All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Sekihan / steamed sweet rice with azuki beans (rice cooker version)

Celebration rice, sekihan, also tastes good on ordinary days. While sekihan is traditionally steamed over boiling water, it can be made in a rice cooker, too.


Kobujime / sashimi sandwiched in kelp

A specialty of my hometown. Fresh fish takes on an amber hue and the aromatic taste of kombu kelp.


Tom cooks 3: Tofu no chige (jjigae stew with tofu) – Round 2

Tom doesn't mind cooking things he likes to eat, so he decided to try jjigae Korean stew once again.

Since he cooked it not long ago, he stayed calm (at least at the beginning) as he reviewed the recipe and gradually collected ingredients from the fridge and put cazuelas (clay pots) on the stove.

Burokkorii to karifurawaa no sarada, tamanegi doresshingu / steamed broccoli and cauliflower salad with onion dressing

A quick salad with a common combination of broccoli and cauliflower. Onion dressing adds a nice final touch.

Tamanegi doresshingu, goma-aji / onion dressing, sesame flavor

Finely chopped onion adds subtle sweetness.


Baanya kauda / bagna cauda

Bagna cauda sauce tastes great with any vegetable and oven-fresh bread. Here is one example.

Bagna cauda sauce

Aromatic dipping sauce for seasonal vegetables and bread. Our version is made with cream for a mild flavor.


Tom cooks 2: Tofu no chige (jjigae stew with tofu)

I found Tom in the kitchen, staring at a recipe printout, looking overwhelmed.

He was trying to digest all the unfamiliar information. The recipe says it's "easy." That means there is no extensive fine chopping or thin slicing involved, and the process should be quite straightforward. Yet he was facing a multitude of ingredients he had never touched – eringi mushrooms, miso, gochujang, nira and niboshi – as well as the need to multitask: sauteing basic ingredients, heating up sake and water in the microwave, cutting up vegetables and tofu, softening miso and gochujan paste, etc.


Sakekasu sake lees

An aromatic byproduct of sake production.
Despite the unattractive naming, which literally means unwanted sake leftovers, sakekasu is rich in nutrition: protein (14.9 g/100 g sakekasu), Vitamin B1 (0.03 mg), Vitamin B2 (0.26 mg), Vitamin B6 (0.94 mg) and folic acid (170 μg). It also contains "resistant protein," a protein with a fiber-like structure that is not easily dissolved by digestive enzymes and captures fat in the digestive tract, thereby lowering LDL cholesterol while improving bowel movements.


Fettuccine with smoked salmon and arugula

A tasty quick pasta for lunch, this aglio olio e peperoncino gets a boost from smoked salmon. Fresh arugula adds a pleasant, nutty flavor.


Daizu moyashi no namuru / soybean sprout namul salad

A great little addition to Korean, Japanese, Chinese and many other Asian dishes.

Whole recipe:
167 calories;; 10.0 g protein; 11.4 g fat; 6.7g carbohydrate; 0.4 g net carbs; 788 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 6.3 g fiber
1/4 of recipe:
42 calories; 2.6 g protein; 2.9 g fat; 1.7g carbohydrate; 0.1 g net carbs; 197 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 1.6g fiber

Reduced-sodium version whole recipe:
152 calories; 10.1 g protein; 9. 4g fat; 7.3 g carbohydrate; 1.0 g net carbs; 179 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 6.3 g fiber
Reduced-sodium version 1/4 of recipe:
38 calories; 2.5 g protein; 2.4 g fat; 1.8 g carbohydrate; 0.2 g net carbs; 45 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 1.6 g fiber


Natto fermented soybeans

Natto is soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. Its characteristic smell and stickiness can be a challenge even to some Japanese people, including me. At least I have a natto dish I like -- tempura. Natto's smell and stickiness are controlled by deep-frying, leaving a pleasant sweet aroma and melting texture. Typically, it is eaten with hot steamed rice, often accompanied with a raw egg, a small amount of soy sauce and karashi mustard. Tom likes eating natto this way, and this has impressed a bunch of Japanese people, my parents included.


Yudebuta no yuzu remon-zuke / slow-cooked pork marinated in yuzu citron and lemon

A great appetizer. Yuzu citron's aroma and flavor add a pleasant mellow touch to this simple pork dish. Thinly sliced lemon gives the dish a sharp punch.


Mochi rice cakes

Mochi is made from mochigome sweet rice. Sweet rice is soaked in water, steamed, and pounded until smooth. These days it is usually made by machine. Some families have a mochi maker or a bread machine that is also capable of making mochi.

Scenes of people gathering to pound mochi or watch the process are mostly of the past, but you still occasionally see the large wooden mortar and mallet used in mochi-making at community events and promotions at shopping arcades and other businesses.

Nanbanzuke / deep-fried fish in sweetened vinegar marinade

This nanbanzuke has lots of vinegar in the marinade and keeps well in the fridge for several days. One of my standard additions to osechi and meal for a group of people. Sliced/julienned ginger and lemon help control the oily aftertaste.


Datemaki / rolled seafood omelet

A slightly sweet New Year's dish representing intellectual enhancement and cultural appreciation. The rolled shape symbolizes a scroll.

Ebi no umani / prawns in light soy sauce flavored broth

A typical ingredient for celebrations, the prawns are cooked in a form that suggests seniors with bent backs, implying a wish for longevity with this auspicious New Year's dish. The red color is also said to ward off evil spirits.


Osechi New Year's Day meal, 2012

As usual, I only made the dishes I like. There is no kazunoko herring roe or ikura salmon roe on our table, for example. And yet again, I gave up on making kobumaki rolled kelp with fish (salted salmon for us) inside. Another dish I didn't have the energy to make was kinton mashed satsumaimo sweet potato with sweetened kuri chestnuts for financial luck .... that have been a mistake.

Breakfast, January 1, 2012

Before the New Year's Day osechi brunch with friends, we had a small breakfast for just the two of us.

Last food of the year -- toshikoshi soba / year-end buckwheat noodles, December 31, 2011

The custom of eating soba noodles for good luck on New Year's Eve is said to have started sometime in the Edo period (1603-1868). Soba noodles snap easily, so you can cut off all the bad luck of the past year and start anew from New Year's Day – at least this is what I was told when I was growing up. It's just a superstition, but I feel uneasy if I fail to eat soba noodles before the year changes, thinking that all my bad luck, if I've had any, will continue in the coming year. Some people say that if you don't finish your soba noodles before the year ends, you will have bad luck financially in the new year. However, according to multiple sources, wishes for longevity -- based on the noodle's skinny, long shape -- is the most common belief. No matter what you hear, it is the food people eat to have a happy new year.