I tried various recipes this year, only some of which I think I will repeat in New Years to come. I'm going to use a 3-star scale to remind me next time. The cost scale, naturally, reflects the cost of procuring ingredients/equipment in Japan.
(1) Kuromame (sweet black beans)
Symbolizes diligence (mame in Japanese)
Time/Effort: ** Cost: ** Flavour: ***
This is the same recipe as I used two years back (when last in Japan for New Year). I think I can improve it by using the pressure cooker to bring the beans to the soft point, so am making a note to myself now to that affect. I've still not managed to get any rusty nails, but all the Osechi cookbooks call for them, so they must have some affect. You could cook the beans in a cast iron pot, but I'm here to tell you that your beans will be lovely even if you don't.(2) Tazukuri with pine nuts and cashews (Dried young anchovies with nuts in caramelized soy sauce)
Symbolizes an abundant harvest
Time/Effort: * Cost: *** Flavour: *
I was a little disappointed with this. The soy caramel totally overpowered the delicate flavour of the nuts. Given the cost of the nuts, I don't think I will repeat this one. Cheap sesame seeds are definitely the way to go. I think I may also not have let the caramel reduce enough; it was quite sticky. I'll keep looking for a tazukuri recipe, though. It's one of the easier Osechi dishes to make.
30 g gomame (dried young anchovies)
30 g pine nuts
40 g cashew nuts
2 1/3 tbsp soy sauce [Saffron: I would reduce this to 1-1 1/2 tbsp; it is very salty, otherwise]
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cooking sake
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp oil
1 Spread the gomame on a heatproof dish and heat in the microwave until crisp, about 1-2 min. Remove any powder or debris. Toast the pine nuts and cashews separately in a dry frying pan, swirling constantly to ensure they do not burn.
2 Add the soy sauce, sugar, cooking sake, mirin and oil to a frying pan and heat over a medium-strong flame. When the liquid starts to bubble turn the heat down to low and reduce to a thick caramel.
3 Add the toasted nuts and mix thoroughly.
4 Remove to a wide plate, separating any clumps as you go. Allow to cool.
(3) Matcha-iri kurikinton (Sweet potato with chestnuts and matcha green tea)
Time/Effort: *** Cost: *** Flavour: ***
The Young Man and I were very happy with the kurikinton we had 2 years ago. But I thought this recipe might better it yet. And it did. This is definitely my new go-to kurikinton (or kuriClinton, as the YM calls it, referring to Mrs and not Mr C; he's too young to know the latter!). The only catch is that matcha and jarred chestnuts are expensive, even in Japan. I reckon the ingredient cost of this one dish was about 1,600 yen (around US$16). There were no kuchinashi (gardenia pods, Japan's saffron!) in this recipe, but I think I will cook the sweet potatoes with a pod or two next time. The jarred chestnuts used in this recipe are skinned and coloured yellow with gardenia, also; little gold nuggets! To cut down on the sweetness, I used less sugar and didn't add the glucose syrup. I've given the original recipe below.
500 g sweet potato (peeled weight)
1/2 tsp yaki-myoban (burnt alum) or 1 tsp baking powder
100 g sugar
150 g sugar
1/2 cup syrup reserved from jar of sweetened chestnuts
2 tbsp mizuame (glucose syrup)
15-20 sweetened chestnuts from a jar, halved or quartered
1 tbsp matcha green tea powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp boiling water
1 Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 2 cm-thick rounds. Soak in water for around 10 min. Change water and mix in yaki-myoban or baking powder. Leave to soak overnight to remove tackiness. Drain, rinse and place in a large pot. Pour in the sugar and just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil on a medium flame.
2 Boil until soft, about 12-15 min, then drain. Mash and allow to cool. Use a wooden spoon to push sweet potatoes through a sieve.
3 Return sweet potatoes to the pot and add the sugar, salt and chestnut syrup. Heat over a medium flame, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thickened. Once you can draw a line with the wooden spoon and see the bottom of the pot, add the mizuame (glucose syrup). Cook a further 1-2 min until glossy. Remove one third of mixture to a separate bowl.
4 Parboil the halved or quartered chestnuts in a small pot, then drain and stir into the sweet potatoes in the pot.
5 In a small bowl, mix the matcha, sugar and boiling water to a paste. Stir gently into the the remaining third of the sweet potatoes. Stir this mixture into the chestnut sweet potatoes, creating a marbled effect.
Adapted from recipes in Kihon no osechi to shogatsu no omotenashi (Basic Osechi and dishes for New Year's entertaining), Gakken Hit Mook, 2008 and 2010 editions