Japanese New Years Soup

28Sep09

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One of the few food-related traditions that I inherited from my childhood home is “o-zoni,” or Japanese New Years Soup. The “o” is an honorific, so from here on I’ll refer to it as zoni. Zoni is a soup containing mochi rice cakes, and for the first 30 years of my life it never occurred to me that the kind of zoni we ate on New Years was not necessarily the same zoni that everyone in Japan ate.

It was my foodie father who cooked the zoni at our house. He first came to Japan in his early 20s, and though living in Niigata prefecture (Hokuriku region) at the time, he had apparently learned to cook zoni in the Tohoku (North-East) style. As an adult, I learned by living in many areas of Japan, that each region had its own zoni tradition, and I decided I actually preferred other versions to my father’s. The zoni I had grown up with was just too full of “stuff,” especially root vegetables. It was not particularly appealing to the eye, being mainly brown all over. So I defected to Kansai-style zoni with its fewer ingredients, its happier colors, and its delicate soup.

But family tradition is an interesting animal. I found that New Years lost some of its sweetness after my defection. So this New Years I decided to re-create the zoni of my childhood. But I tweaked it a bit to make it more appealing to the eye, more varied in flavors, and more compelling in aroma.

Ingredients:

  • Burdock root, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into half-inch segments
  • Lotus root, peeled, cut into rings and then quartered
  • Carrot, peeled, cut into rings and then quartered or halved, depending on size
  • Bamboo shoots (preferably the kind that is pre-boiled, water-packed in bags, and retain their original shape), chopped to roughly the same sized pieces as the burdock.
  • Taro tubers (preferably the kind you find peeled and frozen in bags), don’t defrost!
  • Fresh Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps chopped to roughly same size as burdock.
  • Chicken thighs, boneless, about 1 lb, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • Mochi rice cakes, bricks or rounds (this year I used hand-pounded black-bean mochi)
  • Naruto or other kamoboko (fish paste) product, the more colorful the better, cut into 2 inch wedges
  • Yuzu citrus, zest of one fruit
  • a mixture of dashi stock, chicken stock, pork stock for the soup according to preferred taste

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The burdock and lotus root should sit in a bowl of water to which a little vinegar has been added for about five to ten minutes. This prevents unpleasant muddying of the broth when they are added to the pot.

When I chopped the veggies, I kept back a couple whole rings of lotus root and a few quarter slices of carrot to trim into pretty petal shapes. For stock I used mostly chicken stock, but added dashi and packaged powdered Chinese soup seasoning. Since the veggies, the chicken, and the naruto add flavor to the stock, you can start out with a weakly flavored stock.

When the stock comes to a boil, add all the ingredients to the pot, except the mochi and yuzu peel. After the stock has returned to boil, turn the heat down to simmer and cook for about half an hour. Then turn off the heat, add some of the yuzu peel, cover the pot, and let the ingredients cool and absorb the flavors that have escaped into the liquid. Meanwhile broil the mochi till it puffs up and turns a little brown on the edges.

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Place a broiled mochi in each bowl and pile the cooked veggies on top of the mochi. Reheat the soup liquid in the pot and pour it into the bowls just before serving. Scatter some yuzu zest over the top and serve.

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I was happy with the color of my version of zoni, and Oh! The flavor and aroma! It was as though the yuzu peel gave the zoni wings. I realized belatedly that I hadn’t used any ginger root, which would have given the zoni even more depth of flavor and aroma. But I’m fine with the way it turned out. Very very fine indeed.

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4 Responses to “Japanese New Years Soup”

  1. I have lived in Japan for more than 40 years and my father was born and lived in Hokkaido for long time but I have never seen that kind of Ozoni.
    Is it a real or local Ozoni in Hokkaido?
    and why Orange is in it?

    thanks,

  2. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog! As I tried to explain in the post, this Ozoni is an original version that I put together as a reaction against the tasty-but-uninspiring ozoni that my father made for us every New Years. That is not Orange, it’s Yuzu peel. Yuzu peel is often added to all kinds of dishes for fragrance and color. I found it added a wonderful “lift” to my ozoni. If you live in Japan now, you should have no trouble finding it this winter.

  3. I made also a Ozoni this year(my first one, Im from Germany) and liked it very much.
    Your Ozoni is really interesting.
    I grilled my mochi and the taste was very nice.(you can see this ozoni on my blog if you like to see how some German foodies cook Ozoni ;-))

    Do you maybe know how to dry mochi?

  4. Usually I prefer an ozoni that has fewer ingredients. But this is very similar to the ozoni that we ate when I was growing up in Japan. I wanted to honor that memory, and at the same time improve the way it looked, smelled, and tasted. I’ve never tried drying mochi because I buy it dried anyway. Oh! I did visit your blog. Very nice!


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