All the dishes were made to contain less sodium by simply reducing the amount of seasonings, replacing seasonings or changing preparation methods. Some dishes were a bit disappointing in terms of needing more saltiness or tasting overly sweet; some turned out saltier than expected, showing there was more room to cut back. I did, however, make all my standard osechi dishes that carry wishes of good health -- kuromame black soybeans, tataki gobo burdock root and ebi no umani prawns. Tom has regained his strength and is in amazingly good shape, thanks to his active routine prior to cardiac collapse. We hope his health continues to improve this year.
Here is what we had to start our year of the horse.
- Ozoni / New Year's Day soup with mochi rice cakes, gobo burdock root, carrot, konnyaku yam cake, kamaboko fishcake, yakidofu broiled tofu and grilled lingcod
- Kuromame no fukumeni / slightly sweet soy sauce-flavored black soybeans: mame has a double meaning – beans and health
- Kohaku namasu / daikon radish and carrot in yuzu citrus vinegar marinade: red (carrot) and white (daikon) is a celebratory color combination
- Tataki gobo / simmered burdock root in sesame soy sauce vinegar dressing: the long, strong root implies stability and strength
- Ebi no umani / prawns in light soy sauce-flavored broth: bent prawns imply longevity (living until your back bends)
- Kohaku kamaboko musubi-giri / red (pink) & white fishcake cut in a knot shape: the knot represents promises and ties between people, while white and red is for celebrations
- Datemaki / seafood omelet: the rolled form represents a scroll, suggesting intellectual and cultural enhancement
- Kuri kinton / mashed satsumaimo sweet potato with sweetened kuri chestnuts: colored with dried gardenia fruit for a bright yellow to represent gold and prosperity
- Warabi to ganmodoki no nimono / bracken and deep-fried tofu patties simmered in broth: serving preserved sansai [mountain vegetables] harvested in spring is an osechi custom passed down from my parents
- Umeninjin no nimono, shoga-aji / plum-blossom cut carrot simmered in light ginger-flavored broth: plum blossoms symbolize early spring; a color of celebration
- Yabane kinusaya / snow peas in arrow-shaft feather form: the arrow shaft wards off evil spirits
- Gindara to hotate no saikyozuke / grilled Saikyo-miso marinated black cod and sea scallops: a standard addition to our osechi
- Surenkon / lotus root marinated in sweetened vinegar: see-through holes for a good perspective
- Kikuka kabu / chrysanthemum-cut Japanese turnips in sweetened vinegar
- Kaki no oiruzuke / oysters marinated in sesame oil: a new addition this year
- Omiki / sacred sake: more typically called otoso or toso (often infused with herbs)
Aside from reduced-sodium experiments, and partly because I make many osechi dishes only once a year, each dish somehow tastes different every year. Needless to say, the quality of ingredients, care and concentration during preparation really make a difference in the final result. I became distracted when reheating kuromame black soybeans at the end of the year; the next thing I noticed was the vigorously boiling pot. As I immediately suspected, the liquid level had fallen below the beans. This resulted in the surface of exposed beans becoming wrinkled, which is considered unsightly for this particular dish. A big error with such a simple dish! Darn it. On the bright side, my datemaki seafood omelet is improving every year. Compared to last year, I increased the volume of scallops and nagaimo Chinese yam, and replaced more soy sauce with shiokoji salted rice malt, resulting in a much more airy and flavorful omelet.
Osechi is full of auspicious wishes, and it is fun to prepare and eat while thinking about the prospect of good luck. Superstitious? Perhaps. The bent-back form of prawns, which traditionally symbolizes longevity, might be taken as a sign of malnutrition in modern days. Eating beans (mame) because of having the same sound as the word for health may be totally unrealistic. Thinking about these gaps is also interesting. One thing I am certain is that these are stories passed down for generations, and I hope they will be told in the future, too.