A New Year Mochi Soup That’s Flexible and Festive

December 29, 2023
Dining & Wine
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Hello! Mia here, filling in for Sam, who returns on Sunday. To channel a bit of his sageness, I hope you’ve found little moments of rest and relief this week — this hurtle to the end of the year can be a lot.

Can I share a secret with you? (She said, to millions of people.) Thanksgiving is not my favorite food holiday. That honor belongs to New Year’s. Thanksgiving has too many rules, too much stress. On the last and first days of the year, however, you get to cook and eat whatever you like, whatever your family likes, whatever fills you with lightness and optimism and warm feelings of luck and prosperity. You can go all out — caviar! Champagne! — or you can stay in and hunker down. You can visit your favorite drive-through and eat your usual order off your nicest plates, a thing I’ve done and definitely recommend.

New Year’s can mean Hoppin’ John, oliebollen, a stack of tamales or a cluster of grapes. It could mean long noodles or tiny lentils. For me, and for many Japanese families, New Year’s means ozoni.

Khushbu Shah has written about Japanese New Year’s foods for The New York Times, with recipes for Okinawan soba, kurikinton (Japanese sweet potatoes and candied chestnuts) and ozoni, or mochi soup. This version, from a recipe by the chef Chris Ono, simmers pork belly in a mix of dashi, soy sauce, sake and ginger to form a deeply flavorful broth.

But you have lots of flexibility: My mom makes her ozoni broth from chicken stock and dashi powder, and she’s tasted versions with miso soup as the base. If you can’t find peppery mizuna leaves, spinach is a great substitute, as are small pieces of salmon for the kamaboko. (Mom’s even used frozen tteok — Korean rice cakes — in a pinch when she couldn’t find mochi.) However you assemble your ozoni, it should be soothing, nourishing and a little whimsical — that soft orb of mochi, sitting plumply in its soup, makes me smile year after year.

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If you like a lentil for New Year’s Eve, Anna Francese Gass’s stewed lentils with sausage is a hearty midnight meal. As with the ozoni, there’s wiggle room here: Readers report using ground chicken sausage instead of pork links, adding a diced potato for extra body and deglazing the pot with a splash of wine. And, as one reader writes, you don’t need to limit this dish to Dec. 31: “Delicious! We will definitely make again when we ring in the new year, and other days of the year when want to eat something really good and we are watching our budget.”

A big, glistening platter of gorgeous seafood always makes me feel good feelings, especially if it’s perfectly prepared (read: I didn’t waste my money overcooking nice fish.) I lean on Ali Slagle’s olive oil baked salmon often; the moderate oven temperature and copious amount of olive oil ensure silky salmon every time. With Melissa Clark’s awesome Gruyère puff (which resembles a giant gold coin; we love a theme) and Via Carota’s insalata verde, I have a meal that makes me feel very lucky, indeed.

The fat tub of gochujang I keep in my fridge also feels like a token of good luck, in that it gives me such treasures as gochujang buttered noodles, gochujang caramel cookies and this sheet-pan gochujang chicken and roasted vegetables. This recipe by Yewande Komolafe hits all the right notes: sweet, spicy, sticky, salty and spendthrift (as Yewande notes, while the recipe calls for a wintry mix of root vegetables, it works great with whatever veggies you’ve got).

Lastly, I know it’s not the healthiest way to start the day, but boy do I love a sweet treat for breakfast. I’m going to make this light, fluffy coffee cake for dessert tonight, then happily nibble away at it with my morning coffees as I slide into 2024.

Thank you for reading! I hope you and yours have a delicious, satisfying and very happy New Year.

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