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Traditional Southern New Year's Dinner, Vegetarian Style


January 1st starts a new year – a new beginning in some ways. The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions is thought to go back to 153 BC when Janus, a mythical Roman King, was placed at the head of the calendar (hence, the month of January). Janus, the God of Beginnings, could look back on past events and forward to the future. Although New Year’s Day is not the same in every culture, it is usually a time for celebration and for customs to ensure good luck in the coming year.

More recently, New Year’s Resolutions Week was founded on the premise that a single resolution can positively and profoundly create lasting change in your life and help make the world a better place. Tomorrow, many Americans will resolve to make changes for the better in their lives – whether it be better planning or time management to relieve stress, to give more to charity, or to improve diet or exercise habits for health.

Neal Barnard, MD, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has created a program designed for people who wish to start the new year off by pledging to live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. The 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Plan will offer a daily meal plan, a restaurant guide, nutrition webcasts, celebrity tips from vegetarians such as Alicia Silverstone and Marilu Henner, an online support forum and daily email messages with tips and recipes.

The American Dietetic Association has issued a statement that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. A vegetarian diet is associated with low cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of type 2 diabetes. In addition, those who follow a vegetarian diet also tend to have a lower body mass index and a lower risk of cancer.

Many cultures also believe in eating traditional meals on New Year’s Day as a symbol of luck or fortune. In the American South, it is traditional to eat black-eyed peas (for luck), collard greens (for money), and cornbread (for community). However, much of the southern foods are made with high fat ingredients, such as pork fat, and lots of sodium. Here is a more healthful, yet still traditional meal that can start off your 21-day Vegan Challenge – or just introduce your family and friends to a more healthful lifestyle.

By the way, the traditional midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve is derived from masked balls – the masks symbolize evil spirits from the old year and the kiss is the purification into the new year.

Hoppin’ John
½ pound dry Blackeye peas
4 cups water
¼ pound vegetarian Italian “sausage” (Gimme Lean by LIghtLife is a delicious choice)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 packet Sazon Goya seasoning
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
Hot pepper sauce to taste
3 cups water
1 cup long-grain rice (can use brown rice for more fiber)

Sort and wash beans. In a 6 to 8 quart pot, soak beans in 4 cups water. Do not drain. Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook sausage with olive oil until heated through. Add onion, pepper, and celery; cook until tender. Add mixture to beans in pot. Stir in remaining ingredients except for the rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender. Add more hot water if necessary. Beans should have about 2 cups of liquid when they are tender. Stir in rice and simmer covered 20 to 25 minutes or until rice is tender. Serves 4 to 6.

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Recipe adapted from Goya Foods Inc.

Heart Smart Collard Greens
1 pound fresh collard greens, chopped
14 ounces vegetable broth
1 ½ cups water
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar

Bring broth, water, olive oil, salt, and pepper to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add the greens and sugar; bring to a boil again. Cover pot and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes or until desired tenderness.

Recipe adapted from Nature’s Greens, a product of Walter P Rawl & Sons.

Vegan Cornbread
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup sifted flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar, (Sugar in the Raw brand)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 to 1 1/4 cup plain low-fat soy milk or rice milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the canola oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet and heat the skillet in the oven until the oil is hot (about 10 minutes). Remove from the oven and swirl around so that the oil coats the skillet bottom and sides; set aside. Or while the oil is heating, you can work really fast to mix the corn bread before the oil starts to smoke or gets too hot.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large measuring cup or bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the applesauce and milk (if using rice milk, start with 1 cup). Use a fine-mesh strainer to sift the dry ingredients into the wet mix. Carefully add the heated oil from the skillet; the mixture will bubble a bit. Mix well.

Pour the warm batter into the hot, oiled skillet and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cut into wedges and serve warm. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from Levita Mondie-Sapp, printed in the Washington Post 10/10/2007