Beans and Greens: Food Traditions for the New Year

Many cultures have customs and traditions centered on food. To celebrate health and well-being for the new year, beans and greens are symbolic menu items full of good taste and nutrition .
Beans and Greens: Food Traditions for the New Year - News


Dried black-eyed peas.

On the first of the year, I invited friends to come for a lunch of black-eyed peas and greens served with cornbread made in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. We dove into steamy bowls of slowly-simmered beans with onions and spicy turkey sausage, topped with tousled bright ribbons of sautéed collard greens.

I acquired the recipe many years ago, from a neighbor who shared her family's culinary tradition of preparing and eating this meal to ensure good fortune for the year ahead. The pairing of black-eyed peas and greens is said to symbolize coins and "folding money," or paper currency.

Popular in Southern foodways, black-eyed peas are actually a bean, small cream-colored with a black "eye." They are also known as field peas, cowpeas and crowder peas, and originated in West Africa. My foodie curiosity got the better of me, and I discovered there are many other celebratory foods associated with luck and prosperity in the new year. Lentils resemble coins too, given their round, disk-shaped appearance. They're an economical ingredient for a hearty lentil soup, often eaten with a regional specialty Italian sausage.

Greens serve as a symbol of good fortune almost worldwide. Collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens are packed with healthful nutrients like calcium and potassium, making greens a great choice for your table year round. Cabbage may be simmered on the stove top or fermented into sauerkraut. For readers who savor pork and sauerkraut, the pig is considered good fortune because it roots to dig its food, a sign of forward progress and prosperity.

And let's not forget fruit. As the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve in Spain, it's customary to eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the outgoing year. In Greece, the juicy seeds of red pomegranates are eaten on first day of the new year, a symbol of renewal and rebirth, according to ancient mythology.

To start your new year, here's a quick and easy recipe for a tasty greens side dish from USDA What's Cookin' website. For extra flavor and punch, add a dash of your favorite hot sauce to the finished recipe.

Delicious Greens

Makes 4 servings


3 1/2 cups mustard or collard greens (about 1/2 pound, rinsed, stems removed and coarsely shredded)

  • 2 cups cabbage (shredded)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons garlic (minced)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar


  1. Rinse greens, remove stems, and tear in small pieces.
  2. In a large saucepan, boil 3 quarts of water.
  3. Add mustard greens, return to a boil and cook 3 minutes. Add cabbage and cook 1 more minute. Drain in colander.
  4. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and sauté garlic and onion until light brown, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add greens and vinegar and cook briefly, about 3 minutes. Serve hot.