Feb 27, 2012

Roots Of Today's 'New' Hawaiian Cuisine

"Navigator" painting by Herb Kane
Polynesian explorers began their voyages of colonization into the Pacific over 3000 years ago. Legend has it that these explorers, from the Marquesan Islands, believed that there was land to the southwest... the land of the 'long white cloud'. They named these islands Aotearoa. 

As populations grew new lands were needed. So these early Polynesian explorers sailed with their families in huge seaworthy twin hulled 'waka' (canoes), hundreds of miles over open ocean. The Kaiwhakatere (navigator) used many different skills to guide the canoe including the ability to read the ocean swells, prevailing winds and currents, use the stars as a compass, and interpret the flight paths of land-based birds. 

The ocean-going waka were built to hold 60-100 people. On their voyage they cooked and dried kumara, a type of sweet potato, as their main food source at sea. Other foods such as yams, bananas and breadfruit were eaten, and green coconuts were used as a source of water. 

When they finally arrived some time between 350 - 750 A.D., they found that these isolated islands contained nothing edible on land. Fortunately they brought food plants for sustenance in the new land. The most important plants were taro and sweet potato. The terrain and climate proved to be especially suitable for growing wetland taro. Also important were, breadfruit, various yams, sugar cane, coconut, kukui nut (ground roasted to make a flavoring called inamona), and mountain apples. 

Besides edible plants, they brought pigs, poultry and dogs; which were bred for food. They found island fish such as mullet and mahi mahi, moi, and other seafood, like seaweed and the mussel called opihi. Moi were the most desired fish of the ali'i (royalty) of old Hawaii. Moi were so treasured that fishponds were specially built along the coastline for their culture. Many of these fishponds still exist here on the island of Moloka'i where I live. 

Until European settlers came to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 18th century, the early Hawaiian diet, nutritious and low in fat, characterized Hawaiian cuisine. The discovery of the Hawaiian Islands was one of the greatest accomplishments of the Polynesian navigators, who explored and colonized islands from New Zealand to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Chinese Laborers Arrive in Hawaii Circa 1889
Hawaii State Archives
The 19th century marked a historical period in Hawaii as thousands of immigrants from different countries came to the islands seeking work. The Chinese were the first group of Asian immigrants to settle in Hawaii over 150 years ago. Over 46,000 Chinese immigrants brought their customs, cultural activities and especially their ethnic foods. The Chinese immigrants brought Cantonese cuisine, cooking the first stir fry, sweet and sour, and dim sum dishes in the islands, and replaced poi with rice, adding their own herbs and spices. Chinese rice growers imported familiar fish varieties from Asia to stock local streams and irrigation ditches. 

Soon after the Chinese arrived, Asian immigrants came to Hawaii from many other countries including Japan, Philippines, Portugal, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. As these immigrants became a part of their new society, so did their cuisine become part of the Hawaiian culture. Today, there are over 28 Asian ethnic groups in Hawaii, and they have all contributed to what has become the new Hawaiian cuisine. 

The Chinese were followed by large waves of Japanese between 1890 and 1924. The Filipinos and Koreans started immigrating in the early 1900s, with a major influx of Koreans during the Korean War. Each group wanted to eat the foods from their own cuisine, and so farms and grocery stores were established on the islands. With the onset of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Hawaii saw an influx of immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. In the late 1970s, several other Asian ethnic groups began migrating to Hawaii to escape persecution in their homelands and seek a better life.

As the Asian population in Hawaii grew, their influence on the native cuisine spread as well. Hawaiians began substituting rice for potatoes and bread, cooking with soy products and tofu and adapting their cooking methods to include steaming and stir-fry. The Asian cuisine, unable to access many ingredients traditional in their homelands, had to adapt as well, and Asian-Hawaiian fusion dishes became an integral part of Hawaii's cuisine. Hawaii's cuisine today is a reflection of its native ingredients and influences from all of the Asian ethnic groups that inhabit the islands.

As Hawaii developed as a tourist destination in the mid- to late-20th century, regional cuisine popped up. Today, it prominently features fusions of Pacific Rim, Indo-Pacific, Euro-Pacific and Euro-Asian food. The 2010 United States Census Bureau states that in Hawaii, Asians made up the highest proportion of the total population (57%) compared to less than 5 percent of the United States overall, and is projected to reach 9% by the year 2050. These latest figures show a clear direction for Hawaii's 'new' cuisine.


Spicy Ahi Poke
2 pounds highest-quality ahi tuna, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons tobiko (flying fish eggs)
1/2 cup shoyu
1 heaping tablespoon Ko Choo Jang chili paste
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup sugar
bunch of Cilantro, chopped (Chinese parsley) or
green onions, chopped fine

Start with the shoyu. Add sugar slowly, until you have "cut the saltiness of the shoyu" but do not make it taste 'sweet'. Add the Ko Choo Jang paste and mix well. Add sesame oil, sesame seeds, chopped parsley, ahi and tobiko, mixed gently. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow flavors to marry, then serve with Sapporo brand Japanese beer. Makes 8 servings.

