Like the requisite roast turkey on Thanksgiving in America, Ozoni Soup is a mandatory first meal offering on New Yearís Day, easily the most important day of the year in Japan. Although there may be a few regional or family variations, the very basic zoni soup includes dashi (seafood or fish stock), greens of some type (usually mizuna or spinach), and a plop of white mochi dumpling. Sometimes, there are added seasonings like soy sauce and sake while others add a bit of miso paste. Some add a few slices of colorful kamaboko (fish cake), carrot and shiitake mushroom slices or even chicken, although beef is not traditional at all.
My mother varied her ozoni soup, too, but always always included the most important ingredient: mochi. I must admit that I prefer to eat mochi with sugar-sweetened kinako (toasted soybean flour) rather than in the soup where due to the mochi's sticky nature, it picks up the bits of greens and fish. (Think of the feeling you get when eating chewing gum at the same time you eat, say, spinach.)
On occasion, my mother added udon noodles for long life. I like the seafood version she made using fresh clams in their shells. Clams donít have any auspicious meaning, unless you consider that sand often seeps into the shells, irritating them. That might account for the countless irritations in my life throughout the years. Maybe I should skip the clams this year.
My sisters and I would pick out the ingredients we liked as we weighed whether not eating a particular ingredient was worth risking bad luck. "I'd rather have good health so I'll eat the mizuna and skip the mochi!""Don't you care you'll have bad luck all year?"
I tended to eat it all. Mostly because Ozoni Soup is delicious. And my good luck continues as my mother continues to simmer a large pot and call her children and their children home to eat it on New Yearís Day. Here are two versions of Ozoni:
Traditional Ozoni Soup
3 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup dried shrimps and/or 1 cup bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
1 2" strip konbu
1 bunch of mizuna, washed and chopped into 2ĀElengths
Ĺ block of kamaboko, sliced thinly
Over low heat, bring shrimps, konbu and water to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Strained, reserving stock. Add water for make 3 Ĺ cups of broth. If using katsuobushi, add flakes after the water comes to a boil (do not let katsuobushi boil.)
Add chopped mizuna and simmer for a few minutes until vegetables are wilted and cooked. Toast mochi over open flame or under a broiler until puffy. Place one mochi into each chawan soup bowl. Arrange kamaboko slices on top. Pour on soup with mizuna.
Lillian Haitsuka Nakayama's Ozoni Soup
4 cups dashi (dashi-no-moto or katsuobushi)
1 Tbsp. soy sauce or to taste
1 Tbsp. mirin or cooking sake
Mizuna, washed and chopped
Udon noodles, cooked and drained
seafood additions: fresh clams in shells, shelled shrimp, mussels, optional
Bring dashi to a simmer, add mizuna. Heat mochi in microwave until slightly puffy. Dip in hot water until soft. Place mochi in serving bowl. Pour in soup along with some of the seafood and mizuna. Add cooked udon noodles, if desired.
Quick and Each Chicken Ozoni Soup
chicken broth, homemade or canned
mizuna, washed and chopped
soy sauce, to taste
A quick and simple rendition of ozoni, this recipe uses canned chicken broth. My mother preferred chicken broth because it had a richer flavor than fish stock with less sodium. She never measured because the amount depended on how many people were coming. When I press her for recipe measurements, she just tsks her tongue at me and waves me away.
"Just heat chicken broth, add chopped mizuna and whatever else you like,"she said. "Put in mochi just before serving." After a pause, she said, "The traditional way is to use fish stock, but who wants to make their own anymore with fish bones. Most people use dried shrimp, katsuobushi (bonito flakes) or dashi-no-moto (instant powder). I make it that way, too, when I add seafood."
To add to the confusion, she added that in the past, she has dropped in some sake or shoyu or a pinch of sugar. She isn't being coy. Her mood determines what will end up in the pot.
As you can see, my mother isnít a stickler for details but she does love tradition. Every New Yearís Day, she serves up that requisite pot of Ozoni for her entire brood of children, in-laws and grandchildren. Some of us may eat mochi with kinako while others will eat it in the soup. No one wants to miss out on good luck for the coming year. If what we eat portends the future, we all will be very healthy, happy, long-lived, prosperous and lucky. Once we took an account of the past year to see what all of our New Year's Day eating brought. My sisters joked that it didn't seem to have the desired effects in our lives. Well, every year we eat ozoni," one sister said. "And by the end of the year, we're not rich or lucky."
But I disagree. We all lived to see another year so we're working on long life. We all have enough money to make it through the year with a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, cars to drive, plenty of food to eat. None landed in the hospital. And every New Year's Day, we enjoy luck of the very best kind when we are fortunate to spend yet another happy time together with family. So, this New Year's Day, I will savor Ozoni Soup as always, with a grateful, hopeful heart and a very satisfied belly. I hope you will, too.