I have been thinking a lot about end of the year culinary rituals and traditions while writing this blog posting. I keep pondering why when I first experienced Osechi as a young bride (literally only married for 2 weeks) in Tokyo all those years ago, it so captivated me to this day? In a way, it was a culinary bridge to getting to know my new Japanese family through the endless hours of preparing Osechi with my new mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. I love Osechi as a our special year-end ritual and annual tradition. I love to celebrate it as a seasonal festive Japanese event.
A New Year’s Salad: Kohaku Namasu Recipe
My osechi of today is stream-lined and simplified, but no less significant to my daughter and me, and still filled with osechi classics that we love. I bring out the special over-sized ozoni soup bowls, and jubako that I have, and we will pick out new and special chopsticks to use during our celebration. I have been saving some from our last trip to Japan for just this occasion.
I have decided we will do our end of the year shopping on December 29th. What will we find or not? That, of course, is the big question. I know food shipments from Japan have been delayed a lot due to COVID. So, although we will have a big shopping list for December 31st-January 3rd meals, we will make adjustments if needed, and go early and follow best COVID practices. I am pondering which nabemono to enjoy as well over the holidays as it is fun to cook at the table. So many choices!
On December 31st, I will prepare Tokyo-style Toshikoshi Soba. She adores this Hokkaido-style Ozoni with salmon, so I think we will enjoy this one on January 1st. Of course, fresh mochi will be enjoyed in many different guises, as well as lots of green tea, including our beloved matcha, and every year I add in something different or new for her to try. I love salads, and this is one of my favorites for the New Year.
For more than a decade, many Japanese have bought Osechi in department stores. Time has passed and things have changed a lot. Recently Osechi from Japanese restaurants and Sushi shops have also become popular. Even Chinese restaurants and French restaurants prepare Osechi to be ordered in advance. Theirs are not like a traditional Japanese Osechi, but people find them tasty and different. Most likely the younger generation who live independently and who do not visit their parents during Oshogatsu will not bother to eat Osechi. Which is a pity in my opinion. Making Osechi isn’t particularly difficult, just takes some planning and time.
Namasu: Vinegared Foods
Namasu is the old term for any type of vinegared food, or Japanese salad. Some are made only with vegetables and others include fish. Kohaku (meaning red and white–typically associated colors of happiness and celebration in Japan) Namasu is a traditional standard for New Year’s (Osechi) celebrations; it combines daikon and carrots. There are really red carrots that sell around the Oshogatsu season. It is really red, not orange like ordinary carrots. These red ones are strong, so you do not need to put in a lot.
The red and white color combination is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. When we see red and white, we recognize it automatically as something auspicious. Weddings, inauguration ceremonies, the first day of education in schools, or the beginning of a joint venture, town festivals etc., are just some of the many events that red and white are used in celebration. Envelopes with red and white strings to celebrate somebody, too, is often used.
Kohaku Namasu salad is so easy to make and of course, can be enjoyed year-round if desired.
Kohaku Namasu Salad
- 1-1/2 cups daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1/3 cup carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 tsp salt
To make the dressing:
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar, or to taste
- 1 tsp white sugar, or to taste
- salt to taste
- Dashes of soy sauce and mirin (sweet sake), optional
- toasted white sesame seeds to taste
- slivers of fragrant yuzu and or lemon peel
Combine daikon radish and carrot and knead lightly with salt. Let drain in a colander for 15 minutes. Rinse in water and squeeze out excess water.
Combine with dressing and taste for seasoning. If you prefer a sweeter version, cut down on the vinegar and increase the sugar. When ready to serve, drain off most of the dressing. It can be garnished with slivers of fragrant yuzu and or lemon peel, toasted white sesame seeds and served in hollowed out yuzu or lemon halves. This salad actually tastes better after ripening in the refrigerator (in a closed container) for a day or two.
The carrot can be replaced with peeled fresh persimmon strips and or dried apricot strips as a variation.
You can also use yuzu juice (or lemon juice) with vinegar, which gives it a slightly different and refreshing flavor as another variation.
In Japan, there is Hoshigaki dried persimmon, so you can use dried persimmon strips, too. However dried persimmon is sweet, so cut down on the sugar when using.
Happy New Year! あけましておめでとうございます。
Snap a pic and hashtag it #thanksforthemeal — I would love to see a photo of your Kohaku Namasu salad on Instagram and or Facebook, or leave a note in the comments section (see below) and let me know!