Apologies for the lame Yankee Doodle title. I’m nothing if not cheesy. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. While I can honestly say my mom filled our kitchen table with a very international spread of food, Japanese, unless it was of the Benihana variety, did not make the cut. Not until I spent Thanksgiving with Tomato’s family back in 2005 did I ever get to try authentic, homemade Japanese food and…Oh. My. God. I still dream of it occasionally. And with Tomato’s regular mention in these pages, I couldn’t not ask her to guest blog about her family’s Japanese holiday traditions. Not only that, I was very excited to see what sort of dish Mama Tomato was going to throw my way to try. So, here’s her story.
December was always a busy time for us growing up. I always joke it was because of poor planning on my parents part…within 3 weeks, they were hit with my birthday, Christmas, my brother’s birthday and New Year’s. December meant birthday cake, slumber parties, Christmas trees, Danish butter cookies, more presents, birthday cake, presents for someone who wasn’t me (I’m the youngest), and our New Year’s feast…which also meant my mother was going to wrap me into a Kimono…and when I say “wrap” I mean put me in what I can only describe now as an Eastern version of a corset (obi). The end result was kind of amazing and now I know why my mom took the hour to get me ready every year. Looking back at pictures years later, I looked like a Kokeshi doll. You could have cemented my feet in It’s a Small World and I would have fit right in. But I digress…I’m really here to talk about food.
It’s a Small World After All!
New Year’s was a BIG deal growing up. My mom would spend days making special sushi, flavoring beans, and finding the ingredients to the foods that to this day my brother and I can only eat at home. There were a few years that I spent the holiday season in Japan, and I would see my aunts and grandma doing the same thing…but the special thing about being in Japan for the new year also mean that I got to go make the mochi with my aunt’s family…and nothing was funnier to everyone than a 6 year old picking up a wooden mallet fit for Paul Bunyon and trying to pound 10 pounds of rice into a sticky dough like substance…needless to say the men did most of the hard labor. Mochi is an important component of the New Year – in Japanese: Oshogatsu.
The one food that exemplifies Oshogatsu for all Japanese is Ozoni. It is a hot soup with mochi in it, served for breakfast. Every family’s Ozoni seems to be different, depending on region, and depending on the wealth of the family from decades ago. My dad’s family is from the suburbs of Nagoya, and were very poor, so the Ozoni recipe is very simple, with a fish base, soy sauce, mochi, mizuna and a few garnishes. My mother’s family was very wealthy and from the outskirts of Hiroshima, so her Ozoni growing up was made with a beef or chicken base with chunks of meat, various vegetables, and mochi. To this day every New Year’s Day we have Ozoni (she makes my dad’s recipe from when he was a kid) and every year she turns up her nose and laments not being able to make it the way she ate it growing up, because my brother and I have been raised on what she deems as “peasant Ozoni”. I always laugh, because I don’t like any one else’s version of Ozoni as much as this simple recipe from hundreds of years ago, that my peasant roots cooked up for the New Year.
For the first time in 7 years my parents are home for the Holidays and I’ll get to eat Ozoni on New Year’s day…maybe I’ll finally learn to make it, as I made my mom do her best to write out the recipe in measurements…because this dish, like the others that have been shared here, just magically appear on the table for the holidays by Christmas and New Year’s Elves…read: our mothers.
1. In a 2-quart pot, bring the water, soy sauce, mirin, sake and dashinomoto to an almost boil.
2. Add the greens and the 4 white mochi.
3. When the mochi starts to soften, turn the heat off. Serve 2 mochi with a little greens and broth in a rice bowl, soup cup or owan (wooden rice bowl).
4. Just before eating, add a “4-finger grabful” of the katsuobushi.
This was a very simple soup to make and came out as good as I’d expect from mom-food. I will admit that finding the ingredients, particularly the mochi, was a challenge, even at the Asian markets. Hopefully these pictures will aid in ingredient identification. However, when mom and I were doing some last minute Christmas shopping, I did notice that Whole Foods carried almost all of the ingredients in their Asian foods section, so before citing “I won’t be able to find these ingredients” as an excuse for not trying it, just check your normal grocery store. You might be surprised.
**The mochi was the hardest ingredient for me to find. They come in all flavor varieties and some are filled sweets. You don’t want these, you want plain. If you go for the dried variety, look for blocks that look like dominoes without the spots**