Italians eat lentils and macaroni for good luck and prosperity in the New Year. The lentils are shaped like coins and represent money. Macaroni, in its day, was an expense, so Italians believed that spending money on something special, like macaroni, and eating it on New Year’s Day, would bring money into the home (you have to spend money to make money).
This is a basic recipe, which really lets the flavor of the lentils shine through. If you like a thinner soup, add more water or stock. If you like a thicker soup, add more lentils. Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!
- 2 heads escarole, washed, dried and chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cups lentils, sorted, washed and drained
- 8 cups water, beef or vegetable stock
- Heat a Dutch oven or stock pot to medium/low heat. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 of the chopped escarole. Toss and wilt. When most of the escarole has wilted, add the rest of the olive oil to the pot. Add the rest of the escarole, toss to coat with oil and wilt. When most of the escarole has wilted, add the garlic and stir to incorporate.
- Increase the heat to medium and add the onions and carrots. Cook for three minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the garlic from burning. Add the lentils and stir to incorporate. Add water or stock and simmer for one hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
What the kids can do
A bowl full of dry lentils feels wonderful on the hands — it’s fun just to stick your hands in there and let the smooth discs run through your fingers. This is a good thing because you really should sort your lentils before cooking, removing any discolored lentils, leaves or bits of matter that may have been captured in the package — a perfect job for the kids! Kids can also have some fun chopping the escarole. Little ones can use scissors, while big kid chefs can use a knife with adult supervision.
How to spice it up
Since this is a basic soup recipe, there are all sorts of fun things you can add to the pot to spice things up a bit. Try adding spicy Italian sausage — crumbled or sliced. Red pepper flakes added to the oil at escarole time will render a mellow heat throughout the soup.
Neat things you should know
- A variety of lentils exist with colors that range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. Red, white and yellow lentils are decorticated, meaning they have their skins removed. One variety of yellow lentils, Chana, is in fact made from the kernels of chickpeas.
- Lentils are used throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean regions and the Middle East. In rare cases, the lentils are mixed with dairy cheese.
- When lentils are prepared, they are first inspected for damaged lentils, stones and other foreign matter. Then they are rinsed until the water runs through and comes out clear. Some prefer to soak the lentils for an extended time and discard the water. This removes substances that may cause indigestion. The lentils are then boiled in water or broth.
- Apart from a high level of proteins, lentils also contain dietary fiber, vitamin B1 and minerals. Red (or pink) lentils contain a lower concentration of fiber than green lentils (11 percent rather than 31 percent).
- Gnocchi, which are small potato dumplings, are also said to be a good luck food which brings prosperity; some diners place a coin under the last piece of gnocchi on their plate as a kind of charm to bring good luck and wealth in the future. This belief can be found in pockets throughout Italy.
- Escarole is a variety of endive, in the Chicory family, as are Radicchio and Frisée.