Hot and Sour Soup
1 tablespoons wood ear* strips, soaked in water about 4 hours
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
5 ounces bean curd (cut in thin one-inch slices)
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 teaspoon Chinese red hot pepper sauce
10 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch, blended with 4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup thin strips of fresh pork
3 beaten eggs
10 cups chicken broth
chopped green onions for garnish

Heat chicken broth to boiling. Add pork strips, bamboo shoots, wood ear (drained), bean curd, and mushrooms. Return to boiling and add salt, soy sauce, sugar, white pepper, red pepper sauce, and vinegar, stirring all along. Continue boiling for a total cooking time of 20 minutes.

Stir in cornstarch mixture and keep stirring until soup is thickened. Pour beaten eggs gently over the top. Turn off the heat and stir eggs gently into soup. Add sesame oil. Spoon into bowls and serve topped with chopped green onions if desired.

*Wood ear: Dried edible fungus, used primarily in Asian cuisine; these are commonly sold in Asian markets shredded and dried. Makes 10 servings.

Portuguese Chili
2 pound ground beef
1 pound Portuguese sausage, sliced
1 29-ounce can tomato sauce
1 29-ounce can kidney beans, with liquid
1 29-ounce can pinto beans, with liquid
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced green chili
1/4 cup diced celery
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin powder
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 cup water

Brown the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat; drain off the fat. Using a fork, crumble the cooked beef into pea-size pieces. In a large pot, combine the beef plus all the remaining ingredients, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring every 15 minutes, for 2 to 3 hours. Note: Top with some chopped green onions and cheddar cheese. Makes 8 servings.

Spicy Thai Beef Salad
1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
cooking spray
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 pound boneless beef sirloin steak, trimmed if necessary, cut into thin strips
4 cups torn mixed salad greens

Mix bell pepper and cucumbers in large bowl; set aside. Combine lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, basil, mint and ground ginger in small bowl; set aside.

Spray large skillet or wok with cooking spray; heat over medium heat 1 minute. Add jalapeno peppers, grated ginger and garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in steak; cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until cooked through, stirring frequently. Add to bell pepper mixture; mix lightly. Set aside.

Add lime juice mixture to same skillet. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil 30 seconds.

Divide greens among 4 salad plates; top evenly with the steak mixture. Drizzle with the lime juice mixture. Makes 4 servings.

Chinese Chicken Long Rice
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken cut into small strips
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
dash pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6-8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2-4 chopped green onions
10 ounces long rice* (cellophane noodles)
8 ounces chicken broth

Combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, sugar and pepper to create a marinade. Add the chicken and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Cover and soak long rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Cut into eight lengths. (Smaller lengths can be used based on preference.) Place a large skillet or wok over high heat. When hot add vegetable oil and marinated chicken. Cook until chicken no longer is pink, turning often.

Reduce heat and add mushrooms, green onions, long rice, chicken broth and remainder of soy sauce. Simmer until hot, stirring often - about 3 minutes. *Note: Long rice requires very little cooking time. It absorbs liquid very easily and can easily break down if cooked too long. Makes 6 servings.

Wilted Bok Choy with Soy Sauce and Peanuts
Cultivated in China since ancient times, bok choy is found in soups and stir-fries, appetizers and main dishes. Bok choy's popularity comes from its light, sweet flavor, crisp texture and nutritional value. Not only is bok choy high in vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium, but it is low in calories, a truly great vegetable. This simple recipe will have you sold on bok choy.

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 bunch bok choy, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup crushed peanuts

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bok choy and saute 3 minutes. Add soy sauce and red pepper flakes and cook 2 more minutes, until bok choy stalks are tender-crisp and leaves are wilted. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper. Arrange bok choy on plates and top with peanuts just before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Tahitian Lime Pie
Tahitian limes are a variety of lime that grows here on Moloka’i, they have a fairly thin rind and their flesh is pale green, seedless, and very juicy when they are ripe. Tahitian limes are often used in the well-known key lime pie because key limes are often not available in Hawaii. As far as I am concerned, Tahitian limes are much better than key limes. This is one of the best pies I have ever eaten, it is rich, and only a small slice is necessary. Trust me, you're going to love this recipe.

3 large egg yolks
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Tahitian lime juice (about 4 or 5 ripe Tahitian limes)
1 tablespoon Tahitian lime zest ,using a microplane

For The Crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Whipped Cream:
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated white sugar

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

For the crust, place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until crumbs are the same size. Put cracker crumbs in a bowl and add the sugar and butter. Mix to combine. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool.

Use an electric mixer and beat the yolks until thick and turn to a light yellow, don't over mix. Beat in the condensed milk, lime juice and rind. Pour into the prebaked pie shell and bake for 12 minutes. Once it has completely cooled, cover and refrigerate, about 4 hours. To serve, whip the cream and sugar. Pipe a lattice pattern on top, or spoon dollops around the edge. Makes 8 servings.

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