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


Breakfast, January 15, 2013

Having rice porridge with azuki beans for breakfast is an old custom for koshogatsu, or “little New Year.”

Hundreds of years ago, koshogatsu marked the end of the New Year’s celebration. Eating azukigayu, holding community rituals for the year, and putting away home kadomatsu displays (pine branches often accompanied by bamboo and red plum blossoms) took place on koshogatsu.  The azukigayu custom, originally from China, was mentioned in 10th century essays such as Tosa Nikki (by Kino Tsurayuki) and Makura no Soshi (by Seisho Nagon). I have no memory of eating this porridge on January 15th or hearing about it – probably the custom had already been forgotten where I grew up. Old customs tend to continue on a smaller scale in certain regions, and eating azuki porridge on January 15th is said to be still observed in northern Japan. Azuki, with its excellent nutrition, was valued in the old days, and azuki porridge was eaten with hopes of a plentiful harvest and good health.

Several days ago I saw a photo of azukigayu online, and I decided to give it a try. Although the amount of azuki in the porridge is small, it will be a small step toward my goal of finishing up the beans we have on hand before they get too old. Azuki normally cooks relatively fast (30-40 minutes) and does not need advance soaking. When beans get old, however, they can easily take a few hours, which makes cooking them seem pointless.

For one of the dishes to accompany azukigayu, I chose kabocha pumpkin. Its starch makes any kabocha dish satisfying. My typical kabocha no nimono seemed like a good match for azukigayu in terms of flavor. Moreover, azuki and kabocha are both foods that are eaten on the winter solstice, and I totally missed observing the custom in December. Eating kabocha now seemed like a good way to catch up.

Now we need something crunchy. Something rich would be nice, too. So the easy solution is a gomaae of crispy vegetables. Sugar peas and lotus root are the perfect candidates. Partly to add color, I threw in some carrot rounds.

The porridge is soupy, but one more dish that has some liquid would make the meal easier to eat. Nibitashi simmered leafy greens in light broth is the answer. Russian red kale is first sauteed and then cooked with atsuage deep-fried tofu in broth.

Tom's comment on this breakfast: “I feel like I'm eating at a temple.”
Because of the food or the lacquerware? I didn't ask.
Let's just say I took it as a compliment.

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