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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Throughout this holiday season, we've been hearing about special foods for this time of year: a candy called Turkey Joints, and a sweet and tangy side called tomato pudding. Today, a listener in Davis, California tells us about a food tradition that her family continues to keep, with a little modification.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Lauren Jabusch is Japanese-American. Once a year, she and her family make mochi: rice cakes that can be used as dumplings in a savory soup, or as a sweet bite-sized dessert.

LAUREN JABUSCH: Traditionally, mochi is unsweetened, pounded rice, and it's a traditional New Year's holiday food. And sometimes you fill it with a sweet bean paste made either of black beans, or out of special lima beans that have been peeled.

INSKEEP: Lauren's family has been making mochi for generations. She says the recipe starts with soaking grains of rice.

JABUSCH: They're soaked overnight, then they're drained. The mochi maker that we have first steams the rice, and then it has like a little pounder in it that will pound it into a paste for us. And then we shape it by hand into individual balls.

WERTHEIMER: The recipe can be very labor-intensive, but over the years, Lauren's family has thrown out some of the old-school methods, including the need for many cooks in the kitchen.

JABUSCH: We actually don't do the traditional, over-the-fire-pounding-it-in-a-granite-bowl-with-a-huge-wooden-mallet method anymore. We have a little machine that looks very similar to a bread maker. It's cheating, but the big method is a lot of work. It involves a huge group of people, and we just do it with our immediate family.

WERTHEIMER: Lauren Jabusch remembers roasting mochi over hot coals with her family when she was a little girl. She says there's nothing like the taste of smoked mochi baked over a fire.

INSKEEP: You can see photos of Lauren's great-grandparents gathering to make mochi with the family, as well as other holiday food traditions at npr.org.

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