Nishime is a must when it comes to welcoming the new year! In fact, when it comes to tradition-bound festive holidays in Japan, nothing beats New Year’s, also known as Osechi – a time of family gatherings, gossip, and lots of good food and sake. As such, making nishime is always a part of my Osechi tradition.
Osechi, a multi-dish banquet served in layered boxes known as jubako, begins in the morning on January 1 and can last for many hours.
Osechi is made in the last days of the passing year in order to give housewives a much-needed break. It largely comprises preserved foods unlikely to spoil quickly that are served cold. And while it is possible nowadays to food shop at department stores from January second on, the concept of taking a break from your usual routine during the New Year’s holidays remain embedded into the Japanese culture.
Nishime, also called umani, is a very popular customary dish. This dish owes its name to the verb nishimeru, meaning to boil down. In this case it refers to a variety of vegetables simmered in a rich, sweetened, soy-based sauce.
Nishime is served cold, as many New Year’s dishes are. Depending on the region, the name and style or presentation can differ. In one version, the vegetables are chopped into small pieces and eaten from a bowl with a spoon.
Within each region, how sweet or salty the vegetables are depends on ofukuro-no-aji (the flavor of mother’s home cooking). In the old days, when sugar was a precious commodity, special-occasion fare such as nishime tended to be extremely sweet. These days it is perfectly fine to adjust it to your own preference.
Other typical Osechi recipes besides nishime include kuri kinton (sweetened chestnuts and mashed sweet potato), kazunoko (herring roe), and tazukuri/tatsukuri (small, boiled and sweetened sardines) just to name a few.
What’s on your menu for Japanese New Year’s celebrations?
Pondering what I will cook and enjoy with my daughter is a highlight of my December holiday planning. Not to mention the fun of shopping, cooking and spending time together, and getting special treats to enjoy as well!
Wishing everyone Akemashite Omedetoo Gozaimasu (あけましておめでとうございます)!
- 3-1/4 cups water, plus a little more if needed
- 3 by 3 inch (8-cm by 8-cm) piece of konbu kelp, wiped with a damp cloth and lightly slashed to replace the flavor
- 1-1 ½ oz. (30-45g) katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
- 2-1/2 tbsp regular-strength soy sauce, or to taste
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tbsp sake
- 2 tbsp mirin (sweet sake)
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- 7 oz (200g) lotus root (renkon), peeled and cut into thick half-moon slices*
- 3-1/2 oz (100g) gobo (burdock root), peeled and cut diagonally into thin slices*
- 3 oz (85g) carrots, peeled and cut into thick half-moon slices
- 4 dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed (reconstitute dried ones by soaking in warm water with a dash of sugar for 30 minutes)
- 1 block (about 7 oz. or 200g) konnyaku (devil’s-tongue jelly), parboiled, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced thickly
- 1-3/4 oz (50g) snow peas, trimmed and sliced in half diagonally
- 5-1/4 oz (150g) sato-imo (taro), peeled, halved, rubbed with salt to get rid of sliminess, and washed
- Heat the 3 ¼ cups water with the kelp in a deep saucepan. Just before it boils, remove the kelp and pour in the dried bonito flakes. Boil, stirring, for about three minutes, then strain into a clean deep saucepan. Add the soy sauce, sugar, sake, mirin, and salt.
- Bring this sauce to a low boil and add the drained lotus root and gobo, and the carrots. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 12 minutes or until the vegetables can be easily pierced with a toothpick. Take out and set aside to cool. Add the shiitake mushrooms to the sauce, cook for 12 minutes, then remove. Next cook the konnyaku for 10 minutes; take out. If the sauce has reduced too much, add a little more water. Simmer the snow peas for just 2 minutes, and remove. Finally, cook the drained sato-imo for about 12 minutes (or to your preference), turning once; test softness with a toothpick.
- To serve, place the vegetables in separate decorative mounds on a serving plate or bowl. Garnish with snow peas and serve at room temperature as a side dish.