One of the star dishes in Wasan’s osechi, or New Year’s feast, is nishime, vegetables gently braised in dashi broth and festooned with shrimp or chicken. While it’s a popular year-round household dish, according to Chef Kitagawa, particular time and care are taken to make New Year’s nishime ornate with vegetables carved into flowers and turtles (symbolizing a long, healthy and auspicious life) and ingredients cooked and seasoned separately to preserve individual flavors and colors. The below recipe has been streamlined by Wasan for the American household, and suggestions for vegetable carvings are optional, but contribute to the dish’s festive nature.
For the dashi: (kelp and bonito broth)
8 cups water
4-inch length of kombu (dried kelp)
¼ cup katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
For the vegetables:
½ carrot (the wider the circumference, the better)
5 taro roots
5 shiitake mushrooms (fresh, or if dried, reconstituted in water overnight)
1 lotus root (pre-cooked in vacuum packs)*
1 bamboo shoot (pre-cooked in vacuum packs)*
¾ cup dashi
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking saké)
1½ tablespoons usukuchi (light colored) soy sauce
For the shrimp:
½ cup dashi
1 tablespoon saké
½ teaspoon ginger (julienned)
5 large shrimp (whole with shells but deveined)
For the garnish:
6 green beans
To prepare the dashi:
Place kombu into a pot of cold water. Boil on high until small bubbles rise to the surface. Remove kombu, then add katsuobushi. Reduce heat to low for 2–3 minutes, skimming the surface of the liquid to remove any scum. Remove from heat and strain liquid through a cheesecloth or paper towel.
To prepare the decoratively sliced vegetables:
Peel carrot and slice into ½-inch rounds. Cut 5 equally spaced, v-shaped grooves around the circumference of each slice to form a flower.
Scrub the taro roots under running water. Using a sharp knife, peel and trim each taro root into a hexagonal cylinder, slicing off each end and making six vertical cuts around the circumference of the root.
Rinse shiitake mushrooms with water, then remove the stems. Trim each mushroom into a hexagon, removing edges in six straight cuts.
Slice lotus root into 1 centimeter rounds. Using a sharp knife, trim each slice into a flower shape by cutting v-shaped grooves around each of the lotus root holes.
Slice bamboo shoot vertically into 6 pieces
To prepare the Nishime:
Combine dashi, mirin and usukuchi soy sauce in a pot over medium heat and fill with the decorative carrot, taro roots, shiitake mushrooms, lotus root. Place a drop-lid, or alternatively, a circular piece of aluminum foil trimmed to fit the pot, directly on top of the vegetables as they simmer to evenly distribute the heat and simmering liquids. As the liquid reduces, adjust the seasoning to taste.
While the vegetables simmer, trim stems from the green beans. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add green beans. Allow green beans to boil for 2 minutes, then remove and submerge in ice water to halt cooking.
In a small pot, bring the dashi, saké and ginger to boil over high heat. To allow the shrimp to cook uniformly, shape shrimp into a c-curve and skewer each crosswise with a bamboo skewer. Add the skewered shrimp to the pot and boil for approximately 1 minute. Allow the shrimp to cool, and then carefully remove the bamboo skewers and peel away the shells.
Combine the cooked vegetables with the shrimp and garnish with boiled green beans.
*Pre-cooked vegetables like lotus root and bamboo shoot are commonly available in Japanese or Asian specialty stores.
To highlight the umami in this dashi-braised dish, Wasan’s sommelier and co-owner, Toshiyuki Koizumi, suggests a junmai saké with some bottle age, like the Asabiraki Namburyu from Iwate. Fragrant with notes of dark chocolate, black tea and ripe bananas, it’s exceptionally centered with delicately balanced sweetness and acidity.