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New Year has always been an integral part of Japanese society. Osechi is the essence of traditional Japanese home cooking, and consists of all the celebratory dishes prepared at home two or three days prior to New Year’s Day – Japan’s most important festival called Oshogatsu.
Traditionally all the dishes that make up the osechi panoply are precooked and put into special four-tiered lacquerware boxes called jubako by New Year’s Eve. New Year’s festivities run from January 1 to 3. During that time no cooking is done – just more non-perishable food is added to the jubako as family or guests drop by. Instead of rice, mochi, or pounded rice cakes, are eaten. If you are lucky enough to find fresh mochi at the end of the year, by all means try it! This is perhaps the only time of the year when the Japanese housewife isn’t tied to the kitchen.
Zoni is a regional soup with pounded toasted rice cakes (mochi), chicken or fish, and vegetables served separately after gorging on the many foods in the jubako. It is usually the only hot dish served. Matsumae Zoni is a specialty of Hokkaido, and one of my absolute favorites to make for Osechi, aka Japanese New Year’s. I explored Kyoto-style Zoni in the past so be sure to check that one out, too!
The Wonderful World of Osechi: Japanese New Year’s Recipes
New Year’s is one of the best times in Japan, at least for eating and relaxing. Get Lucy’s Osechi cookbook, full of recipes that are fast to make, easy, and quite delicious for your New Year celebrations (along with the history and traditions and little tidbits Lucy always includes). Get the book!
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Matsumae Zoni Soup Recipe
Matsumae Zoni Soup
- 4 pieces fresh salmon fillet, 2” by 1”
- 4 tbsps red salmon roe
- 6 cups konbu dashi* stock (see Notes)
- 4 thick slices peeled daikon radish
- 8 thick slices carrot, peeled
- 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
- 4 rice cakes (mochi)
- 4 tbsps low-sodium soy sauce, or to taste
- 2 tbsps sake
- 1 tsp salt
- A few sprigs of trefoil (mitsuba)
- grated yuzu peel or meyer lemon peel
- Make fish stock according to the directions in the Notes section. Flavor stock with soy sauce, sake and salt. Add daikon radish, carrot, shiitake mushrooms and salmon. Boil until soft (roughly five minutes).
- Meanwhile, toast rice cakes until they puff up and brown. It takes about six to seven minutes. They should look like oversized marshmallows.
- In each deep soup bowl, lay one rice cake on the bottom and arrange other ingredients against it. Add stock and top with salmon roe and a few sprigs of trefoil and or yuzu peel. Serve immediately.
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