Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
We recently attended an Independence Day celebration of a former co-worker and longtime friend, Ola. I first met Ola two lifetimes ago when I started working at Kaiser Permanente just before the turn of the millennium. Away from work, she hosted many themed potluck dinners. For instance, at her annual Lunar New Year celebration, she requested all participants to wear red clothing. Bourbon and barbecue was suggested for Independence Day, and you couldn’t enter the house unless you were properly attired for her Halloween party. And the venue moved over the years as she moved from Kailua, O‘ahu, to Kula, Maui, then back to O‘ahu in Ahuimanu and currently is in the process of moving yet again to Hawai‘i Kai. So after attending countless themed potlucks, I thought I might give you food suggestions if you’re ever invited to a themed potluck dinner. I always try to bring dishes that don’t require using the host’s kitchen, travel well and can be consumed either chilled or warm.
New Year’s Party
Since many Asian cultures have food customs centered around the new year and noodles usually always symbolize long life, I created a Thai-inspired noodle dish using Sun Noodle’s Okinawan soba. It’s simply transported in a covered 9” x 13” baking dish.
1/2 cup well-shaken canned unsweetened lite coconut milk
3 ounces natural chunky peanut butter
3 tablespoons shoyu
1 ½ ounces fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons lemongrass paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic-chili sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 packages Okinawan soba noodles
2 cups shredded chicken
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Finely julienne Thai basil
Whisk together coconut milk, peanut butter, shoyu, lime juice, lemongrass, fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic-chili sauce and ginger in bowl until smooth. Set aside.
Cook noodles according to the package directions. Drain in a colander. Drizzle with the sesame oil and toss to coat. Add the peanut sauce and chicken and toss to coat then garnish with Thai basil. Divide mixture among six to eight bowls. You can omit the fish sauce or increase the shoyu or garlic-chili sauce and replace the chicken with edamame for a vegan version.
Cinco de Mayo
A panzanella is a classic Italian bread salad but you can easily substitute ingredients to make it a Mexican inspired salad.
Mexican Corn Panzanella Salad
12 ounces bag of Safeway frozen, fire roasted corn
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for corn
3 medium shallots trimmed and cut into paper thin slices
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 ounces crumbled Cotija cheese
1/2 medium jalapeño chile thinly sliced (optional)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
8 ounces French baguette or whole wheat ciabatta cut into 1-inch cubes and toasted
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
1 pint sweet 100 tomatoes, halved
2 handfuls baby kale, spinach or arugula
Freshly ground black pepper
Toss the shallots, chile, white balsamic vinegar, lime juice and oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Toss the corn, avocado, cheese, cilantro, tomatoes with the toasted cubes of bread then toss everything with the shallot mixture. Right before serving, add the baby greens then serve. You can also use toasted cubes of cornbread in place of the baguette or ciabatta. Omit the cheese (or use a vegan cheese substitute) for a vegan friendly salad.
Oktoberfest (or Halloween) Party
Who said lasagna must only be prepared as a traditional Italian dish? And eating simply grilled bratwurst and ‘kraut is so boring. How about combining the two?
One ring smoked kielbasa, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced with the grain
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter or oil
1 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoons celery seeds
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
5 cups milk
1 cup grated Muenster cheese
1 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
Salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste
One-half 32 ounce bottle sauerkraut, drained
½ teaspoons each of caraway, celery and mustard seeds
About 1 cup of diced ham
About 1 cup grated smoked Gouda or other white melting cheese
Lasagna noodles – uses 16 to 20 lasagna noodles
Brown the kielbasa and onions on medium heat then set aside. In a saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter then add the flour and cook for several minutes then add the caraway seed, mustard seed, celery seed and paprika. Slowly add the milk while constantly whisking until slightly thickened then add the cheeses and continue whisking until a uniform cheese sauce is reached. Reduce the heat to low while preparing the lasagna.
Place a little sauce on the bottom of a 9” x 13” that has been greased. Place the lasagna noodles on the sauce then layer with the sliced kielbasa and onions and cover with more cheese sauce. Place another layer of lasagna noodles over this then layer with the drained sauerkraut then sprinkle with the caraway, celery and mustard seeds and more of the cheese sauce. Cover this layer with more lasagna noodles then the diced ham and extra grated melting cheese then drizzle the dark mustard over the top. Cover this with the last layer of lasagna noodles then cover with the rest of the cheese sauce. Cover with aluminum foil then bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, uncover then bake another 10 minutes. Cool slightly before slicing. Serves 12.
So though our drive from Käne‘ohe to Hawai‘i Kai will be a lot longer than simply driving to Ahuimanu, we’ll continue attending Ola’s themed potluck parties. However, the themed cocktails that I usually bring will likely be of the virgin variety… at least for the designated driver.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a retired clinical pharmacist. However, he and his wife still enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”