Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

Lucky New Year Black-Eyed Peas in Sweet Shoyu

Instead of celebrating Lunar New Year like the Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese, the Japanese celebrate the Western New Year on January 1st.

This wasn’t always the case. It was only in 1873, five years after the Meiji Restoration (the revolution that transferred power from the Tokugawa shogunate to Emperor Meiji and brought about modernization and Westernization of Japan), that Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and the first day of January became the official and cultural New Year’s Day.

During the New Year celebration, the Japanese partake in an elaborate meal called osechi-ryōri.You may have heard of mochi (the sweet rice cakes are served in a soup called ozoni) but there are so many other dishes you may never come across in the  average American Japanese restaurant.

Hiroko Sugiyama, a Japanese culinary instructor based in Seattle, spends two days preparing a traditional Japanese New Year’s Day feast for family and friends. “For New Year’s Day, each food has meaning… We always start with these three as the root,” she says describing the following foods: kuromame (black soy beans simmered in soy and sugar, which represent the hardworking ethic of the Japanese people), kazunoko (salt-cured herring roe, the thousand eggs symbolizing a wish for a large and prosperous family), and gomame (also called tatsukuri) (dried, flavored anchovies that reflect growth and good luck).

Other New Year dishes include kurikinton (chestnut with mashed sweet potato or yam), kamaboko (pink-striped fish cake) and datemaki (sweet egg omelet made with eggs, sugar, mirin and fish paste). As you may have realized, many of these dishes are sweet, sour or dried. These preparation methods allow the foods to keep for many days, harking back to days before refrigeration.

Kuromame, in its simplicity, seemed like a good place for me to start.

In my research, I discovered that kuromame is traditionally simmered with iron nails (yes, the kind hammered into wood and walls). The anthocyanin, an antioxidant in black soy eans, deepens into a beautiful dark purple, almost black, color when it comes into contact with iron. Cookbook author Hiroko Shimbo actually has an iron egg just for this purpose!

I didn’t want to make a trip to the Asian store so I decided to substitute a lucky New Year’s food popular in the South–black-eyed peas! To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the dish would turn out, but it was so addictive I couldn’t stop eating it.

Perhaps the pollination of Japanese Zen and Southern charm will bring good luck, good health and prosperity to all!

Happy New Year!


Lucky New Year Black-Eyed Peas in Sweet Shoyu

black eyed peas in sweet shoyu

As much as I love food traditions, black soybeans require a trip to the Asian market (or you can purchase them online) and I just didn’t have time. So I settled on the much-easier-to find black-eyed peas. In my East-meets-West rendition of this lucky New Year dish, I added carrots for color and because they taste delicious simmered in the sauce. This dish is meant to be much more sweet than savory, but feel free to cut down on the sugar and up the soy sauce or salt.

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (15 minutes active)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1-1/2 cups black-eyed peas
8 cups water
1 cup (5 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)

  1. Rinse the beans in a sieve under cold running water. Drain and add to a large pot together with the water.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming any foam that rises to the top. When it starts to boil, add the sugar, shoyu and salt and stir.
  3. After the sugar dissolves, lower the heat to a simmer and place an otoshibuta on top, cover with a lid and cook the beans for 45 minutes. Do not, I repeat, do not lift the lid to check on the beans.
  4. Add the carrots and cook for another 15 minutes or until the carrots and beans are tender.
  5. Refrigerate the beans with the cooking liquid to absorb more flavor. Serve warm with rice, or at room temperature as a snack.


An otoshibuta, or literary “dropped lid,” is uniquely Japanese and is placed on top of the ingredients while they are cooking to allow heat to circulate evenly, effectively cooking ingredients with little liquid. Some Japanese pans actually come with a second lid–usually made of wood– for this purpose, or you can improvise by cutting a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil into a circle with a diameter just a wee bit smaller than your pot. Fold the circle into quarters and cut the corner off to form a hole in the middle of the circle to let out steam.