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Happy New Year, and good food too!

Deviled eggs (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

It’s that time of year again when one year turns into another. The passing of one year and the birth of a new one is cause for both revelry and reflection.

It’s the time each year that we consider the past and plan ahead. Almost every culture shares a time of looking back and looking forward, promising ourselves to do better and wishing everyone good fortune.

It’s time to party! We gather with good friends, good food and champagne to ring in the New year, taking out the old and welcoming the new. Food is an essential part of the festivities. What will you serve?

Eating healthy and getting fit are on most Americans’ New Year’s resolution list. So why not start the year with healthy appetizers?

Small bites of finger food make ideal First Night party fare. These can be as simple as fresh sliced fruit, grapes, orange slices, bowls of nuts and dried fruit, crisp vegetables with dip, and cookies. Spiced meats along with bowls of olives and pickles are another easy choice –just don’t forget the toothpicks!

Hummus and crackers (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

New Year’s food has its own lore and tradition. Many foods are thought to bring good fortune for the upcoming year. In Spain and Latin American countries, for example, it’s customary to have 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. Pomegranates, whose many seeds symbolize prosperity, are another lucky fruit. Figs are a symbol of fertility, abundance and sweetness. In ancient Rome, they were considered sacred and offered as presents for the New Year celebration.

Greens are another traditional New Year’s dish, because they symbolize money. In the American south, collards are common. The Danes like stewed kale with sugar and cinnamon, while for Germans sauerkraut is the green of choice.

Legumes like peas, beans and lentils are also traditional symbols of prosperity because they swell when cooked, and the small round shapes resemble coins. Bean dips with chips, crackers or flatbreads are a great addition to any party.

Other lucky foods include fish (China, Japan, Italy and Denmark) and pork (Cuba, Portugal and Austria). Does your family tradition include any special or lucky foods?

Try something new in the New Year. Are there new recipes, new dishes, vegetables you haven’t tried, fruits you are unfamiliar with? Here are some healthy New Year recipes to get you started.

Ham Roll-Ups (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

North Country black-eyed peas and greens

Southern style black-eyed peas or hopping john requires ham hocks and long cooking. Here’s a quick dish using the peas and greens. Collard greens are traditional, but this can also be made with kale, chard or spinach.

Ingredients:

2 large or 3 small onions

2 Tablespoons cooking oil

4 cups washed, torn greens

1/2 cup broth or water

1 small can diced tomatoes (1 – 1 1/2 cups)

2 cups diced cooked ham

3/4 cup black eyed peas

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon wine vinegar

Directions:

Prepare greens. Discard damaged or yellow parts of leaves. Cut away the tough ends from each leaf. Wash thoroughly, then chop coarsely. Set aside. (Or use frozen chopped greens).

Prepare peas. If using dry peas, soak overnight; drain; add water, bring to a boil and cook about 30 minutes, or until soft. Alternately, use a can of black eyed peas and just add at the end.

Peel and dice the onions. In large skillet over medium heat, cook onions in oil until translucent and beginning to turn yellow, 5 – 7 minutes. Add greens, and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring in the oil. Add broth, cover, and continue cooking about 20 minutes for collards or kale, or ten minutes for chard. Add one small can diced tomatoes, with juice, and cook another ten minutes. Stir in cooked or canned peas, paprika, and vinegar; heat through. Serve over rice or other grain.

Crostini with Greens and Beans

Serve greens as a pesto, served on top of little Italian toasts called crostini. Keep them small, just one or two bites, so they can be handled easily and require only a cocktail napkin.

Ingredients:

1 baguette

1 cup canned or frozen beans (black-eyed peas, lentils, edamame, garbanzo)

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-1/2 cups packed baby greens such as arugula or spinach

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other sharp cheese

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 baguette, sliced

Directions:

To make crostini:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the baguette into 1/2 inch slices. Place parchment paper over a baking sheet and place baguette slices on top. Bake 3 to 5 minutes until brown on the bottom; flip and bake another 3 -5 minutes until crisp. Remove from oven. Rub with garlic clove and drizzle with olive oil.

To make greens and beans pesto:

While bread slices are baking, pulse beans in food processor to chop coarsely. Transfer to a large bowl.

Grate garlic using a microplane or crush in a garlic press.

Add the oil, half of the greens (3/4 cup), crushed garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice salt and pepper to food processor and puree until smooth. Add the cheese and pulse until combined. Finely chop remaining greens and fold gently into the mixture along with the chopped beans. Spread on baguette toasts. Return to hot oven for 1 – 2 minutes, and serve.

Note: If you don’t want to bother with the baguette toasts, serve pesto on pita wedges or crackers.

Ham Roll-Ups

Ingredients:

2 (8 ounce) packages Neufchatel cream cheese, softened

3 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

3 Tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 bag mesclun greens mix, washed

1 1/2 pounds thick sliced cooked deli ham (also try turkey ham, turkey or roast beef)

Directions:

In a bowl, beat the cream cheese with mustard and horseradish until thoroughly blended. Stir in the greens.

Place ham slices on board or plate. Spread with a couple tablespoons of the cheese mixture and roll up. Arrange on plate. Decorate with olives, pickles, parsley sprigs and / or slices of bell pepper, if desired.

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.