Usually, New Year’s Day is a day filled with Japanese symbols and foods in our home. Maybe it’s because it was the one holiday we celebrated when I was growing up that was specifically Japanese. Back in the day, Guam’s Okinawan, Japanese, and other Asian cultures did not have ready access to many of the foodstuffs and decorations they would have liked to celebrate the New Year the way it is celebrated in their countries of origin. One stand-by that was available for the holiday, but often hoarded and in short supply, was fresh mochi, especially daifuku (seen here) — the pillowy soft rice cake filled with sweet beans. In later years, grocers started carrying the special ingredients necessary for sukiyakc during the holiday season: fresh spinach, shirataki, Japanese leeks, paper-thin slices of beef, in addition to the readily available dried shiitake and fresh tofu.
In Japan and places where there is a substantial population with Japanese ancestry, it is customary to prepare an elaborate and highly-specialized multi-course (as many as 30!) meal called osechi-ryori (see photos on bento.com) during the new year period. On Guam this was usually only available at the finest Japanese restaurant on the island and ran about $100 per person. Here on Oahu, one can buy the ingredients, either raw or already prepared, to prepare this special feast at home. Once after I had returned to Guam as an adult, I went to lunch with my mother for this special New Year’s meal, and just could not appreciate many of the strong flavors and unusual foods. After that year, mom went with my aunt and other friends. Dinner, though, was still sukiyaki.
This year T and I opted to wait for my dad’s visit here in a couple of weeks to make the sukiyaki. But to keep the Japanese theme, we had Okinawan kombu and sekihan (adzuki beans and mochi rice) for new year’s eve, and we started the new year with the traditional Japanese New Year’s soup calledozoni, in which grilled or steamed plain mochi (no fillings) swims in a light dashi (broth), along with some shiitake, greens, and kamaboko (fishcake). This soup (sorry, no photos this year) symbolizes long-life and good health for the new year. Some people say you should pull the mochi away as you bite it (visualize warm mozzarella on a pizza as you take a bite) — and the longer the “string” of mochi that you pull away, the longer your life. Afterwards, we switched gears and enjoyed a rich breakfast of organic french roast coffee, sweet rolls, and for me (T left for a hike) pickled eggs and sausage.
But since we weren’t having sukiyaki, what about dinner? Well, we picked a New Orleans-style specialty since we were planning to watch the UH Warriors play at the Superdome today (tomorrow’s post). And we started the meal with a new recipe we’ve been dying to try — Italian stuffed and fried olives. We first saw these little gems at Rowena’sRubber Slippers in Italy early last month — meaty green olives filled with meat and cheese, lightly breaded and deep-fried! We both LOVE olives, but had never seen such a decadent use of the savory wonders so, of course, it had to be made and sampled!
One thing you should know about me: I hate deep-frying. I love deep-fried foods, no question — but if I can find someone else to do the frying, I’ll take the option every time. Tempura, fish and chips, fried calamari — love them! Don’t cook them myself, though. Which is a testament to how good these looked and how much we wanted to taste them. On her site, Rowena offers tips on slicing the olives for optimal filling (note my attempt to follow her directions, not always with success), a recipe for a lamb and beef filling, and do-ahead tips for entertaining. I had to substitute ground pork and feta, instead of the meats and parmesan specified, due to time constraints, but otherwise followed her directions to a “T.” Rowena’s delectable Ascolana-style Fried Olives recipe is here.
I only made 9 since it was just us two and they were only supposed to be a precursor to the etouffee. Two words: unbelievably ono. We each wolfed down our allotted share with thick slabs of sourdough bread, and considered stealing some off our spouse. They were everything you think they might be. Maybe more. I think I would keep to the parmesan cheese next time — the feta was delicious, but with the other seasonings used, especially the white wine, I think the parmesan will blend better. I have lots more filling and olives to do this again on the weekend. I also have some miniature sweet peppers that we will try with the same filling and cooking method. Bottom line: this recipe went straight in to the Family Favorites folder of my files.
UPDATE (Jan. 8, 2008): Couldn’t resist making more olives over the weekend, as well as sweet peppers and mushrooms with the same filling. The mushrooms were stuffed, then given a sprinkling of bread crumbs, drizzle of olive oil, and bath of chicken broth and sherry (about 1/3 of the way up the mushrooms) and baked. The peppers were simply stuffed, drizzled and baked.
They were all good, but I think this filling best suits the briny-ness of the olives. Next time, I would add something salty or briny to the remaining filling before using it for another vegetable — perhaps some minced olives or capers, or maybe some anchovies. A delicious experiment, nonetheless.