“Osechi ryori” is an assortment of foods prepared before year’s end and eaten for three days of the new year. The foods that make up osechi can be prepared in advance and then sit out in a cool area for a few days without spoiling. Traditionally women cooked and cleaned for weeks before the holiday. Perhaps this frantic preparation began as a way for housewives (and their families) to survive the first several days of the New Year, when stores throughout Japan were closed. Or perhaps it’s because if woman cut herself while cooking in the first days of the year, it would mean bad luck all year. The foods are often arranged beautifully in compartmentalized lacquer boxes, stacked in layers. Today, most women don’t have the time to prepare osechi at home so department stores and restaurants do a booming business selling boxes of the tradition foods. (See my post about lucky foods eaten during the holiday.)
Black soybeans, called kurimame 黒豆, are larger and rounder than their more common yellow cousins. They are cooked with sugar and eaten during the first days of the year for health in order to work hard for the whole year. This is the first osechi that I’ve ever made. Ms. Shimbo has a very easy and tasty recipe on her blog—it is said that the beans will keep their dark purple-black color when they are cooked with iron. Ms. Shimbo has a special iron ball to use for cooking the beans, but I used a couple of iron nails and the results were satisfactory.