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Goin’ Japanesque!

Simple Home Recipe for Osechi: Traditional Japanese New Year’s Food – 2

Previously, we had shown how to make a few osechi dishes. The good thing about home cooking is that you can season the dishes to your liking. An important aspect of osechi food is that it preserves well during the New Year’s holidays. This is the reason for many of the dishes characteristically using a lot of sugar or vinegar.

Osechi cooking that is store-bought is particularly heavily seasoned to help with preservation and those that are lightly seasoned often have a lot of preservatives. Thus, if you make these dishes yourself, you can make a healthier version of osechi cooking. We hope you find these recipes helpful.


Kinton (Candied Chestnuts with Sweet Potatoes)

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The ingredients are sweet potatoes, fruit of gardenia and “kanroni (candied)” chestnut. You will find kanroni chestnut sold in jars at supermarkets. The fruit of gardenia is used to achieve a vivid yellow color for the sweet potatoes and you will find them sold dried. The chestnut is also colored using the gardenia. Gardenia fruit is used as you would use herbs in a stew; you prepare them for use by wrapping it in cloth.

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Slice and peel the sweet potatoes. The amount is 400g peeled. Once peeled, soak in water for a while then drain in a colander.

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Boil the sweet potatoes and gardenia fruit in a pot using plenty of water. Put over high heat, and then once the water comes to a boil, turn to a low boil for 10 minutes or so. Similar to when you are making mashed potatoes, take off heat once the potatoes are soft enough to mash. Separate the sweet potatoes and the liquid and remove the gardenia fruit.

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Mash the sweet potatoes as you would when making mashed potatoes. 

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Add 100 g sugar, 1/2 cup (100mL) of water that was used to cook the potatoes, 1/2 cup (100 mL) of syrup from the kanroni jar and heat over medium heat for about 5 minutes to let some of the liquid evaporate. In the authentic method, you would puree to make the mixture smooth using a cloth, but you can also use a hand mixer. Add about 10 pieces of kanroni chestnut and there you go.


Onishime (Vegetables Simmered in Broth)

The simmered dish uses lots of vegetables so it is healthy and it tastes better the more the ingredients absorb the flavors. If you make a large amount, you may appreciate that you have some leftovers for later.

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Pictured from the left are burdock, lotus root, taro, Kintoki carrots. Above in the bowl are dried shiitake mushrooms. To its right are snow peas. The bowl below contains balls of konnyaku  

Chop the vegetables
・8 Pieces dried shiitake mushrooms: Soak in 1.5 cups (300 mL) of lukewarm water to hydrate. The water will be reused later so it should not be discarded.
・8 Pieces taro: Wash off the dirt, steam in the skin and remove the skin once steamed.
・8 Pieces snow peas: Cut the tips and remove the tough strings that run along its sides. Put in salted boiling water and quickly boil.

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・1 burdock (about 150g ): Use a scrubbing brush, wash in water. Cut into bite-size pieces. Soak in a solution of 2 cups water and 1 Tbsp of vinegar.
・1 tuber of lotus root (about 150g): Remove the skin and cut in half vertically, then cut horizontally in slices of 1cm in width. Soak in vinegar and water solution similar to the burdock. Then place in pot of water and bring to a boil. Keep in boiling water for about 5 minutes after the water comes to a boil and take off heat.

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・1 Kintoki carrot
(Left) Slice 1cm in thickness.
(2nd from left) Cut 5 triangular incisions.
(3rd from left) Round the corners to make petal shapes.
(4th from left) The surface is cut at a diagonal angle to make it look 3-dimentional.

After cutting, boil for about 1 minute.

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In a large pot, heat 1.5 Tbsp of sesame oil, stir fry 500 g of chicken thigh cut in bite-size pieces. Then add all the cut vegetables (except for the carrot and snow peas) and stir-fry.

Use the remaining water from hydrating the mushrooms and add water to make 1.5 cups (300 mL) of liquid. Make a broth by adding 5 Tbsp each of sugar and soy sauce, 2 Tbsp of sake and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes over medium heat. Add the carrots and cook for another 15 minutes. Add 3 Tbsp of mirin (sweetened rice wine) and turn the heat up to high. Simmer while stirring occasionally until the liquid is gone.

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Top with boiled snow peas and voila. We have filled the third box of the stacked “jyubako” boxes.


Serve in Jyubako Boxes

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It may depend on the region or by family, but with traditional osechi food, it seems there are specific rules for what dishes to pack in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd boxes of the jyubako boxes. Here, we packed the dishes in our original way based on the dishes we prepared and their coloring. To be frank though, any dish being packed in the jyubako boxes bring out the festive mood of New Year’s celebration. You can pack some appetizer dishes or some family favorites in the jyubako and you can feel the New Year’s festiveness.

*The bowl in the front of the photo shows a dish called ozoni. It is a soup dish with mochi (rice cake) that is eaten with osechi cooking. The ozoni is another dish with regional variations.


Being overseas, you may have some difficulty getting certain ingredients or getting the right jyubako box to put your osechi dishes in. Remember in Japan there is a saying “Warau kado niwa fuku kitaru” which means “Fortune comes to those who smile”, this  means that the most important thing is that everyone comes together to the table for the New Year’s holidays. This is all that matters. We hope the coming year will be special for all of you.

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About the author

I have worked in a museum as a curator and I specialize is in craft products. I have grown up in the city, but now enjoy the country life. From an environment rich in nature, I will report to you on seasonal events and customs of Japan, foods and how to make them. I look forward to introducing special moments in Japan that you will not see in ordinary guidebooks.

View all articles by Kunie