First Day Food

The first day of the new year. It's important. It's our first step--our proverbial toe in the water--and yet we focus more on the big bash of the last day of the current year than the first day on the upcoming new chapter in our lives.

To encourage us all, I'm posting a few links to ideas for food to enjoy on the first day of the new year, but first I'd like to share with you the new year's day tradition of my Greek heritage, Vasilopita. (Pronounced, vah-sill-O-pita. Not a long "o" as in Oprah. It's a short "o" sound as in shop or dock.)

Having spent the first few years of my life in Greece, I am reminded of the one Greek food tradition of the first day of the year, the cutting of theVasilopita, so named for St. Basil (Vasili). There are many variations on the story of the origin of Vasilopita, with even more versions for how to make it. Sometimes it's a cake, sometimes a sweet bread, sometimes it's a spice cake, sometimes there are nuts and dried fruit in the batter. In my family it's a large round cake flavoured with orange juice and grated orange peel. Once it's cooled and ready to serve, the cake is dusted with powdered sugar. If you google images for Vasilopita, you'll get a huge return on your search.

On the first day of the new year, this Greek tradition requires that the most senior member of the family cut the cake, declaring the first piece for God, the second for the house and then for each family member and any guests. It is believed that the person who discovers the coin in their piece of Vasilopita will be blessed with good luck all year. I remember the anticipation and excitement of discovering who had the coin. It was always a wonderful time! Traditions are important in lifting an ordinary day to a higher level and in helping us to pause and reflect, spending time with loved ones in the process of a simple act that's been repeated every year for the entire history of my family and in that of all Greek families in Greece and around the world.

In Spain the idea is to consume 12 grapes (one for each month of the new year) just as the clock strikes midnight and we enter the new year.

My Swedish friend serves up rice pudding with a whole almond in one of the dishes. The person who consumes the almond will have good luck in the new year; possibly will marry or be blessed with a baby.

Here in the South, we typically consume collards and black-eyed peas, while others prepare Hopping John for the first meal of the day. We're all stacking the cards for a financially abundant year.

In all of these traditions, the idea is to begin the new year with the best possible odds for success and good health. For a list of these food traditions, you may wish to read these articles from and serious eats.

The good folks in the Southern Living test kitchen have a very easy method for cooking collards. It's a short video.

Electrolux has a food website called Live. Love. Lux. with ideas for a new year's day brunch buffet for all budgets. Southern Living offers an assortment of ideas including one for Hopping John Noodle Bowl. Now that is creativity, fusing the traditional with the influence of the Vietnamese Pho. Epicurious has a list of Menus for feeding friends and family on the upcoming first day.

Personally, other than the Vasilopita, I'm going to go a little nuts and serve my Greek-Style Stew of Black Eyed Peas with a couple of Collard & Cream Cheese Dumplings in each serving.

Collard and Cream Cheese Dumplings
My recipe is vegetarian all the way.  For a meat-lover's version, you may want to try Paula Deen's recipe, which uses ham hocks. Be sure to incorporate some of the meat in your filling.   If you have a favorite way of preparing collards, stick with that recipe and substitute it here.  To fold the dumplings, I recommend watching this video tutorial, or you can fold into whatever shape suits you.  I don't think anyone will be standing by to rate your folding technique.

2 cups cooked collards, cooled completely and chopped finely
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature (so that it is soft enough to mix)
12 dashes of hot sauce (I prefer Texas Pete)
40 wonton wrappers
small bowl of water
vegetable oil for frying

Combine the collards, hot sauce and cream cheese, adding more or less hot sauce to suit your taste. Place about 1 teaspoon of the filling onto the center of a wrapper, moisten two sides and fold over into a triangle, pinching sides together to seal in the filling.  Remember, you can fold into a more traditional dumpling shape by watching thiseasy video tutorial.  Heat oil and fry dumplings about 3-4 minutes. Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.  Allow to cool a bit before serving.

Vegetarian Collards (for filling)
One bunch of  collards
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper, adjusted to suit your taste
water or vegetable stock

Heat a heavy pan on high, pour all olive oil, stir in onions and garlic.  Turn heat to medium-low and continue to cook until onions are wilted.  In the meantime, wash collard leaves well.  Gather a few leaves, roll into a large cigar-shape and cut into 1/2" ribbons.  Add to the pot, stir to combine everything, season and pour in the water or vegetable stock, which should cover the collards by about one inch.  Bring to a rolling boil, cover and reduce to a medium boil.  Collards should be tender and ready to eat at around 30 to 45 minutes.