an hour. The flavor of this tuber is quite mild, which makes the alluring texture its greatest asset to the stew. Traditionally pork is use to add richness and protein, but in my version, wheat gluten is a natural substitute.
On that note, being the complete geek that I am, I’d like to think that my recipe is something that Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji would be able to share. Though Wei Wuxian always preferred meat and spicy foods, lotus root soup was a favorite of his, and Lan Wangji always forbade the killing of animals within his sect’s territory. Secretly, I wonder if he was a vegetarian at heart.
Even if you’re not familiar with the story, this is definitely an effortless source of edible comfort that everyone can enjoy.
After 31 years on this earth, I have come to find that all my life, my entire idea of what chili should be is entirely wrong. Not flawed, not slightly askew, like a garbled translation leaning too heavily on artificial intelligence, but terminally, entirely wrong.
True Texans would laugh my chili straight out of the saloon. Defined primarily by what it omits, Texas-style chili would NEVER employ beans of any sort, NO vegetables (what is this, a salad?!) which excludes tomatoes as well. Not even a dab of tomato paste would make the cut.
Rather, this is a celebration of meat. Seasoned with the entire contents of a reasonably stocked spice rack, chilies in many forms are what tint this stew a fiery red. The ferocious, flavorful burn is not for the meek.
I’m not about to mess with Texas, but in this modern era, “meat” is no longer synonymous with beef. That’s why I’m thrilled to dive right into this time-honored tradition with a plant-based version that’s every bit as hearty, bold, and amazingly hot.
No cowboy in their right mind would ever turn down such a feast. Keeping things simple allows for greater flexibility in garnishes, whether you want to dress it up or down, or eat it plain. Pick and mix to your own tastes, but some of my favorite toppings include:
- Fresh or Pickled Jalapenos
- Vegan Sour Cream
- Vegan Shredded Cheese
- Fresh Cilantro
- Diced Avocado
- Meatless Bacon Bits
- Thinly Sliced Scallions
- Hot Sauce
- Lime Wedges
- Diced Red Onion
- Sliced Radishes
- Corn Kernels
- Toasted Pepitas
When it comes to creating a sound foundation, there’s no end to your options there, too. No need to keep in in a bowl when you could ladle it over:
- Rice, Quinoa, or Spaghetti
- Baked Potatoes, Sweet or Plain
- Corn Chips
- Meatless Hot Dogs
- Meatless Burgers
- French Fries
- Tater Tots
Hungry yet? I sure hope so, because chili is best made in big batches. This one makes enough for a small family, but is prime material for freezer fodder, since I’m only a single lady myself. Portion out single servings in secure zip top bags and store flat in the freezer until ready to eat. All you need to do is drop it into a saucepan, add a splash of water, and cook over medium-low heat for an instant homemade meal.
Even if you’re an ardent vegetable lover like me, make some room on your dinner table for an exceptionally, unapologetically meaty entree every now and then. This one will satisfy any savory cravings.
Walking into Philip Gelb‘s underground restaurant, you never know quite what to expect for dinner, no matter how carefully you study the menu in advance. It’s been many months now since I had the luxury of that fully immersive, in-person experience, but there are some moments indelibly imprinted in my memory.
It was a taste unlike any other I had encountered before, being shamefully uneducated on the entire Caribbean culinary canon in general. Leading with heady aromatics, simultaneously fiery hot yet creamy and soothing, it’s both familiar and entirely foreign. Tender vegetables enveloped in a voluptuous broth, almost thick enough to qualify as custard, smoldered quietly in deep earthen bowls. Dissecting the fundamental building blocks, the spices didn’t appear particularly exotic, nothing terribly esoteric; the combination of seemingly discordant elements, mixed with a generous pinch of technique, is where the true magic happens.
Run down stew is a staple of Jamaican cuisine, typically made with seafood, but no two cooks make it quite the same way. Coconut milk is the only constant, utterly irreplaceable component. Long simmered over low heat, the rich broth reduces to concentrate the flavor, thicken to a velvety consistency, and take on a subtly toasted, nutty aroma. Flavor like that doesn’t come out of a can; time and patience are really the most important ingredients here.
The genesis of the name is a bit murky, some attributing it to the way it’s cooked down and some of the more delicate vegetables fall apart. Personally, I’d like to believe that it comes from the ability to revive anyone who’s feeling a bit run down themselves. Forget about watery chicken soup; this stuff can truly soothe the soul.
Dramatically heaving the bag out of the kitchen with exaggerated effort, punctuating every few steps with a few groans for good measure, my dad could have won awards for that performance. “What did you put in here! Are you throwing away a pile of bricks?”
Heavy with the remains of a recently eviscerated watermelon, our garbage bin was easily overweight. Summertime trash days came with a built-in upper body workout. Though I knew he was only putting on a show, that sentiment remained along with an unintended, yet indelible sense of guilt. There was no municipal composting in my hometown nor enough knowledge on my part to make my own mulch at the tender age of 16. All I knew was that I loved watermelon, and that passion came with a lot of excess baggage in the form of rinds.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was throwing away perfectly good food, despite conventional wisdom that says otherwise. Turns out, I’m not the first to have that thought. Thrifty homemakers have been turning those scraps into pickles for centuries, particularly in the south, with a penchant for a syrupy sweet brine. One or two batches of these preserves was enough for me, but the refuse continued to amass.
Further experimentation led to greater rewards. Once cleaned of the hard outer skin and diced, the watermelon rind itself becomes almost translucent while cooking, taking on a neutral flavor much like that of simmered zucchini or any other summer squash. Perfect for bulking up a stew when the budget is lean or adding a bit more fiber that picky eaters can easily enjoy, my secret ingredient for everything savory from June to September is formerly fodder for the wastebasket.
Even now, with effortless curbside compost pickup, this “rubbish” is too good to toss. Further trials have turned out delicious results, including a delightfully crisp, crunchy watermelon rind slaw and deeply satisfying, piping-hot breaded watermelon rind fries. An easy entry into the world of watermelon rind cookery is curry, for anyone who remains skeptical. The bold spices paint any vegetable in a rich palate of warm flavors, ideal for mixing and matching any produce you might have left into the bin. Curry is my go-to answer for using up odds and ends that otherwise don’t go together, but with a bit more deliberate planning, you can craft a truly superlative stew.
Serve over rice or with chewy flatbread like naan or roti to complete the meal. You could also lean more heavily on the southern roots of these produce picks and dip a wedge of soft, sweet cornbread into the brew. No matter what, just don’t toss those rinds. They still have a lot of culinary potential left to savor.