In many countries it's tradition to eat good-luck foods in the first few days of the new year or sometimes in the last few seconds of the old one. People in Spain stuff their mouths with grapes as the clock counts down the last twelve seconds. In the United States, Southerners eat collards and black-eyed peas because they symbolize money. My Hungarian heritage is not without its new year's food superstitions. To celebrate, we eat pork and lentil soup. Supposedly because pigs root forward, they are a forward-looking bunch of animals. Chickens are not since they scratch backward. We eat lentil soup because the little lentils resemble coins. So the custom of eating good-luck foods is all to gain prosperity for the new year. Believe me I'd eat all these foods all the time if it meant prosperity for the entire year.
This past New Year's Day my family enjoyed the requisite pork and lentil soup. Every year my mom makes the pork dinner while I make the lentil soup. I probably only eat lentil soup this one time during the year, but for that reason I love it even more. I make the same and very simple recipe each time. For those of us who have begun the new year with a resolution to change our diets, this soup can easily fit into the new regimen as it's packed with protein and fiber. It's not only healthy and hearty, but it's also full of earthy flavor. Start the new year off right, with a big bowl of lucky lentil soup.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
10 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 pound lentils, picked through and rinsed
3 fresh thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
1 bay leaf
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Warm oil in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic; cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery; cook until almost browned, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, stock, lentils, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Check seasoning. Using a blender, purée a third of the soup. Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnished with thyme sprigs. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.