This is a must to serve on Japanese New Year. Black beans are a congratulatory dish and symbolize having an active, healthy life. If you have the time, serve them the traditional way, threaded on pine needles, which represent longevity and seasonal regeneration. If the pine needles are too fragile to pierce the beans, poke a hole with a needle or other thin sharp tool. Thread three beans on each pine needle, leaving space between the beans. Gently pile them on a platter to serve and sprinkle with gold leaf flakes as a garnish. Before threading, wash the pine needles with soap and rinse well.
Sweetened Black Soy Beans (Kuromame)
Wash and soak the beans overnight in water to cover generously. Drain, reserving 4 cups of the soaking liquid. Place the beans in a Dutch oven or very large saucepan. Add the reserved liquid, the sugar, baking soda, salt and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Remove the scum from the top and add 2 tablespoons of cold water. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the beans are tender, about 8 hours. Do not remove the lid during this process. Remove the pot from the heat and let the beans cool.