Welcome in the New Year with dishes that look after your health

Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, a day full of reflection on the past twelve months and quiet hope for the coming year. Around the globe there are many food traditions surrounding this celebration, with the promise of good fortune.

In Italy and Brazil lentils play a big part in the festivities. These legumes are thought to represent coins and the more you eat the more wealth you’ll have in 2018. Your health is your wealth and these nutritious little orbs should go part of the way to help you on the way. Lentils are great soaker uppers of flavour. Cook the puy variety in water infused with crushed garlic, onion, hard herbs like rosemary and thyme, chilli and spices.

There’s a point when the lentils are perfectly cooked - on either side of this they’ll be like bullets or soup so keep a tight eye. When they’re ready drain and toss in good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicious with grilled meats, roast chicken or as part of a cheese salad. Lucky and healthy always gets my vote.

Throughout Europe eating whole roasted fish is popular at new year. The scales represent coins, they swim in schools representing prosperity and fish always mover forward representing progress. As someone who cooks for a living, being presented with a whole fish just means work to me. I’ve also been in the company of people who haven’t really read the menu properly, who’ve been aghast at the whole fish being presented to them.

A compromise is to sandwich scaled fillets together with a filling and then serve roasted. Mushroom duxelle is a puree of fungi cooked in butter with onion and a wine reduction and finished with tarragon. It’s delicious with chicken but works with oily fish too. Fillets of fish are sandwiched with the mixture and tied together before roasting. You get all the benefit of fish without the inconvenience of bones.

You could substitute mackerel or red mullet for the seabass if you can source it. The fish is moist so doesn’t really need a sauce but I’ve included a recipe for cabbage sautéed with bacon and scallions in butter and white wine to complete the dish. Eating pork is popular around the globe – pig’s trot forward signifying progress, so this is double whammy in the good luck department.

In Greece at New Year, they smash a pomegranate at the front door, the more seeds that escape, the better, bringing luck and prosperity. Don’t waste the seeds – gather them up, give them a good wash and add to your prosecco at midnight with a squeeze of clementine juice. They also add a lovely crunch when scattered over a creamy, billowy pavlova or tossed into a spicy rice salad.

The Greeks also bake a lemon cake, with a coin inside at New Year. Whoever finds the coin will receive good luck. Make sure to tell everyone if you’re doing this – a trip to the dentist for someone unsuspecting in early 2018 mightn’t go down that well. I’ve included a recipe for a lemon cake made extra light by folding in Greek yoghurt and whisked egg white.

And finally a simple no cook tradition in many cultures is to eat round food, like doughnuts or bagels, symbolising the year coming full circle.

Whatever you do, have a wonderful new year and great 2018!