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Launch New Year with karmic cuisine such as dumplings

Wed., Dec. 29, 2010

People around the world welcome the new year with a mix of tradition and superstition.

In China, dumplings shaped like gold ingots embody hope for a prosperous new year.

Some folks in southern Italy don their lucky red underwear and throw old possessions out the window, making plenty of room for happiness in the coming year.

In Thailand, many rise early on Jan. 1, hoping to gain favor for the year by offering food to Buddhist monks making their rounds.

“In Mexico, we eat 12 grapes when they ring the bell at midnight on New Year’s Eve,” says Adriana Flores, originally from Mexico City, who owns Spokane’s Hacienda Las Flores Mexican restaurant with her husband, Jorge Hernandez.

“We eat one grape each second and make a wish for each month of the new year.”

Get lucky

Probably the best-known American tradition involves black-eyed peas.

Some say the peas bring luck because they look like coins. Others say the tradition dates back to the Civil War when General Sherman and his troops destroyed all food crops except fields of black-eyed peas, which were regarded as cattle food.

But one thing is for sure: “If you don’t eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve, you’re not going to have good luck,” says Bob Hemphill, owner of Chicken ’n’ More in Spokane. “That’s one of our traditions.”

Hemphill, who was born and raised in Fairfield, Texas, recalls feasting on ham, dirty rice and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve as a child.

Each cook has his or her own recipe, but Hemphill likes to add chopped okra and jalapeno peppers to spice things up.

“I can remember from when I was a child, turnip greens were for money,” says Jerrelene Williamson, Spokane black historian and author of “African Americans in Spokane.”

For luck and money in the new year, you have to have both black-eyed peas and some kind of greens, she says. Kale, mustard, dandelion or collard greens are cooked with pork, such as ham hocks or pigs’ feet, for flavor.

Cornbread and sweet potato pie round out the meal.

New Year’s breakfast

“The first sun of the new year is very meaningful,” says Kevin Lee, originally from Pusan, South Korea, who works as a sushi chef at in Spokane.

In his native country, he explains, breakfast on New Year’s Day holds special significance. The main course consists of rice cake soup garnished with egg whites, scallions and vegetables.

“The rice cake is white, and white means pure, healthy and living long with good luck,” Lee says.

In certain provinces, the soup also contains pot stickers. The meat-and-vegetable-filled dumplings look like wrapped presents, symbolically filled with luck for the next year.

In addition to the soup, a typical New Year’s breakfast includes 20 to 30 side dishes, ranging from vegetables to chicken, beef and seafood.

Lee explains that the meal is a little bit like Thanksgiving. By preparing an elaborate selection of dishes, Koreans are celebrating all of the resources of the earth and giving thanks for the energy the food provides.

Before the family eats, a portion of the dishes is offered in a ceremony to honor the ancestors in the family.

Family time

“Mediterranean food is all about family,” says Justin La Torre, who owns Opa Pizza Greek and Italian cuisine with his mother, Janet Buyher.

“Traditionally, we make dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) for family gatherings or celebrations like New Year’s,” he says.

Making dolmades is labor intensive, requiring about six hours to make enough to feed 20 people.

“It’s a great bonding experience – there’s a lot of conversation, music,” says La Torre. “People are eating and drinking.”

Grandma, mom and even little children join in preparing the feast.

Dessert might feature vasilopita, a sweet cake named after St. Basil.

“You bake the cake with a coin inside, and whoever gets the piece with the coin has luck for the whole year,” explains La Torre.

Singing in the New Year

In Ethiopia, young girls dress up and go door-to door singing a special song to ring in the new year, which falls on Sept. 11 (Sept. 12 in leap years) on the Coptic calendar. They are rewarded with a coin or a special kind of bread.

The origin of this ritual descends from Queen Sheba being welcomed home with gifts of jewels after visiting King Solomon in Jerusalem.

The traditional coffee ceremony is another important element of the festivities. The methodical process of washing the coffee beans, roasting them over a charcoal fire, grinding the beans and brewing the coffee takes about 40 minutes.

“It’s a way of socializing,” explains Almaz Ainuu, owner of Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant in the Flour Mill.

