Mar 31, 2012

Tart and Juicy Tahitian Limes

Moloka'i Tahitian Lime
click on image to view larger
Hawaiian limes are actually called Tahitian limes, and they grow very nicely here on Moloka'i because of the acidic volcanic soil and warm tropical sun. Actually I have heard them referred to as "lemons" here on the island, probably because our local Tahitian limes turn a pale yellow/green when ripe. I am surprised that I haven't seen more lime trees growing on Moloka'i than I have, because the cost of buying a single lime is $1.65, or $3.99 a pound at Friendly Market on 3/2/12, and only .69 cents each at Wines and Spirits, quite a price difference, probably because Wine and Spirits sells local limes. You hardly ever see them for sale at our farmers' market for some reason. I have two trees in my yard that I planted seven years ago when they were already 3 years old. I bought them, and other citrus trees, from Frankie's Nursery on Oahu. One year after planting the trees, they started bearing fruit and have been ever since. Unfortunately the local deer like to pull the limes off the lower limbs in the middle of the night, but when they take a bite, they leave them on the ground because they are so tart. That's alright, I have plenty more limes higher up in the trees.

As it turns out, there are two types of Tahitian limes, Persian and Bearss, which are very similar to each other. The Tahitian Persian lime is slightly larger than Tahitian Bearss lime. We have the Bearss type here on Moloka'i. Both Tahitian limes are greenish yellow when ripe but are harvested to be sold when they are still green because the acidity level is higher, which they say provides a better flavor, but I'm not convinced of that. Tahitian limes have a fairly thin rind and their flesh is pale green, seedless, and very juicy. In the United States, the majority of Persian limes are grown in Florida and the Bearss limes are grown in California and Hawaii. The Tahitian limes are often used in the well-known key lime pie because the small key limes found in Florida and Mexico, are often not available. Tahitian limes are not as acidic or aromatic as key limes, but they are great to cook with. I think one reason more lime trees are not grown on Moloka'i is that people here don't realize how many delicious lime recipes there are, and how good they are for you. Limes are a particularly good source of vitamin C and is a potent natural antioxidant to help ward off heart disease and cancer.

Cooks notes: If you want more juice out of your lime, put it in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then roll the fruit with the palm of your hand on the kitchen counter a few times and the softened lime will give you plenty of juice. If you need the zest, make sure you grate the skin before softening the lime. Tahitian lime skin is very high in aromatic oils which will give your recipes a terrific flavor. Here are a few lime recipes for you to try:

Sweet and Sour Salmon
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons honey
4 center-cut salmon fillets (6 ounces each), about 1 1/2 inches thick
1/2 Tahitian lime
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
nonstick cooking spray
white jasmine rice, cooked
2 cups edamame (soy beans), sauteed in butter for 3 or 4 minutes
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Tahitian limes cut into wedges for garnish

Preheat broiler with rack set 4 inches away from heat. In a small bowl, stir together hoisin and honey; set aside. Spray a baking sheet or broiler pan with cooking spray. Place salmon on sheet, skin-side down. Squeeze juice of half a Tahitian lime evenly over salmon; season with salt and pepper. Place under broiler, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and drizzle each fillet with 2 teaspoons hoisin mixture. Return to broiler, and cook until glaze is bubbling and salmon is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve on top of a mixture of jasmine rice and edamame, then garnish with sliced green onions and lime wedges. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Shrimp with Peanuts and Lime Sauce
2 Tahitian limes
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 pound (about 15) jumbo shrimp, shells on
2 teaspoons canola oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped

Zest both Tahitian limes into a bowl. Squeeze in juice from 1 lime only, and whisk in fish sauce and sugar. Preheat grill to high. Brush shrimp with oil on both sides, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Grill until pink and firm to the touch, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Toss shrimp with fish-sauce mixture, cilantro, peanuts, and green onions. Squeeze remaining Tahitian lime over shrimp. Makes 4 servings.

Tahitian Lime Chicken Avocado Salad
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Tahitian lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ceyenne pepper
4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (4 ounce)
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup peeled and chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

In a small bowl whisk together Tahitian lime juice, olive oil, honey, salt to taste and ceyenne pepper. Pour half of mixture over chicken in plastic zip-lock bag, saving remaining mixture for later. place bag of chicken in fridge for 1 hour. Spray cold grill rack with nonstick cooking spray and preheat grill to medium heat. Remove chicken from bag and discard marinade from bag. Place chicken on grill, cover with lid and cook 8 to 10 minutes on each side or until tender and no longer pink. Chop into pieces. Then, combine chicken pieces, avocados, tomatoes, cucumber and basil in large salad bowl. Toss gently with reserved lime mixture and serve. Makes 4 tasty 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 when ripe, seedless, and very juicy. 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.

