The first day of a new year is significant. For some it’s an opportunity to make resolutions for a better life. Some become introspective, considering the mistakes of the past year, and / or asking forgiveness. Some people are hoping for a clear start—perhaps even hoping for a future which has no past. There are elements of tradition, wishing, coincidence, and superstition in the rituals that celebrate a new year.
In Japan, the new year holiday is called Oshogatsu. Auspicious foods play a role in the festivities. On December 31 people eat toshikoshi soba—long noodles for crossing over to the next year. Traditionally, ozoni ( お雑煮 ) is the first meal of the year. ‘O’ is an honorific, ‘zo’ means “this and that,” and ‘ni’ refers to boiling (nimono). The boiled things include vegetables, and chicken, or seafood. The broth can be made with chicken or pork bones, or dashi, or even a vegetarian with shiitake and konbu. Some people include miso, some add light soy sauce.
✘ Take a look at regional variations.
No matter what is added, or left out of an ozoni recipe, the one constant thing which makes it ozoni is mochi. The various morsels in the soup are chosen because they symbolize good fortune in the coming year.
✘ Take a look at list of lucky food.
Start the new year as you mean to go on: with hope. I don’t know that eating auspicious foods for health, family, fertility, wealth, and long life will make you lucky and rich. At year’s end I may not be wealthy, but there was enough to live in comfort, and I am are fortunate to have family and friends. I hope you all have a bright and happy new year.
serves 2 very generously
- 3 cups dashi
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce (light colored if possible)
- 4 to 6 shiitake
- 1 Tablespoon mirin
- 1teaspoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- A small rectangle of yuzu or lemon zest
- a big handful of spinach leaves on stems
- 4 good-sized shrimp
- 6 to 8 ¼-inch thick slices of daikon half moons
- about ½ a carrot
- 4 to 6 ¼-inch thick slices of kamaboku (pink fish sausage on a small wooden board)
- sliced green onion (skip this: it was too much!!)
- 2, 3, or 4 rice cakes
✘ Warm the dashi and shoyu in a medium pot. Keep it warm but do not boil.
✘ Clean the shiitake, remove the stems, and cut decorative Xs into the caps. I saw a video where the cook cut 6 pointed stars in seconds. My Xs look more like clouds than stars. In a very small saucepan, cover the mushroom caps with about ½ inch of water. Stir in the mirin and sugar. Gently boil for about 5 minutes—some of the water will evaporate. Add the soy sauce and simmer very gently. Reserve the mushrooms.
✘ Make 2 slits in the rectangles of zest: one from the left close to the long bottom edge, and the other from the right close to the top edge. Push the two loose ends together to make little lemony triangles. Reserve.
✘ Bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer. Prepare a bowl of cold water in the sink. Wash the spinach, keeping the stems together. Don’t worry about draining it. Tie the stems (or use a rubber band) together. Put the bouquet stems into the simmering water and allow them to cook until they turn bright green. Turn the bunch so both stems and leaves are in the simmering water. Cook until the leaves turn bright green. Check that the stems are tender and use tongs to plunge into the cold water. Squeeze and twist the bouquet into a ½-inch thick rope until it is as dry as you can get it. Divide it in half and align leaves and stem opposite each other. Line a sushi rolling mat with cling wrap and tightly roll the spinach. Cut into 4 cylinders. (I kept the water simmering to cook the other foods.)
✘ Cook the shrimp and peel away the shells. Reserve.
Cut a 3-inch length of daikon (smallish) in half and slice into half moons
✘ Slice the carrot into ¼-inch thick slices. Use a plum blossom shaped [I don’t know the name of it: like a cookie cutter vegetable shapes]. You can add definition to each blossom by cutting tiny Vs where each petal intersects.
Slice the kamaboku into ¼-inch thick slices.
✘ Add carrot flowers and daikon to the saucepan of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain and reserve.
✘ Broil rice cakes until lightly golden—broil only as many as you will eat at once. If they sit around and cool, they are inedible. For me, the toaster oven is more efficient than the oven broiler.
✘ Put hot rice cakes into warmed bowls. In a ladle a little at a time, warm in the simmering stock the mushrooms, carrots, daikon, shrimp, kamaboku, and spinach. Try to arrange in bowls, then ladle the soup stock over all (which will add currents to destroy any artistic arrangement). Eat immediately.
✘ ✘ ✘Notes: It would be much more efficient if you want to serve lots of people, or to serve the soup several times, to make the dashi in quantity. Then cook the ingredients ahead of time and store in plastic containers in the fridge. When someone wants soup, they only need warm the ingredients and toast the rice cakes.