I try to make ozoni every year on New Year’s Day. Japanese tradition dictates that this simple, mild soup is the first thing eaten in the new year. I managed it for my first dinner! The soup is one of several traditional foods in Japan cooked at home. It’s one of those dishes made differently by every family. One can use dashi for the stock (kelp and bonito) or chicken broth, which I did here. The best traditional version I’ve seen on the net is reproduced in a youtube video. (Sadly, the gimmick of the cooking show is a dog narrating. I don’t find a dog next to my mise-en-place at all appetizing, personally.) The only thing one needs to include is the sticky, gooey fresh rice cake (mochi) that turns up in Asian markets right before New Year’s day.
The recipe is easy enough, but a bit time consuming. As I waited for a pot of hot water to boil for blanching, I cut up several round items (which represent lucky coins): the traditional fish cake (with the pink swirl), a small daikon radish piece, and a parsnip since a little rabbit hopped into my kitchen and stole the last carrot. For good measure and a golden color, I thinly sliced a piece of sweetmeat squash, too. I soaked some shirataki (Japanese yam noodles — more on this in a moment) and dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water. Then I blanched each of the vegetables, plus the fish cake and some Japanese chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku; the traditional greens are called komatsuna, substitute spinach), each plunged into the boiling water for a minute or two, just until softened, then set aside.
The broth was simple — I used 4 cups of chicken broth I froze last week. As it was heating up on the stove with a few strips of chicken breast poaching in the broth (used also for luck in combination with the greens), I arranged all the blanched vegetables and fish cake in medium-sized, flat soup bowls. Then I carefully poured the broth on top, and added a tiny strip of lemon zest (traditionally a citrus called yuzu). You can read more about the traditions involving these ingredients in this edifying post by Just Hungry, a Japanese woman living abroad.
As I mentioned before, I used shirataki. These aren’t traditional for ozoni, but because Retrogrouch isn’t eating rice, I gave him a yamnoodlified version. Mine (left) had the traditional toasted rice cakes, a Kyoto-style round mochi that was available at Sunrise Market. First, I toasted the rice cakes in my toaster oven until they were lightly golden on top and gooey in the middle, then I let them soften in the soup dish.
Be very careful with the mochi, as they soften, they get glutinous and even more gooey. Every year, a couple of people die in Japan because they choke on a too-large bite of the stuff in their yearly soup. Not a good way to start the new year!