Tahitian Lime Coconut Bars
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting tops
6 large egg yolks
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
2 cans (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 teaspoons grated Tahitian lime zest, plus more for garnish
1 cup Tahitian lime juice

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spread coconut in a baking sheet, and toast until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes, tossing every 2 minutes to evenly brown. Remove from oven; transfer to a plate to cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar, and add half the toasted coconut. Using two knives or a fork, cut the butter into the flour-coconut mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Pat mixture into a 9"x13"pan, and bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, beat together egg yolks and condensed milk with a whisk until thick. Gradually beat in Tahitian lime zest and juice. Pour into cooled crust, sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut, and bake until just hot, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool completely, then chill until ready to serve. Cut into six 2 1/3-inch rows; cut rows on a diagonal to form diamonds. Before serving, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and garnish with Tahitian lime zest. Makes 24 delicious bars.

Tahitian Lime Mango Ice
2 ripe mangoes
zest and juice of 2 Tahitian limes
1/3 cup superfine sugar*

Peel mangoes and carefully cut the flesh away from each mango's pit, then roughly chop the flesh. In a blender, Add the chopped mangoes, lime zest, and lime juice. Add the sugar and 1/4 cup cold water, and blend until the mixture is smooth. Pour the blended mixture into four serving glasses, and place in freezer for 1 hour. Makes 4 refreshing servings.

Cooks Notes*: Superfine sugar is nothing more than regular granulated sugar, but is finer. To make superfine sugar, pour sugar into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover food processor with a kitchen towel to keep the sugar dust from escaping into your kitchen. Turn the food processor on high speed for 1 or 2 minutes. Your superfine sugar is now ready to be used.

Tahitian Swamp Water
Swamp water is a non-alcoholic drink that is actually delicious. I first had this on a hot day in the Caribbean. There is an alcoholic version of this drink as well, but this one works for me.

1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup basic iced tea
sugar to taste

Place ice in a tall glass. Fill halfway with lime juice and top with iced tea. Sweeten to taste

Mar 27, 2012

The Bitter Truth!

Young bitter melon with red peppers and garlic.
Click on photo to view larger image.
The truth is, we are talking about bitter melon, an odd looking green melon with wart-like bumps. You've probably seen them in the grocery store and said to yourself... what is that and how do you cook it?, well listen up! The bitter melon is considered the most bitter of all fruits. This cucumber sized gourd-like fruit is rarely found on menus, but is available in asian markets here in Hawaii. The bitter melon is native to southern Asia and an important ingredient in Asian cuisine. This unique food is cultivated in warm-weather regions throughout the world including Central and South America. It is rich in iron, contains twice the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach and twice the potassium of banana. It also has a long history as a treatment for diabetes, and it improves the body's ability to use blood sugar and improves glucose tolerances. Bitter melon is used to treat infections caused by retrovirus, and is being investigated in the treatment of HIV. Other uses for bitter melon include treating colds, flu and fever, parasites, digestive and skin diseases.

If you are adventurous, and like bitter tasting things like coffee, bittersweet chocolate, marmalade, broccoli raab, escarole, beer, or tonic water, then you might want to try cooking with bitter melon. When shopping for bitter melon, look for younger, greener melons that are less bitter. As the fruit matures, the skin turns bright orange and the flesh increases in bitterness. Bitter melon is often used in stir fry dishes and combines well with ginger, lime, cilantro, fermented Chinese black beans and garlic. Because bitter melon is so bitter, it is usually hollowed out, removing the seeds and white pith, then pre-blanched in slightly salted water for about 3 minutes to help remove some of the bitter flavor before cooking with it. Another method used in India is to soak the chopped, seeded melon in vinegar water, or lime juice, for 10 minutes then squeeze it dry before cooking with it. It takes an acquired palate to appreciate the bitterness of bitter melon, it is almost off-putting at first, so try it in small doses. Once you do, you will find that when it's gone you will want more... and that's the bitter truth.

Sweet Bitter Buns
If you are familiar with Chinese food and dim sum, then you have probably tasted "Cha siu bao". Cha siu bao is a steamed or baked sweet bun filled with a barbecue-flavored cha siu pork mixture. The word bao simply means "bun". Here in Hawaii we know them as "Manapua", which means "pork cake". In this recipe I have mixed bitter melon with my own sweet and savory black bean, cha siu pork mixture, creating a sort of yin yang effect, giving rise to "Sweet Bitter Buns".

