Selected Dishes From My Mother’s New Year’s Eve Parties and Other Meals

Finely shredded cabbage, slivered or sliced almonds, green onions, uncooked ramen noodles broken into pieces, white sesame seeds. The dressing is made of canola oil, rice vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

Cooked soba noodles, head lettuce cut in fine strips or torn into bite-sized pieces, julienned carrots, English cucumbers peeled, seeded and cut lengthwise then sliced. Dressing is made of canola oil, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce and ground, roasted sesame seeds. Garnish includes thinly sliced egg crepes and green onions, and nori cut into strips.

Pork loin pounded and breaded with panko crumbs over shredded cabbage. Serve with Tonkatsu sauce of catsup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar, or use store-bought Tonkatsu sauce.

Zuccini, mushrooms, round onions, pineapple chunks, and tofu, salt and pepper.

Hand-made potstickers with filling of ground pork, finely chopped water chestnut, green onions, garlic, and ginger root; soy sauce; miso; sesame and vegetable oil; finely chopped cabbage that has been salted, rinsed, and squeezed of excess water. Once assembled, potstickers are steamed then fried. Dipping sauce is made of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and garnished with red pepper flakes. Recipe and cooking technique for fried rice is detailed in the book, COOKING FOR HER EYES

Roasted chicken marinated and basted in teriyaki sauce, mixed steamed vegetables garnished with sliced almonds. Recipe for teriyaki sauce is detailed in the book, COOKING FOR HER EYES.

While not written in the book, this salmon teriyaki is a household favorite in my family: Steamed salmon fillet in teriyaki sauce marinade garnished with cross-cut green onions; mixed mushrooms pan roasted in butter; and steamed asparagus.

My family is from Hawai’i, and in the 1950s, we moved to Chicago. My mom yearned to make dishes that reminded her of “home” but was challenged with finding ingredients she needed–so she improvised! 

One of those dishes, Lau lau, a traditional Hawaiian meal, is a small bundle of pork and butterfish bits sprinkled with Hawaiian salt and covered with taro leaves. Ti leaves, wrapped and tied around each packet, are then steamed. But instead of taro leaves, not available in Chicago, my mom topped the pork and fish with spinach, and in place of ti leaves, she wrapped the bundle in aluminum foil, and steamed them. Because it’s so easy to make, Lau lau is one of my favorite meals to cook–and eat! Although pork chops work, I use pork shoulder because it’s more flavorful and tender, and I usually skip the fish simply because butterfish is sometimes tricky to find.

Another Hawai`i meal is teriyaki Spam musubi with egg crepe and nori. My mom could never present a meal without a veggie, so here, I tied an asparagus tip to the musubi with a green onion strip. Alongside the musubi is Hawai`i style macaroni salad that includes elbow macaroni, chopped hard-boiled eggs and celery, grated carrots and yellow onions, Vlasic Dill Relish including some of its juices, Hellman’s mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.

A little bit complicated to make, my mother’s egg custard soup was one of my favorite comfort foods, especially during Chicago’s cold weather. Shrimp, reconstituted shiitake mushrooms, chicken cubes, carrot rounds, spinach, and napa are covered with a dashi/egg mixture and steamed in individual bowls. Yum! Detailed instructions are covered in the book, COOKING FOR HER EYES

Miso soup with baby bok choy, tofu cubes, and sliced daikon is my go-to comfort food not just because it’s delicious, but it’s so easy to make. I prepare big batches of dashi and keep thin, Ziplock bags of it in the freezer–that way, I always have it on hand and break off however many pieces I need.

What’s the best day-after meal when Thanksgiving is over? Jook! It’s the most savory, robust yet tummy-settling soup there is, especially on a chilly November evening. My jook is dashi based with turkey, rice, ginger slivers, tons of celery, and seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt. Garnishes for color and crunch include green onions, carrots, tofu curls, and thinly sliced celery.

Kabocha (Japanese squash) looks like a small green pumpkin with speckles of orange. It’s a flavorful and healthy alternative to other squashes and sweet potatoes as it is lower in calories and glycemic index, and high in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. I usually put it briefly in the microwave to make it easier to cut. When cooked, the skin of kabocha is edible giving its gentle texture a lovely firm contrast to the meat’s softness. Here, I pan-roasted kabocha cubes and finished it with a teriyaki glaze. Also shown is fried tofu slices garnished with sliced green onions and roasted kale chips.

Tsukemono, marinated pickled vegetables, is a popular Japanese treat. Served as a side dish or with ochazuke (hot rice and green tea) it’s crunchy tartness provides color, texture, and contrast with whatever it partners, and is packed with vitamins, fiber, and probiotic cultures. A standard marinade includes 1 part rice vinegar, 2 parts sugar, 4 parts soy sauce, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a splash of sesame oil. But there are many iterations of this marinade that can be found on the internet. Shown, is pickled watermelon rind (skin removed), on a bed of edible nasturtium leaves and served with hot rice. Fresh watermelon adds a contrasting sweetness to the tsukemono dish.

At the end of the growing season for tomatoes, I found a number of firm tomatoes that refused to ripen, so I marinaded them! Shown here, the dish is garnished with edible nasturtium flowers.