Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Taste of Home

I always love my mom's dishes. No matter how late I got home even after going out for dinner, I had to have dinner at home when I lived with my parents. That was a moment I felt I came home. A cold day like today reminds me my favorite soup dish she always made for the first three days of a new year. The dish is a traditional New Year's Day food in Japan. This dish called ozohni varies in regions and families. The common thing is all have mochi, which is rice cake made from sweet rice, in soup. Mochi could be toasted. In addition to mochi, they put vegetables, meat, seafood or a combination of them in soup. Soup could be clear or miso base.

My family's recipe is clear soup with chicken and mizuna which looks like dandelion greens, and tastes a little bit tansy. The soup is not chicken broth. It's dashi which is broth made from seaweed and shaved smoked fish chips. The soup was incredibly flavorful. I could just go for the soup easily a couple of bowls. My mother put a lot of mizuna in the soup. When it was served, I couldn't see anything but the vegetable. I always ate all mizuna first, saved the best for the last, then enjoyed chicken and mochi. I've missed my family recipe ozohni so much, and decided to make one today.

Making dashi is easy. Soak a piece of kelp in fresh tap water for 15 minute, then put the pot on medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove the kelp from the pot and let the water boil. Add some water to lower its temperature and add shaved smoked fish chips. Turn of the heat. Add some more water to lower the temperature. Remove the fish chips from the liquid. Dashi is ready to use.

I usually give Marilyn the fish chips-the by-product of dashi for snack. It doesn't contain any seasonings. It contains protein and calcium, plus all natural. The most importantly, she enjoys it a lot.

Here is my family recipe. First, boil the base of the soup, dashi.

Add bite size chicken. It is important the dashi is boiling when you add chicken to cook its surface quickly. If not, all flavor in the chicken comes out into the dashi, and the chicken tastes dull. You want some flavor to the base soup keeping some for chicken itself. Then, both taste good.

I didn't have mizuna. Nappa cabbage took its place. Nappa cabbage goes well with the soup, too. Let the soup boil again and cook it until the vegetable gets soft. Then, Season the soup with mirin, salt and soy sauce.

It's time to add mochi. Lately, you can find ones wrapped individually. They are air dried after shaped round to preserve. You cannot eat as they are at this point. They are tough. Put them into the soup on medium low heat until they get softness you like. If you cook them too long, they melt in the soup. They also tend to stick at the bottom of the pot. You need to keep eyes on them.

We use a wooden bowl for soup. Not like ceramic, it doesn't get hot so much when it has a hot thing in it. We hold a bowl to eat food inside of it as our custom. It is important that we are able to hold the bowl without burning our hand. This one is also made with wood. It is coated with lacquer called urushi, which is made from certain trees' sap. The black and red are traditional colors of lacquer.

Here is the taste of my home. The hot soup warmed up my stomach and heart. Yum, yum.

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