Ingredients for stuffing:
1 cup bitter melon, diced small
6 ounces Chinese barbecue pork (cha siu), diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black beans, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons water

Ingredients for dough:
1/3 cup warm water (105˚ F)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 package yeast, active dry
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups cake flour
4 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cups milk, low-fat
all-purpose flour, for rolling dough and 2 cups bun filling, of your choice
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons honey mixed with 1 tablespoon warm water

Mix together the warm water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and yeast in an 8 ounce measuring cup. Let stand until it rises to the 8 ounce level (about 20 minutes). Sift flour, cake flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add shortening, yeast mixture and milk. Knead mixture 5 minutes to form a dough. Cover with a damp cloth and set dough in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.

Trim and discard ends of bitter melon, then cut melon in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and pith with a small spoon and discard. Dice melon halves into small 1/4 pieces and boil in water for 5 minutes, drain of all liquid. Heat wok, add oil and stir-fry pork together with bitter melon for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water, salt, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce and black beans. Bring it to a boil. Prepare thickening by mixing the cornstarch and 4 tablespoons cold water. Stir into the mixture and cook for 1 minute. Let cool before using. After 3 hours, when the dough has risen, turn the dough onto a floured cutting board. With a sharp knife, divide the dough into 16 roughly equal pieces. Roll a piece of dough out on a floured surface to a 4-inch circle. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling into center of the dough circle. Gather the edges of the dough over the filling, and twist them together to seal. Place the bun, seam side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Allow buns to rise in draft-free place for another hour. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake one tray of buns at a time, brushing the tops and sides of the buns with beaten eggs right before baking. Bake 15 to 18 minutes on center rack until golden brown. The cooked buns sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove them from the oven, set on a rack, and let cool for 5 minutes. Brush the honey mixture on the buns for a sweet-glaze finish that will soften the crust. Refigerate leftover buns for up to a week and reheat at 350˚F for 8 to 10 minutes, until hot. These buns also may be frozen for up to a month. Thaw them completely before reheating. Makes 16 buns.

Stir-fried Shrimp and Bitter Melon
2 medium bitter melons*
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and butterflied
8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons fermented black beans**, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon thinly shredded ginger
1/4 cup shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon chopped red chile (optional)
black pepper
4 cups steamed jasmine rice

Trim and discard ends of bitter melons, then cut melons in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and pith with a small spoon and discard. Slice melon halves crosswise into thin pieces and set aside. Heat oil in a wok over high heat, swirling to coat the surface of the wok. When the oil is shimmering, add shrimp and stir-fry until they turn pink and are just cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add garlic to wok and stir-fry until golden and fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add fermented black beans and ginger, stir-fry 15 seconds, then add bitter-melon slices and stir-fry 1 minute longer. Add shaoxing and stir-fry 1 minute. Add soy sauce, sugar, and chiles and stir-fry until bitter melon is just tender, 2-3 minutes. Return shrimp to wok and stir-fry until heated through. Season to taste with pepper and serve with bowls of steamed jasmine rice. Makes 4-6 servings.

Note: *The bitter melon is cooked when it turns a brownish-green shade. Take a piece of bitter melon out and taste for doneness if you wish. The texture should be a soft and crunchy but not mushy. **Fermented black beans are commonly available in Chinatown markets and are not to be confused with black bean paste. Thought to have originated in the Hunan province in the southwest of China, fermented black beans are now used throughout Southern China.

Eggs with Stir-fried Bitter Melon
3 to 5 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 eggs
1½ cups sliced bitter melon, par-boiled in salted water for 3 minutes before cooking
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup water or chicken broth 

Trim and discard ends of bitter melons and discard. Slice in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and white pith with a spoon. Slice bitter melon halves into 1/4" slices. Put slices in a pot of boiling water to just cover the melon and add one tablespoon of salt. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove the melon from the water and rinse in a cold water to stop them from cooking. Set aside. Heat a wok on high heat until it is hot. Pour in 3 tablespoons canola oil and stir in garlic. When garlic is golden, stir in one egg and stir a few times. When the egg is cooked, stir in bitter melon. Stir for 1 minute, then add another egg and stir a few times before adding soy sauce and sugar. Add water or chicken broth and let it cook 1 minute. Depending on one’s liking, the melon should be not too soft or to firm; it should still have some crunch. Serve warm with steamed jasmine rice. Makes 2 servings.