For the New Year’s coffee ceremony, fresh grass is placed around the stove, and while the coffee is being prepared, there is plenty of time to visit and gossip about the year gone by.

The coffee is served in tiny china cups, and each visitor drinks at least three cups in order to receive the blessing that is believed to be bestowed by the third cup.

Black-Eyed Peas

Courtesy of Jerrelene Williamson, who says: “You have to have black-eyed peas for luck and the rest of the year will go smooth.”

1 pound dried black-eyed peas

6 ham hocks

1 onion, cut in small pieces

1-2 teaspoons Morton’s seasoning salt

1-2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

Soak dried black-eyed peas in water for about 1 hour. Drain.

Place peas, ham hocks and onion in slow cooker. Cover with water. Start cooker on high until beans are very hot and begin to boil. Add 1 teaspoon each of Morton’s seasoning salt, onion powder and garlic powder.

Turn heat down to medium or low and simmer beans for 6-8 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired by adding more onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Yield: About 5 servings

Southern Greens with Bacon

Courtesy of Bob Hemphill, Chicken ’n’ More, who says a mixture of turnip and mustard greens results in the best texture and flavor; you can use either one alone or substitute collard greens.

2 pounds fresh greens (turnip, mustard or collard), thoroughly washed

6 slices cooked bacon

1 medium onion, chopped

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper (optional)

Pinch of black pepper

1 teaspoon salt or more, to taste

Clean greens by soaking in a bowl or sink filled with cold water, allowing the grit to sink to the bottom. Drain water and repeat several times until water is clear.

Remove leaves from stems and discard stems and ribs. Roughly chop the greens and place in a large stock pot. Add remaining ingredients and add enough water to cover everything.

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer the greens until tender, about an hour. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve with cider vinegar or red hot sauce (Hemphill likes Frank’s RedHot brand) for each diner to add to his or her dish.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Lega Tibs (Sautéed Lamb)

Courtesy of Almaz Ainuu, Queen of Sheba restaurant. In Ethiopia, lamb is a celebratory food, and is often prepared to share with family and friends at special occasions such as New Year’s Day. This dish is traditionally eaten with an Ethiopian flatbread called injera, but tortillas or pita bread can be substituted.

1 frenched rack of lamb, about 2 pounds

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 (½-inch) piece ginger root

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 red onion, cut in pieces

1-2 Anaheim peppers, sliced (or substitute jalapenos for a spicier dish)

1 stem rosemary (2-3 inches long)

1 bunch fresh basil

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Salt and pepper

Cut the lamb into boneless strips by cutting along the bones, or ask the butcher to do this for you. Cook the lamb strips in olive oil in large sauté pan or on an electric griddle for 5 to 7 minutes or until brown and cooked through.

While the meat is cooking, puree the ginger and garlic together in a blender or grind into a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

Add onion, peppers, rosemary stem and basil to the lamb. Cook 5 minutes more or until vegetables are tender.

Add garlic-ginger puree, cook 1 minute and stir to blend. Add cardamom and cook 1 minute more, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Courtesy of Justin La Torre, Opa Pizza Greek and Italian restaurant.

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

3 cups uncooked white rice

1 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 2 ounces)

1 tablespoon snipped fresh mint or oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 of a 16-ounce jar grape leaves (20 leaves), drained and well rinsed

1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Cook onion and garlic in 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat until onion is clear. Remove from heat.

Stir in rice, golden raisins, feta cheese, mint or oregano, and black pepper. Set aside.

Place one grape leaf on a clean work surface, shiny side down and stem pointing toward you. Place 1 level tablespoon of filling about 1/2 inch from the bottom edge of the leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, overlapping slightly. Starting at the bottom edge, roll up the leaf and place, seam side down, in a 2-quart slow cooker.

Repeat with remaining leaves and filling. Mix remaining 1 cup olive oil and 1/3 cup lemon juice together and pour mixture over stuffed grape leaves in the slow cooker.

Add water to cover grape leaves by 1 inch. Cover the slow cooker and cook for 4 to 5 hours or until rice is tender. Serve with pita bread and Greek salad.

Yield: 20 grape leaves, about 3 servings as a main course or 7 to 10 as an appetizer.

Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance writer. She can be reached at kharrington67@

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