Soothing Japanese chicken soupBy Mackie Jimbo
There's nothing like a big holiday to inspire moms to break out their most treasured family recipes.
Ozoni, a chicken soup made with mochi rice cakes, is a perfect example. It is the centerpiece of major events, such as Japanese New Year, or oshogatsu, when my entire family gathers together. Oshogatsu typically includes traditions such as mochitsuki (preparing and pounding mochi rice cakes), osoji (cleaning one's house) and lots and lots of cooking. But ozoni is the main event.
My mom's side of the family is from Kyushu province, and our ozoni is very hearty and filled with lots of Japanese vegetables. Big chunks of daikon, Japanese radishes and sato imo, small starchy Japanese potatoes, add rusticity to the soup. Gobo, a long, twig-like root vegetable, gives a pleasantly earthy and nutty flavor, despite its unappetizing appearance.
Every year, my mom makes a huge pot of ozoni that my family devours. My uncle and grandpa have contests to see who can eat the most mochis, glutinous Japanese rice cakes served piping hot in the soup.
My favorite part of the dish is the broth itself, which is traditionally made with Dashi no moto, a soup stock base of dried bonito fish flakes and kelp. Soothing, soulful and satisfying, the broth gives me the strength and serenity to face another year.
5 cups dashi no moto stock
1 bone-in skinless chicken breast
1 2-inch daikon radish, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rounds
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
2 or 3 small sato imo, washed, peeled and sliced into quarters
5 to 8 dried shitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced, stems removed
1 2-inch gobo, washed and shaved (use a small knife to whittle off small, thin shavings)
4 or 5 medium napa cabbage leaves, washed and coarsely chopped (divide into leafy parts and white stem parts)
4 fresh mochi rice cakes
All of these ingredients can be found at a Japanese or Asian supermarket.
1. Prepare 5 cups of dashi no moto stock according to package instructions. My mom uses Hime brand dashi no moto, which uses 3 cups of water and 1 bag of dashi.
2. Bring the stock to a boil. Add the chicken breast and cook until the meat falls off the bone. Remove the chicken breast and let it cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken and set aside.
3. Keep stock at a rapid simmer. Skim froth from the top of the broth.
4. Add the daikon, carrots, shitake mushrooms and sato imo to the broth. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the daikon looks opaque, about 4 to 5 minutes.
5. Add the gobo, mochi, and the napa stems (white parts) to the broth. When the mochi float to the top, they are ready. Add the napa leaves at last minute and cook until wilted.
6. Add shoyu and salt to taste.
7. Serve the soup, along with one mochi, in each bowl.
Mackie Jimbo is a Philadelphia-based food writer who writes about her budget-friendly dining adventures at her website, The Unpaid Gourmet.
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