Bitter Melon Soup
4 bitter melons about 6 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches thick
8 cups chicken stock
½ pound ground pork
½ pound shrimp, chopped
7 dried Shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans, coarseley chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
pinch of ground black pepper
1 cup green onion tops sliced thin into strings and put into ice water to curl

Slice green onion tops at an angle into thin strings and put into cold water with ice cubes. We will use these to garnish the finished dish later. Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water for about half and hour or until softened. Remove all of the tough stems from the softened mushrooms, finely chop 3 of the mushroom tops and set aside. Trim and discard ends of bitter melons and discard. Cut the bitter melon approximately 2 inches long and remove the seeds and white pith in the center with a scooper or small spoon, creating a tube. (Note: be careful not to break the melon while removing the seeds and pith). Put bitter melon tubes in a pot of boiling water to just cover the melon and add one tablespoon of salt. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove the melon tubes from the water and rinse in a cold water to stop them from cooking. Set aside.

Mix chopped shrimp, ground pork, 3 chopped Shiitake mushrooms, black beans, garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped green onion, soy sauce, minced ginger, and black pepper. Stuff each section of the bitter melon with the pork stuffing. Do not over-stuff the melon. The melon seems to shrink more than the pork when it is all cooked. Drop into a pot of chicken stock with the other 4 whole mushroom tops. Bring to a boil, remove any scum that might form on top of the stock and simmer for about 20 minutes. Season broth with pepper and more soy sauce if needed. To serve, ladle hot chicken broth into soup bowls and place two stuffed bitter melon pieces into the center of the broth. Lay one mushroom top against the bitter melon in each bowl. Top with green onion curls before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Mar 23, 2012

Are You A "Shroomy"?

This delicate 2 1/2" mushroom forest was found
growing out of a pile of wood chips in my back yard 

here on the island of Moloka'i. Click on photo to enlarge.
I know that I am a "shroomy". A shroomy is a person, much like a "foody", that loves to eat mushrooms, besides it sounds better than being called a "fungophile". Mushrooms have been enjoyed for many thousands of years all over the world. The practice of of eating mushrooms probably began during the hunting and gathering period, in our prehistory. They were collected along with fruits and berries, as well as other plant material that could be consumed. Today the study of mushrooms by mycologists is quite popular. We know for example, there are over 300 varieties of mushrooms here in Hawaii that are truly unique and some not even named. Most of these mushrooms were introduced with non-native tree species that were brought here. Some of these mushrooms will kill you or make you violently ill if eaten, like the white Amanita Marmorata mushrooms, cousins of the extremely deadly white death caps, but there are good, edible mushrooms here as well, like Laetiporus (chicken of the woods).

There is a lot of interest in growing gourmet mushrooms in Hawaii because it takes too long for them to be shipped from the mainland and local chefs don't want mushrooms that aren't fresh. Also the cost of importing mushrooms makes it even more important to grow locally. Unfortunately, to date, there is only one commercial mushroom growing farm in Hawaii, Hamakua Heritage Farm on the Big Island. They produce just a few varieties of mushrooms, including shiitake, gray cluster oyster and alii oyster. These mushrooms can be purchased at many markets on the islands. Check out their website for more information at:

Another reason to cultivate mushrooms locally is that extracts from fungi for food and health product additives are potential products for the mycopharmaceuticals market. Hawaii has unique mushrooms that may have antibiotic or anti-cancer properties.

There are many people around the world who hunt for wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms deliver an earthy, sometimes meaty, flavor to foods known as umami. What most people don't know is that mushrooms give you maximum nutritional benefit only upon cooking. The cell wall of mushrooms is composed of chitin, which the human digestive system cannot break down. If the cell walls remain intact, the nutrients in the mushrooms will simply pass through our digestive system. Cooking will break down the cell wall and release its contents, which are digestible. Mushrooms are relatively high in protein, vitamins B and D, rich in anti-oxidants, and are fat and cholesterol free. Some mushrooms have proven to be anti-viral, anti-fungal, help control cholesterol, boost the immune system, or fight cancer.

If you are interested in exploring the world of mushrooms in Hawaii, I would recommend the only comprehensive book to date, written in 2002 by Don Hemmes & Dennis Desjardin, "Mushrooms of Hawai'i". It is a beautifully illustrated book filled with detailed photographs of over 230 mushrooms species. An essential reference guide for the novice or advanced mycologist, this handy reference tool provides you with all the information you need to make your foraging a success, including chapters on mushroom identification, bountiful mushroom-hunting spots in Hawaii, and a guide to the seasonality of Hawaiian mushrooms.

So what about people like us, who want their fix of Morels in the spring and Chanterelles in the fall? I guess we will have to hope that Hawaii's mushroom production catches up with the rest of the world and starts producing more locally cultivated mushrooms for shroomies like me.

Mushroom Recipes:
Marinated Mushrooms
I have been making this recipes for many years. Very easy to make, and the longer it sits, the better it gets. I usually serve these as appetizers, or you can put them on a lettuce leaf and serve as a salad.

