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It is the start of a new year and there are a few musts to make sure you start 2012 off right. Many countries and cultures have food traditions on New Year’s Eve and Day in order to bring prosperity and predictions for the coming year.

My family tradition comes from our Spanish origins, as the clock begins to tick down to midnight we eat 12 grapes. Each grape represents a different month, to bring good tidings and predictions for the new year. So if you eat a sour grape at number 5, you can expect a rocky May or if the grape is especially sweet then expect extra good fortune. We usually start eating them one minute before midnight. The goal is to swallow them quickly so they are all consume before the last stroke of midnight.

Growing up in the South, I learned of the tradition of eating collards and black eyed peas (Hoppin’ John) on New Year’s day. It wasn’t a tradition practiced in my house but I remember going over to different friends’ homes and taking part of this Southern tradition. The collards or greens represent monetary fortune in the new year since the greens look like folded money and the black eyed peas represent luck and prosperity for the new year.After living in South Carolina, I quickly adopted this tradition.

About two years ago I perfected my recipes for greens and hoppin’ john. Happy New Year!

Southern Collard Greens
Ingredients:
4 cups water
1 pound ham hocks or smoked turkey leg
2 3/4 pounds collard greens, rinsed and trimmed
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Place the water and the ham hock in a large pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to lowest setting and simmer covered for 30 minutes.

Add the collards, vinegar and the hot pepper flakes the pot. Add salt and pepper. Simmer covered for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile saute the onions until tender. About an hour into the simmering add the onions and vegetable and cook with the greens for the remaining hour.

Before serving tear the meat off the bone into pieces. Stir the greens and serve.

Makes 4-5 servings.

Hoppin’ John with Smoked Sausage
Ingredients:
1/2 pound smoked sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup sweet orange peppers, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon spicy seasoning of your choice
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound black-eyed peas
1 tablespoon chopped green onions

Directions:

In a large pot, over medium heat, render the sausage for 5 minutes. Remove any oil that came from the rendering.

Stir in the onions, celery, peppers, salt, cayenne, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Saute for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and parsley, cook 1 minute. Stir in the chicken stock and peas.

Bring the liquid up to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until peas are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs before spooning the peas into a bowl. Garnish with green onions. Serve with cornbread muffins. Makes about 4-6 servings.

Food for Thought:
-This year I found some smoked pork hock and cooked that with the greens. The meat easily tears off the bone.
-Hoppin’ John is traditionally served over rice but I like to eat it like soup. This recipe is adapted from Emeril with more veggies and seasoning added.
-I make my own spicy seasoning but you could use Tony’s or your favorite cajun style seasoning or just cayenne pepper.
-I dropped my 12th grape and failed to eat it before midnight…not sure that bodes well for December 2012.
-I usually start cooking the greens and hoppin’ john in the morning so it is ready for lunch. Since it sits for several hours, you can go lie on the couch and nurse your new year’s eve hangover.

Here’s to good health, good food, and good times in 2012!
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