There are dozens of completely different New Year’s Days in the world. As many calendars, too: lunar, fiscal, academic, religious, civil, agrarian, Gregorian.
I think we can agree, though, that it’s supposed to feel fresh, exciting and opportune no matter when the new year arrives. But as my kids are finally going back to school for the new academic year, I notice that there’s a peculiar worry-cum-excitement, regret-with-relief that I haven’t known before, nor have they. I’m sure we’ll all be fine — I’ll follow good practices, good nutrition, good science and good sense — but I’m open to ushering in some good luck too.
Certain New Year’s Day meals are meant to bring good fortune. The Italians have their lentils, American Southerners have Hoppin’ John and the Chinese have whole fish and egg-wrapper dumplings. Anything that looks like coins or currency or gold, anything that swells up, expands, exceeds need, signals bounty and feeds a large family seems to be the rationale behind these symbols of prosperity — whether financial or physical or spiritual.
What luck already then, that the fresh black-eyed peas are showing up now in the market. What splendid beauties they all are, the many varieties of fresh shell beans, both in their pods and out. Pinks and pale greens and creamy whites, some of them striped, some spotted and some others even marbled. All of them shiny, plump and squeaky. These freshies cook in minutes, unlike their chalky, drab and dried counterparts, which in the winter need to be soaked overnight and simmered for hours.
A big batch of beans and greens for prosperity and health for the coming 365 days.
The fresh black-eyed pea is a wonder of markings all its own, with that deep purple-black O-ring in the same spot on every tiny little pale green pea. Marvelous! And the black-eyed pea has a flavor just as distinctive. It’s an earthy creaminess that does exceedingly well with the sharp bites of black pepper and fresh mint and the added sweet juiciness of baby white Hokkaido turnips, in this brothy braise. A bundle of these perfect little turnips — so thin-skinned they needn’t be peeled — can often be picked up from the same stand at the market as the peas, because they grow together, in the same season. But even if baby white turnips aren’t there, you can substitute a big bunch of green Swiss chard and leave the pale juicy ribs intact, and if you don’t see black-eyed peas and instead you find pink-eyes, Jacob’s cattle, scarlet runners, tongues of fire, flageolets or even just fresh red kidneys, get them, shell them and cook them the same way. As the saying goes, What grows together goes together.
I’ve asked you to do a lot of laborious kitchen chores in these pages over the years — cleaning things that are hard and hostile to clean, like artichokes, and carefully dicing things that are dangerous to dice, like raw chiles, and layering things that are tender and painstaking to layer, like gelatins. I’ve asked you to wait a whole day for things to brine or freeze or cure. And I’ve had you shovel a path through the snow to the grill in the backyard to cook a pork shoulder. I’ve asked you to do in your domesticated home kitchens what should more reasonably be done only in our hooded, vented commercial ones. But here’s a long chore that I believe you will welcome. Sit down on the front porch, on the back porch, in the yard, around the kitchen table, on the fire escape, or even park yourself on an overturned milk crate out on the sidewalk and watch the city go by. And spend a good, salutary shucking hour admiring the fact that you and your kids are still here to greet a whole new year.
As it’s one in which many of us will be forced to start the hustle for a fresh, hopefully safe job, adding, if we’re lucky, new paychecks to the list of hopeful-yet-dicey prospects that confront us this September — new backpacks, new social protocols, new variants! Yikes! — let’s go for it, a big batch of beans and greens for prosperity and health for the coming 365 days. Whether superstitious safeguarding or science-based nutrition — I’ll take some of both, with a good chunk of sweet butter stirred in at the end — it’s a pot of good luck and a good dinner all in one.