1 pound fresh cremini mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

Clean mushrooms and remove stems. Simmer mushroom caps in salted water for 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Add olive oil, vinegar, garlic, red onion, oregano, parsley, salt, pepper and coriander. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning. Marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serves 4 as an appetizer.

DILLicious Cream of Mushroom Soup
This is an easy soup to prepare. It is thick and rich, with wonderful undertones of dill.

DILLicious Cream of Mushroom Soup
Click on photo to view larger
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon paprika
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried dill, or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 teaspoons sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
fresh dill leaves for garnish

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat, add the onions and mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquids and it has evaporated, about 10-15 minutes.

Mix in the flour and paprika and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the broth, dill, tamari or soy sauce, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper, then mix in the lemon or lime juice. Remove from heat and serve with a teaspoon of sour cream, garnished with fresh dill leaves. Serve with crackers or hot crusty bread. Makes 4 servings. Note: If you don't have chicken broth on hand, use a 10 3/4 ounce can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup mixed with 3 cups of water.

Black Fungus Salad
To Americans, eating fungus sounds gross, however mushrooms are fungus, so get over it. This is a Chinese dish, served as a side salad. If you haven't tried black fungus (pronounced "Mu'er" in China), you have really missed something. You can find them dried in little clear bags in Chinese stores or in the Asian section on your grocery store. They are then hydrated in warm water to cover for 30 minutes, which makes them expand to 2 or 3 times their original dried size. I love to put them in hot and sour soup, salads, even in beef stroganoff.

1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
3 small stalks of celery, cut into thin strips
8 pieces of dried fungus, soaked in warm water until soften, about 30 minutes
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar and/or a little lime or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2-3 drops sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon wasabi paste (optional)

Peel and then cut young ginger into thin strips, set aside. Rinse and cut celery into strips 2 inches long. Cut fungus into bite-size pieces. Cook celery in boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes. Remove and put into a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. Boil fungus for 3-4 minutes. Remove and leave to cool. Mix all ingredients for seasonings in a small bowl. Add the celery, fungus, ginger and garlic to the bowl, and then toss the mixture until well combined. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds. Makes 4 servings. Note: Adjust the seasonings to your taste.

Grilled Salmon with Mushroom Teriyaki Sauce
I love this recipe because it is easy to make and combines wonderful flavors. Fortunately for us on Moloka'i, oyster mushrooms are now available fresh from the Big Island at our Saturday farmers market across from American Savings Bank.

4, 6-ounce salmon fillets
salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms or fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil, separated
1 stalk green onion, thinly sliced (optional)

Easy Teriyaki Sauce Ingredients:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
2 tablespoons sugar (or more if you like a sweet teriyaki)

To make the Easy Teriyaki Sauce, whisk all the sauce ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer on low for 3 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. 

Brush salmon fillets with 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil, season with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan over high heat. and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Remove the salmon to a plate to let rest.

Return the frying pan to the stove on medium-high heat. When hot, add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the mushrooms and saute for about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add the teriyaki sauce, let simmer for 1 minute. Serve the teriyaki mushrooms on top of the salmon. Garnish with green onion, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Portabello Mushroom Chicken Chow Fun
I first had Chow Fun noodles in San Francisco, a wide rice noodle that is popular in Southern China, and here in Hawaii. They are usually stir-fried with vegetables or meat, in this case, Portabello mushrooms and ground chicken.

14 ounces chow fun noodles (wide rice noodles sold fresh in packages at most Oriental markets)
4 ounces ground chicken (pre-cooked)
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot chili sauce, or to taste
1 large Portabello mushroom, stem removed and discarded, then cap sliced 1/4 inch
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup minced scallions

Sauce Ingredients:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons water

Separate the chow fun noodles and cover with plastic wrap, set aside. Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl, set aside. Heat wok and add 2 teaspoons canola oil. Stir fry garlic and chill sauce for 5 to 7 seconds. Add cooked ground chicken, mushroom slices, and sauce ingredients, stir-fry briefly. Separate the chow fun noodles and drop into the wok while you are mixing a handful at a time. Continue cooking until the noodles have absorbed all the flavors and are hot. Finish with sesame oil drizzled on top. Serve into bowls or plates. Garnish with fresh minced scallions. Makes 2 servings.

