Winter’s Fall-Inspired Kyushoku
By Alexis Agliano Sanborn
It’s that time of year where one becomes nostalgic and thinks about all that has passed. What a year 2016 has been! How quickly time has flown, and, indeed, what lies next on the horizon? Although December is a time of festivity and gaiety, it is also a time for putting affairs in order to begin the next year on the best foot. At the table, we also begin to transition from the flavors of autumn to those of winter. With this in mind, I decided to create an East-Meets-West Kyushoku (school lunch), which features dishes of the traditional Japanese New Year’s food (osechi ryori).
First on the menu is matsukazeyaki. It’s – as I like to call it – an ‘auspicious chicken loaf.’ The word matsukazeyaki means “pine wind grill.” There’s nothing particularly auspicious about grilling, but the Japanese view the pine tree (and its seasonal sisters – bamboo and plum) as an auspicious symbol – especially during the New Year. Pine is known for its long life and evergreen spirit – glad tidings, indeed. This poetic association to this simple and comforting dish gives a festive flair to the menu, and a connection with traditional culture for young children to appreciate. Consider adding konbu or shredded carrot to the paste for added color, flavor and nutrition. You can find the recipe here.
Next is what I like to call “Year End Rice” – or “Christmas Rice.” I was inspired by the traditional sekihan of New Year’s food in Japan, which features mochi rice and sweet azuki bean. Not having azuki on hand, I decided to make red beans anyways – just not the traditional kind. For good measure I included fresh soybeans as well, giving the dish a positively festive look. Slightly sweet and chewy, it’s a comforting dish despite its departure from tradition. You can find the recipe here.
The third component to this meal is kinpira disguised as the auspicious kohaku namasu of the New Year. Except, instead of burdock, I used the mild celery root for a new and slightly Western flavor. Technically, this is the lucky red and white – no? Either way, it’s fun to look at. I first had a version of this at a Japanese friend’s house and was delighted at how easily celery root melded itself to the flavors and cannon of washoku. Recipe here.
Finally, for the sweet and tangy palette cleanser are quick pickled persimmons. Persimmons, in Western tradition at least, are usually used in sweets and puddings. But their firm and sweet texture, almost similar to a ripe tomato, is quite suitable for a quick pickle. Learn this simple recipe here.
In planning this meal, I looked through my larder and refrigerator, trying to find ways to blend the old and the new, the winter and the autumn. And, amid the rich feasts that surely come this time of year, I am proud to say that this simple meal leaves you satisfied yet with a sense of health and energy. Let’s begin 2017 with courage, vigor, and hope! Kampai!
Alexis Agliano Sanborn is one of The Gohan Society’s super volunteers. She has lived in Nagoya, Tokyo, and rural Shimane Prefecture as a student, intern, and working professional. She received her Bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and Japanese from UC Santa Barbara and her Master’s degree from Harvard University in Regional Studies of East Asia.
She is working on a proposal for a school lunch-themed cookbook, a recipe blog (kabocha-kitchen.com), as well as illustration and stationery designs. Find out more at www.alexisaglianosanborn.com.