Lucky Legumes on New Year's Day

How to cook up some luck

Whether it's black-eyed peas in Virginia or red beans in Louisiana, Southerners have long celebrated the beginning of every New Year with "lucky" legumes. Tradition says black-eyed peas or beans represent the coins that will jangle in your pocket—and if you add greens, you'll have plenty of folding bills as well.

For luck digesting whatever dried legumes you choose for your New Year's meal, soak all except split peas or favas and lentils. Most dried beans triple in volume when soaked and cooked. For 1 cup of dried legumes, you get 3 cups cooked beans or peas.

To shorten soaking times, wash dried legumes (picking out any dirt or stones). Then bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let beans soak in hot water for 1 hour. Drain water and cook as recipe directs.

Salting is tricky. If you add salt too soon, legumes will be tough—and require a longer cooking time. "I like to salt beans halfway through their cooking, after the skins have softened, but when there is enough liquid left in the pot to dissolve the salt," writes Aliza Green in Beans, More than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from Around the World.

What else to eat on New Year's

It's a Southern tradition to eat black-eyed peas with cornbread and collard greens on New Year's Day for good luck.

Why? The yellow hue of cornbread symbolizes "gold," and the collard greens represent a different sort of "green." 

Many cultures also dine on fish; it symbolizes "swimming forward" into the New Year.

Ring-shaped cake, which is eaten either for dessert or breakfast, symbolizes the year coming full circle. What a sweet way to say goodbye to a year! You could indulge on New Year's Eve, and start your diet the next day!