Wild Rice Casserole
I am a big fan of wild rice. It's sometimes very pricy to purchase here in Hawaii, so I usually order several pounds of it on so I always have it handy. This mixture of wild rice, brown rice and mushrooms makes a wonderful earthy side dish with chicken, pork, venison, or fish dishes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon each dried sage, thyme and rosemary
2 cups wild and brown rice, mixed
3 1/2 cups water or chicken/vegetable broth

In a large pot, heat olive oil and sauté onion until soft. Add mushrooms, garlic and celery and sauté until mushrooms are cooked. Add parsley and dried herbs and stir to blend. Add rice and water or chicken/vegetable broth and bring to a boil. reduce to a simmer, partially covered, and cook for 50 minutes or until rice is tender. Fluff with a fork before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Mar 18, 2012

The Evolution of Hawaiian Spice

Hawaiian sea salt collected on Moloka'i
Click on photo to view larger
The ancient Hawaiians had a very bland diet of kalo (taro), 'uala (sweet potato), and 'ulu (breadfruit). They seasoned their food with sea salt, the first spice used in the Hawaiian Islands. When the tide was high, sea water washed ashore. Then the sea water would collect into little puddles on the rocks. When the tide was low and the sun was very hot, the puddles would evaporate and crystallize into salt. It was gathered and used as a common condiment. 

Limu is the Hawaiian word for algae, which was gathered from the tidepools by the Hawaiian women. Limu played an important part in the ancient Hawaiian diet. It was used to add flavor to their bland food. 

Inamona, a condiment made of roasted, mashed kukui nutmeats, Hawaiian sea salt and sometimes mixed with seaweeds like Limu, often accompanied the meals. It wasn't until much later that multiethnic immigrants introduced their spices to the Hawaiian Islands. They were particularly of American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and Portuguese origins. 

Today we see a heavy Asian influence, Teriyaki has become the most popular way of treating meats. Other common Asian spices include Five-spice powder from China, Wasabi and Shoyu (Soy sauce) from Japan, and Bagoong from the Philippines. Types of spicy condiments endemic to Hawaiian cuisine include Huli-huli sauce and Chili pepper water. Hawaiian cuisine is unique, a fusion of various cuisines heavily influenced by the spices from around the world. 

Spice Recipes:

Spices are very personal. This is my Island Seasoning, that I call StarDust. 
I use it on seafood, chicken, beef, pork and vegetables, I hope you enjoy it.

4 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Hawaiian Alaea sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
2 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon chili powder

Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight container. Makes about 1 cup.

Inamona is a condiment used in Hawaiian cooking made from roasted, ground kukui nuts (candlenuts) and Hawaiian sea salt. The paste is served with poke and also with sushi, and adds balance and a nutty flavor to the fish.

12 kukui nut kernels
1 teaspoon Hawaiian sea salt
Ground red chili pepper to taste

Roast the nuts whole over a grill or in a 250˚F oven for an hour and a half or until golden brown. Take one kukui nut to test and crack it open with a hammer. The meat inside should be a dark brownish color, when ready. Cool the nuts, scrape out the meat and chop fine. Mash in a mortar with a pestle to a fine consistency. Add Hawaiian salt and red chili pepper to taste. This produces a rich paste to serve in pinches over poke or cooked fish. Makes 1/3 to 1/2 cup.

Note: Inamona should be approached with some caution. When roasting, the nuts give off an acrid, sinus-blocking smell. If you use the meat from the kukui nut before it is fully cooked or you eat too much inamona, you could get a very bad stomach ache. Add one tablespoon of Inamona to 2 pounds of sashimi-grade ahi tuna when making poke.

Chicken Rub
Chicken is one of America's favorite foods because it's inexpensive, easy to prepare, and usually delicious. Many people just season their chicken with oil, salt and pepper, however with a little effort you can make your next chicken taste even better by using my chicken rub recipe.

3/4 cup Hungarian style sweet paprika
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne

Procedure for roast chicken:
Wash whole chicken and dry with paper towels. Rub outside of the chicken with olive oil or butter, then rub on about 2 tablespoons chicken rub. Roast chicken on a rack, in a foil lined pan, in a 400˚F oven. for about 1 hour, or until chicken tests 170˚F with instant-read thermometer.

This recipe makes about 2 cups of chicken seasoning. Save the leftover seasoning rub for your next chicken dinner. Keep it in an air-tight container in a dark, cool place.

Note: You can use this rub on roast chicken, or fried chicken.

Pork Rib Rub
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Wash the 2 racks of baby back ribs (about 4 pound total) and blot dry. Remove the thin papery skin on the back of each rack of ribs. (Pull it off in a sheet with your fingers, using a corner of a dish towel to gain a secure grip.)

Combine the ingredients for the rub in mixing bowl and stir with your fingers to mix. Rub about 2/3 of this mixture on the ribs on both sides. Put the ribs in a pan and cover with plastic wrap. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let marinate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Place the ribs on the grill over the drip pan and cover the grill. Start basting with mop sauce after 30 minutes, basting every 20 minutes. Cook the ribs for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours until done. The ribs are done when the meat is very tender and it has shrunk back from the ends of the bones. If using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals after 1 hour. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Homemade Taco Seasoning Blend
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/4 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt

Measure out all the ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well. Then taste and adjust the salt or spices as desired. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Makes 1/2 cup.

