Back in 2001, I was fortunate enough to celebrate New Years in Japan with my friend’s family at her grandmother’s house in a small village near Himeji Castle. The whole family had gathered – caring and curious aunts and uncles, friendly cousins, and adorable little nephews and nieces. The kitchen was a beehive of activity with grandmother running the show. Being guests, we weren’t allowed to help and we’d probably only have been in the way anyway. As the evening got colder and the clock inched closer to midnight, we overcame the initial shyness with the couple of words of Japanese we knew, our hosts’ smattering of English, and lots of good cheer. When we finally sat down to dinner, we needed five tables to accommodate everyone. My friend’s mother, grandmother and aunts had prepared an amazing spread. I’ll confess that with the many years that have since passed, I don’t exactly remember all the dishes we ate. I do remember my favorite was the wild boar nabe. After the feast, my friend’s father took us to the family shrine to ring the bell and bring in the new year. I will never forget how lucky I felt to have been a part of a Japanese family for that celebration. Every new year, I crave nabe and many of the other Japanese dishes that we had on that trip and I think of my friend and her family. Once I even made okonomiyaki and gomae (spinach salad with sesame seeds) as part of the new year’s eve dinner.
So you can imagine my pleasure when I received a surprise package from this dear friend a couple of months ago. She sent me a book of Bashō’s haiku, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking and the most encouraging note ever. It totally made my day. I’ve been meaning to use my new cookbook ever since. She also sent me The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, a compilation of haiku by Matsuo Bashō, a Japanese poet born in 1644. He wrote this haiku upon meeting an old friend he hadn’t seen for twenty years. It is one of my favorite.A lively cherry In full bloom Between the two lives Now made one.
Tofu with Hot Spring Egg ‘Onsen Tamago’ (Onsen Tamago Nose Dofu)
Adapted from Harumi Kurihara’s Harumi’s Japanese Cooking
Ingredients1 lb Silken Tofu 4 eggs 1/4 cup soy sauce (I use Kikkoman Less Sodium) 2 tablespoons mirin 1 tablespoon sake a couple of drops of fish sauce (optional) roughly 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or to your taste) roughly 10 stalks of chives finely chopped (or to your taste, can also use spring onions)
Carefully remove the tofu from its packaging while trying to keep it intact. Let excess water drain and cut into 4 big pieces.
Soft boil the eggs so the white is just cooked and the yolk runny. The cookbook says to use eggs that are at room temperature, place them in a glass container and pour boiling water to cover them and allow to cook for 10 minutes. (I screwed up and forgot to bring my egg down to room temperature and it was still uncooked. Fortunately I had a second egg but I screwed up again and overcooked it. Yup I make many mistakes. Next time I plan to place the egg in boiling water on the stove for 4-5 minutes.)
Combine the soy sauce, mirin, sake and fish sauce in a mug and microwave for 45 seconds. (Book says to microwave for 2 minutes but my dressing ended up too thick)
Place a piece of tofu on each of four plates and scoop out about a wide tablespoon from the top of each piece.
Crack an egg and carefully empty the white and yolk into the hollow of each piece of tofu.
Arrange the previously scooped out tofu on the side. Place some grated ginger on top and garnish the dish with the chives.
Pour the dressing over the tofu before serving.
My verdict? The dish was simple, yet elegant, subtle yet smooth and flavorful.