I started 2013 with two things I had always wanted to do. First, I went to a beginner detox hot yoga class at my local studio and sweated buckets. The other, I prepared a traditional Japanese New Year osechi jubako. In previous years, I enjoyed ozoni on the first day of the year but it just did not feel as festive. Last Saturday I found myself at the Japanese grocery store and mindlessly started putting random osechi ryori ingredients into my basket. Meticulous planning was not in the cards but the meal just organically came together.
Great thing about these traditional dishes is that they are meant to be made ahead. Cooking is not to be done on New Year Day so people would not inauspiciously begin the year with burns or cuts. I’m totally cool with the notion so I could leisurely prepare each dish in the last days of 2012.
I started with dessert, naturally. That would be a batch of sweetened red kidney beans (大正金時) from Hokkaido and a batch of kuromame (黒豆) in soy sauce brown sugar syrup (recipe here). I grew up eating beans in all kinds of dessert so the concept is not at all foreign. It was only after I moved to Canada that I found out my North American friends do not feel the same. I cooked the kuromame in the slow cooker until the centre turned creamy. The cooking liquid was reduced on the stove until syrupy. That little hint of savoury from soy sauce was so addictive.
I filled one tray of my jubako with sliced kamaboko (蒲鉾), datemaki (伊達巻), and rice with flaked salmon and peas. The kamaboko is just sliced fish cake in festive red and white. I am so incredibly relieved that my datemaki omelette roll turned out okay! As much as I love eating the sweetened omelette, I dread making it. Must be good luck that it was perfectly cooked! Speaking of good luck, I also have a long history of over or under cooking rice. Not this time! Who knows, perhaps this is the start of many pots of perfectly cooked rice?
The other tray was filled with more goodies. There was kazunoko (数の子), marinated salted herring roes (recipe here). The salty crunchy roes tasted great with rice. I made two different nimono, broth braised vegetable. There was of course my beloved kabocha squash in all its sweet starchy chestnut-like taste (recipe here). There was also a lighter version made with daikon and carrots. They soaked up the braising liquid like none other. Rounding out my selection was a small dish of kohaku-namasu (紅白なます), quick pickle of daikon and carrot with fragrant yuzu juice (recipe here).
With a few significant omission, my new year feast may not be the most traditional. But it feels like home and I got to share it with Little Brother. And that’s what counts the most. Happy New Year and I hope 2013 will bring plenty of good eats to you all!