Thai Seasoning Blend
This spice blend can be used to impart Thai flavor to meat and seafood, or veggies or grains. You can also use it as a dry rub. To make an easy Thai marinade, toss a generous scoop of this seasoning mixture into creamy coconut milk.

1/2 tablespoon dried cumin
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground dried hot Thai chilies, or to taste
2 tablespoons dried lemongrass
2 tablespoons dried lime zest
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons dried ginger
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons toasted unsweetened coconut, ground

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)

Greek Seasoning
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried dillweed
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)

Italian Seasoning
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried flat leaf Italian parsley

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)

Cajun Seasoning
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)

Fish Seasoning
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon sesame seed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a blender. Blend until sesame seeds or ground. Rub fish or shrimp with olive oil, then sprinkle with Fish Seasoning. Grill until cooked through. I also like to season fish with this rub, then coat the fish with corn meal and fry in canola oil. Makes about 1/4 cup.

Greek Spice Blend
1/3 cup garlic powder
1/3 cup oregano
1/3 cup basil
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup sea salt or 2-3 tablespoons of regular salt
1/4 cup pepper
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)

Greek Salad Dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon style mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons of Greek Spice Blend

Blend all of the ingredients together and pour over a salad of mixed greens, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese.

Bahārāt, which simply means "spice" in Arabic, is an all-purpose seasoning used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Aromatic, warm, and sweet, a pinch of bahārāt can add depth and flavor to soups, tomato sauces, lentils, rice pilafs, and couscous. It can also be used as a rub for fish, poultry, and meat; mixed with olive oil and used as a vegetable marinade; and blended with garlic, parsley, and olive oil to make a condiment paste. We recommend starting with whole spices, which tend to be more flavorful, especially when they are toasted before grinding.

2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
4 (3-inch) cassia or cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons ground sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Grind the whole spices using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder. (You may need to do it in several batches.) Add the paprika and nutmeg and combine.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Quatre Épices
Traditionally used with rich meats, such as wild game (venison), or beef cooked in red wine, and when curing meats for charcuterie, this ancient French blend of “four spices” is also tasty in place of regular pepper as a finishing seasoning. For best results, use freshly ground spices.

1 tablespoon white pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar.

Apple Pie Spice
To flavor cakes, cookies and pastries, add 2 teaspoons per cup of flour to the dry ingredients. Fruitcakes, pies and rich, sweet foods can handle up to double that amount. Simply grind the spices, and stir to combine.

4 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon green cardamom seeds

Combine all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or a food processor. Store in an airtight jar. (The little spice jars with rubber gasket seals keep herbs fresh longer than jars with screw-on tops.)

Gingerbread Spice
I make this Gingerbread Spice to give away during the Holidays, along with the Gingerbread recipe below. Or for a dinner party, make the Gingerbread and give out the recipe.

Gingerbread Spice Ingredients:
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Fresh-Baked Gingerbread
Vegetable cooking spray
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup light buttermilk
1 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Gingerbread Spice (recipe above)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Ingredients for Yogurt Sauce:
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more to sprinkle over the cake
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Lightly spray a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment or waxed paper.

Whisk together the applesauce, buttermilk, molasses, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and gingerbread spice together in a large bowl. Add the molasses mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until combined.

Bring the water and butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the hot liquid to the batter, and whisk until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake in the center of the oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack. When the cake has cooled, pour confectioners' sugar into a strainer and sprinkle the top of the cake with sugar. Cut into 12 squares and serve with a dollop of Yogurt Sauce on the side.

To make the Yogurt Sauce:
Whip cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Add 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract; continue whipping until firm peaks form. Fold in Greek yogurt. 

Makes 12 servings.

'Chai' Spice Mix
The word 'Chai' literally means tea to much of the world. Chai Spice Mix is great prepared as a black tea latte (recipe below). It is also great added to pancakes, cake batter, or cookies. Try sprinkling on apple chips for a snack, or in apple pie before baking. Actually there are many variations to Chia Spice Mix, like adding star anise, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, lemongrass, and mint, but this is my favorite blend:

4 teaspoons ground cardamom
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice

Blend all ingredients well. Store in a tightly covered container until ready to use.

Note: To a recipe for Chai-Spiced Bundt Cake, click here.

