Ozouni or ozohni or ozoni: Mochi soup for the New Year

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Happy New Year! I wanted to post this a little earlier, but better late than never I hope!

During the New Year holiday period, traditionally rice is not cooked, to give a rest to the cook. Instead, dried mochi cakes were used as the carbohydrate. Ozouni (お雑煮 おぞうに), which literally means 'mixed stew', is a soup with mochi cakes in it. There is no one set recipe, and there are lots of regional variations. This one is a simple Kanto (Tokyo area) style ozouni, the way my mother makes it. It's very simple, not to mention economical - just clear soup, greens, chicken and mochi. Garnish is optional.

Recipe: Kanto style Ozouni (関東風お雑煮)

For 4 servings

  • 5 cups of dashi stock, using plenty of bonito flakes
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. sake (leave out if you can't use sake)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 100g / about 3 oz. dark or light meat chicken, cut into bite size pieces
  • About 200g / 6 oz (a bunch) of dark greens, such as komatsuna (traditional), spinach, etc. (I used bok choi here)
  • 4 mochi cakes
  • Pink kamaboko for garnish

Heat up the oven to 200°C / 400°F, or use a toaster oven or grill. Grill or bake the mochi cakes until they puff up a bit. They may get lightly browned on top, which is fine.

Wash and chop the greens roughly.

Heat up the dashi if you premade it. Add the soy sauce, sake and salt. Add the greens, and simmer until limp but still bright green. Add the chicken pieces and simmer a few minutes.

Add the mochi and simmer for a couple of minutes until the mochi is soft, but don't let it sit too long or the mochi will turn into a sticky goo.

Serve in miso soup bowls, garnished with a slice of pink kamaboko. Other garnishes you can use: mitsuba, chopped green onions, a sprinkle of sansho pepper, zest of yuzu.

Notes

There is a reason for using green leafy vegetables (菜 な na) and chicken (鶏 とり tori). Combined they were 'read' na o toru (なをとる)which can mean to advance in life.

Kamaboko is a fish cake. You can find it at any Japanese grocery. The pink kind (actually pink on the outside, white on the inside) is used as garnish here since pink is considered to be a lucky/festive color. You can also use pink-and-white naruto instead.

In the Kyoto area, a white miso soup made with sweet Saikyo miso (see miso primer) is made. It has round vegetables in it for luck and peace - 円満 (えんまん enman) such as taro roots cut into rounds, slices of daikon radish, carrot, etc.

In other regions they add other things. In Hokkaido they might add salmon, crab, salmon caviar (ikura) and so on.

Mochi cakes are also available at a Japanese grocery store. You can get square or round ones. Round ones are traditionally used in the Kansai (Kyoto-Osaka) region and to the west, while square ones are used in the Kanto (Tokyo) region and east/north. Either one is ok to use.

Please be careful when eating mochi, especially when it's in ozouni. Mochi is very glutinous and dense. Every year, a few people die in Japan around New Year's from choking on mochi. ou need to bite off small chunks and chew it well. Be careful of giving it to very small children - cut it into very small pieces for them.

Finally, if you're watching your weight, be aware that one piece of mochi is about 130 calories, so you might want go easy on things like cheese mochi, delicious as it may be.

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