You too can cook washoku / Start the year with an auspicious roll

Courtesy of Mari Nameshida

Kobu-maki kelp rolls

By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan News Simmered rolled kombu kelp, or kobu-maki, is one of the traditional osechi dishes eaten during New Year’s celebrations. It usually includes fish like herring or salmon and vegetables like carrot or burdock root, which are wrapped in kelp before being tied with a thin strip of kanpyo edible gourd.

Osechi consists of a variety of dishes, each imbued with meaning for the coming year. Kobu-maki is an important dish that is believed to bring happiness and good luck in the New Year — “kobu” comes from the word “yorokobu” (to be happy).

For a limited time at the end of the year, you can buy kobu-maki at most grocery or department stores, either on its own or as part of an osechi set. Osechi dishes were traditionally prepared at home, but because a whole meal usually takes two to three days to prepare, many people nowadays buy them at stores.

Osechi cookbooks and magazine features include schedules that help you order the cooking process over three days. It’s a bit like making a Thanksgiving dinner but tends to be even more hectic.

One reason osechi takes such a long time to prepare is that it uses many dried ingredients, such as beans and seaweed, as well as root vegetables, so you have to let the ingredients soak, simmer or sit for hours. And it’s the length of time they are left for that makes them so delicious. Fortunately, most of the dishes are relatively simple to prepare.

Start by soaking dried kombu in water. You also have to simmer it for at least one hour to soften it. Dried herring is traditionally used for the filling.

To reduce the cooking time, I have used a pressure cooker and salmon instead of dried herring in this recipe. It makes everything so quick and easy and tastes great. The kelp is soft and easy to bite — it’s my 3-year-old son’s favorite dish at the moment. People usually eat kobu-maki once a year for the New Year, but recently I’ve been cooking it quite often.

I’m not a fan of store-bought kobu-maki because the seasoning is often too sweet and too salty for my taste buds. This tends to be a common complaint so it’s definitely worth trying to make your own. You can enjoy the rich flavor of kelp and salmon with the amount of seasoning that suits your taste.

Mari’s recipe for kobu-maki

Ingredients (serves 4):

8 pieces of kombu 12 cm long each (Kombu from Hokkaido’s Hidaka region recommended)

600 ml water

2 salmon fillets (about 300 grams)

8 kanpyo dried gourd strips (about 20 cm long, or 40 grams)

A pinch of salt

3 tbsp sake

1 carrot


3 tbsp mirin

4 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp soy sauce


1. Soak the dried kelp in 600 milliliters of water for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain the kelp but keep the water to use later.

2. Rub the kanpyo with a pinch of salt and then wash. Soak in water using a different bowl for about 15 minutes. Cut the carrot and salmon into about 2-centimeter-thick strips (the length should be the same as the width of the kelp).

3. Put the salmon or carrot strips on top of a sheet of kombu and roll it. Tie the roll with kanpyo strips finishing with a knot.

4. Place the rolls, 300 milliliters of water used to rehydrate the kelp and sake in a pot and heat.

5. When it starts to boil, add the seasonings and cover with a lid. Move the pressure valve to seal and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, leave the cooker to release pressure naturally and let sit until the dish cools down.

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