Mochi for Strength, Prosperity, Good Health and Happiness

O-zoni with shiitake, daikon, tea-infused tofu, nameko mushrooms,, kabocha squash



When the Japanese look at a full moon, they see a rabbit pounding mochi, or sticky rice cakes. Actually, we call it o-mochi – honorable rice cakes.  There’s a whole ritual surrounding the making of mochi, and my children, despite growing up in America, were lucky enough to witness it every year at the Japanese-bilingual school in San Francisco they attended. To the beat of taiko drums, naked men in loincloths – seriously – dance around a wooden vat pounding freshly cooked mochi rice with mallets. The pounding is rhythmical, and eventually, the rice turns into a sticky, stretchy and smooth mass. These mochi warriors bare their skin in the midst of winter in order to ensure a prosperous New Year.  The freshly made mochi can be eaten right away dipped in roasted soybean flour (kinako) or soy sauce, then wrapped in nori, or allowed to dry to be cut and cooked another time. Children in Japan look forward to eating o-mochi like American kids look forward to Christmas cookies or Halloween candy.  I remember stuffing myself eating o-mochi, and was tickled to see my son gorging on it as a child as well.  Would we have as much childhood obesity in this country if the idea of a treat was mochi instead of ice cream?
       Of course, you can make fresh mochi at home now with a mochi-maker without even taking off your clothes. Or you can just buy it from an Asian grocery or natural food store. The Asian variety is always made with white rice, while the kind in the natural food store is made from brown rice and is not as smooth in texture. I actually love the rustic, chewy consistency of brown rice mochi, and made my New Year’s soup (ozoni) with that.
        Of the many special New Year’s dishes served in Japan, the most popular and central is o-zoni, a soup or stew featuring o-mochi. Throughout Japan, there are many varieties, from the sweet, adzuki-bean base in Tottori to light, vegetable based ones in Kyoto. The recipe I offer here is based on the one I grew up with in the Tokyo area where chicken stock is typically used. It’s a light, savory and totally satisfying way to start your day.

O-Zoni
6 cups vegetarian chicken-flavored stock
1/4 cup sake
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12 fresh shiitake mushrooms, hatch mark made on top for decorative purpose
1/2 small kabocha squash, seeds removed, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced daikon
8 ounces nameko or maitake mushrooms, optional
1 bunch kale or spinach, lightly steamed or blanched
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 – 3 pounds mochi (depending on how much you want to eat), cut into rectangles (a 12-ounce package of mochi from the natural food store can be cut into 6 pieces)

Combine the stock sake, soy sauce and salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Add the shiitake, mushrooms, kabocha squash and daikon, and simmer for another 5 minutes until tender. Turn off the heat. Cook the mochi as directed in the photo caption below. To serve, put 1 or 2 pieces of cooked mochi in a bowl, then pour the soup on top. Add some of the pre-cooked kale or spinach, sprinkle with green onions, and eat! Have a happy, prosperous and healthy New Year!

To cook mochi, bake in a 425 degree oven until it puffs up, or do like the Japanese over an open flame. The Japanese like it a little charred, crispy on the outside, chewy and gooey on the inside. Cook it over a low flame, flipping over several times, until it cracks in the middle and puffs up. It’s ready! To eat, put a piece in your ozoni soup, or dip both sides in soy sauce and wrap a piece of nori around it. I have to go grill another piece now because my daughter is asking for another one!

Comments

  1. I’ve only ever had sweet mochi at sushi trains, etc, so this sounds quite interesting!

    Do you have a favourite recipe for o-mochi, or a particular brand you like? I found a couple of recipes on the internet, some of which start with rices, others of which use glutinous rice flour (in the microwave!) and I’ve love to make some myself. I’ve found a couple of brands here in Australia, but many of them have gelatin in them (I’m not sure why…) or other… mysterious ingredients.

    Thank you for your blog; always a delight to read 🙂 Can’t wait for your new book!

    • James, I am only aware of one natural food company in the US that makes mochi (I think it’s Sweet Earth). They make it in a variety of flavors. In Japan, there’s really only one flavor – plain. It is always made from only glutinous rice – there is no other ingredient besides water. I suppose the one in the microwave with glutinous rice flour is a Western take on the original, but I think most Japanese would be surprised by it. Basically, the recipe is simple: cook up some glutinous rice, then pound the heck out of it. That’s it. Of course, it helps if you have a big wooden vat, a giant mallet, and some strong guys in loincloths to dance around it and pound it. But they actually have electric mochi makers for home mochi making. It would most likely clog the food processor. When it is fresh, it is stretchy and soft, but then quickly hardens and must be cooked again to be soft and edible. It’s great dipped in soy sauce with nori wrapped around.

  2. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    Good Health

  3. HI Miyoko,

    I am so excited to have discovered your website and unbelievable vegan recipes. I CANNOT wait to get started in making everything you share!! Pleas tell me which brand of VEGETARIAN FLAVORED CHICKEN STOCK YOU USE. Also, when I watched the video of your workout friends making the yummy eggplant roll-ups I did not hear ou say what temperature you baked them at after you have rolled them up. Was it the same temperature as when you browned the plain eggplant slices?
    Lastly, which kind of knife do you prefer?
    Lots of Love and Immense Gratitude for your amazing recipes,
    Judy

    • Judy, thanks for your comments! Imagine Foods has a no-chicken broth that I use sometimes, as well as Better than Bouillon. Asian grocers also carry a brand made by Harvest that is a little more processed and a bit salty, but works. THe best, however, is a no-chicken broth recipe in my book, The Now and Zen Epicure! As for knives, I prefer Japanese knives that are lighter and thinner. My favorite knife is one I bought in Japan 30 years ago. It is pure carbon steel and holds an edge like nothing else. As for the eggplant rolatinis, you can bake them at anything between 350 – 425 or so just to heat them up. The quicker you need them, the higher the temperature. Have fun!