Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ozoni: Japanese New Year's Soup - Cathy and Caity

Ozoni is a traditional Japanese soup eaten for New Year’s. It generally consists of a simple broth with a few simple ingredients.  There is great variation, however—if you Google it, you will see many, many different versions, but the one that my mother (Caity's grandmother) prepares is quite simple and we do it exactly the way she does.

Growing up, I was always told that ozoni must be the first thing consumed on New Year’s Day in order to ensure that one would have good luck in the New Year, and we have continued that tradition in our family--to sometimes varying degrees of enthusiasm, particularly when the kids were younger.  But now it’s become something that we look forward to preparing and eating on New Year’s morning, and we have a steady stream of friends dropping by to share in the good fortune of the New Year. It is also nice and soothing for a stomach that may have ingested a little too much champagne on New Year's Eve. 

Our version is just a clear broth (simple enough to make with dried konbu, or kelp, and bonito flakes; but we use Hondashi dried instant broth as my mother does), daikon, a few slices of carrot cut into flower shapes (this is a must, sorry), some fresh mizuna greens, and the most important part—mochi cakes.  (I also like to add a few dried shrimp, but only in mine; that’s where my family draws the line.) If you can't find mizuna, you could substitute fresh spinach perhaps, or maybe even arugula, or any green that you find satisfying that will bring a bit of green color and flavor to the soup. (If you are wondering what in the world hondashi, daikon or mizuna leaves are, see ingredient list below for more information.)

The mochi cake—purchased either fresh or frozen, however you can find it where you live—becomes nice and stretchy and delicious when it’s hot, and so delicious in the soup.  Eat it with much Good Luck in the New Year!

what you'll need:

Per serving (approximately):
1 1/4 cup water
1/2-3/4 tsp. Hondashi
a few slices of daikon
a few slices of carrot
a few stems of mizuna, trimmed and cut into 3" lengths
1-2 mochi (rice) cakes
a few dried shrimp (highly optional)

For those of you who may not be familiar with all these items: 
-Hondashi: Japanese instant broth or stock made from kelp and bonito flakes
-Daikon: a mild white radish; it looks like a giant, fat, white carrot   
-Mizuna: a seasonal Japanese mustard green that looks similar to arugula 
-Mochi cake: a little cake made with rice that has been pounded to create a sticky substance, shaped into a cake and smoothed with rice flour
-These items can be purchased at an Asian grocery store, especially around New Year's, when everyone is preparing their own ozoni. 

In as large of a pot as you think you need, bring water to a simmer.  Add in Hondashi to taste.  It should taste pleasantly salty and flavorful.

Meanwhile, prepare the carrots and the daikon: 

For the carrots, peel them and cut them into sections of a maneagable length.  Here are some handy step-by-steps: 

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut small, long wedge-shaped strips down the length of the carrot.

Yup, just like that.  Cut into it all around.

Then cut crosswise slices--oh, about 1/4-1/3 of an inch or so. There!  Now you have pretty flowers!  You can also buy little flower-shaped cutters to do this, but that's one more thing to clutter up your kitchen drawers...Besides, I like them this way, and that's the way my mom did it.

Now peel the daikon and slice them into 1/3 inch or so slices.  These have always looked like full moons to me in the bowl.

When your stock is very gently simmering, and you have adjusted it to your taste, add in the carrots and the daikon.  

In the meantime, you can heat up your mochi one of two (okay, three) ways:

Method 1) Place them on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 20-60 seconds, depending on whether or not they are still frozen.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT walk away from them at this point!  Stand there (okay, from a distance) and watch them!  They will quickly begin to puff up.  At that point, TURN OFF THE MICROWAVE.  I kid you not.  This way is so fast and simple, but if you let them over-cook you will regret it, and will be chiseling and soaking those babies off the plate for a very, very long time.

Method 2) In a pot large enough to hold your mochi without crowding, cover with water and carefully bring to a gentle simmer.  Allow to simmer until the mochi feel soft and springy all the way through when touched with chopsticks.

Method 3) I have never used this method, but saw it in several versions online, and Caity pointed out that it would give the mochi some subtle toasty flavor:  In a toaster oven, or very, very carefully under a broiler,  gently toast the mochi until they are puffed and lightly browned, but not dried out.

In the soup pot, add in the prepared mizuna and allow to simmer briefly.  Now you are ready to serve!

In individual bowls, place 1-2 mochi (2 for me, please!), a few slices of daikon, a few carrot slices, and a few pieces of mizuna.  Gently ladle the broth over.  Serve with chopsticks (hashi), a spoon and have a very wonderful, peaceful and Happy New Year! 

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