SOUPSONG HAS GONE HARDCOPY!
(New Year's Miso Soup with Rice Cake)
I've got to give this soup a big wow. It may not be easy to find the pounded rice cakes, looking like opaque white blocks in clear plastic packaging, but they're worth searching out. You take off the plastic wrap; stick the block under a broiler, turning on all sides as it blackens like a marshmallow at a cookout; and you've got yourself a sticky, runny, yummy hunk of molten, crispy rice. It's wonderful at the bottom of a bowl of dashi with some chicken and leeks thrown in: The perfect way to bring in the "new year," whether that means January 1 or the more proper lunar calendar "end of winter and time for spring planting" Osho gatsu festival when you leave ill luck behind and craft a new beginning for yourself. The mochi rice cakes date back to the early 9th century, Heian-cho times, when they signified health, rebirth, vitality, and resurrection. Shinnen akemashite, o-medeto gozaimase! or "The New Year has dawned, indeed a matter for congratulation." Serve this soup hot to 4 people to kick off a whole new year of life.
Dip the chicken slices into salted boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain.
Bring the dashi to a boil in a saucepan, then add chicken pieces and simmer until tender.
Ladle 1/2 cup of dashi into the miso and whisk until blended. Pour back into the soup and bring just to a boil, then remove from heat.
Place a cooked rice cake in the bottom of each of 4 bowls, then ladle the soup over them, distributing the chicken pieces evenly. Top with slivered leek, put tops on the bowls, and serve immediately.