Chai Black Tea Latte
Type of tea to use: When choosing a black tea, remember that not all black teas taste the same. Just like with fine wine, there are so many variables that give individual black teas their own particular flavor profiles. Generally, black tea is stronger, bolder and richer than green tea. A brewed black tea can range in color from amber to red to dark brown, and its flavor profile can range from savory to sweet, depending on how long it was oxidized and how it was it was heat processed. Black tea typically has more astringency and bitterness than green tea, but if brewed correctly it should be smooth and flavorful. Darjeeling Black Tea, my favorite for this recipe, is grown in a smaller, mountainous tea-producing region of India, Darjeeling is a softer, more herbaceous black tea that can change season to season with the climate. Darjeeling is often used as the tea base for India’s popular spiced beverage, Chai.

Procedure:To make a Chia Tea Latte, simply put 2 teaspoons of Chai Spice Mix, plus 2 tea bags of Darjeeling black tea into the filter basket of a drip coffeemaker. Add 1 cup of water; brew according to manufacturer's directions.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of refrigerated French vanilla nondairy creamer. Cook and stir over medium heat until heated through and sugar is dissolved. Pour milk mixture into 2 mugs; stir in tea. Dollop with whipped topping, with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. Makes 2 servings.

Note: For those of you who want all of the work done for you, you can buy teabags filled with black tea and Chai spice mix from, click here.

Mar 17, 2012

Aunty Nina's Ono Moloka'i Spice Blend

Aunty Nina Schmidt with her ono spice blend at the
Saturday farmers' market in front of Bank of Hawaii
A year or so ago my wife Kimberly brought home a small bottle of local spices mixed with salt for me to try. It sat on the shelf for a while before I opened it and had a taste. I loved it and tried it on eggs, fish, pork, chicken, and salads. 

It wasn't very long before this little bottle was empty. I asked my wife where she had gotten it and she said from a local lady at our Saturday farmers' market, but that she hadn't seen here lately. A few months went by before Kimberly brought home a larger bottle of this ono (delicious) spice blend and said she is back and has a booth with her husband just in front of Bank of Hawaii.

Today I went over to meet Nina and Melvin Schmidt, of Schmidt Pa'aluhi Farm here on Moloka'i. It seems that Nina, who was born and raised here, has been making this spice blend for over ten years. 

The idea started when she put together over 20 secret herbs and blended them with a little Moloka'i sea salt so that her son could give it out as gifts at his fishing club. Soon after she made more for her three children to give out as Christmas presents. The people who received the presents started ordering more and that's how Nina's spice blend became a small business. 

She said that friends have told her that she should sell her spices on Craig's List and Ebay, but she wasn't interested in mass production. She bottles her spice blend on Oahu in a commercial kitchen when she runs out. If I were you, I would go down to our farmers' market on Saturday morning and give Aunty Nina a visit before she runs out again, or give her a call at 1-808-479-8531 or 1-808-479-0093. Aunty Nina told me that she will ship her spice to you if you don't live on island.

Mar 15, 2012

Stuck in a Eating Rut?

"Panzanella" - Italian Bread Salad
Click on photo to view larger
Are you tired of eating the same old things, then you are probably stuck in a eating rut and need some variety in your diet. It turns out that people have different eating thresholds. Some people do the same thing every day after work and the same thing every weekend, and they're quite content. Others have to do something different every day or they're very unhappy. I have known too many people who will not try new food, either because they are satisfied with what they are eating now, they have had a bad experience trying new things, or they didn't even know there were other recipes out there to try. As for me, I am always in a eating rut. I can't go down a grocery isle or visit a farmers' market without looking for something new to try, or when eating out, I search the menu for something different to order. Perhaps this is normal for me because food is my passion. I remember when I was running the Mango Mart deli here on Moloka'i, and we had left over French bread, I decided to make "Panzanella", a popular salad in parts of central Italy using chunks of stale bread, basil and tomatoes soaked in olive oil and vinegar. It was a big hit, I had people lined up for it because they tried something new and liked it. (I have posted that recipe below if you want to give it a try). If you are tired of the same-old, same-old, do yourself a favor and try these ideas for getting out of your eating rut:

• Next time you go to the grocery store, look around for new products. Buy brown or wild rice instead of white, pita pockets instead of white bread, and pears instead of bananas.
• Try one new food each week.
• Go out for dinner and try something different on the menu.
• Change your old standbys: dress up your sandwich with spinach leaves instead of lettuce, stir sliced veggies into your scrambled eggs, choose a new type of cheese for your casserole. Try cooking the same food in a different way, like instead of drowning everything in soy sauce, try a new seasoning.
• Visit a farmers' market, and if you are not familiar with something, ask the vendor how to prepare it. That's where I found out about sweet potatoes leaves.
• Have a potluck at home with a theme: German, Tex-Mex, Italian, Chinese, etc.
• Take a cooking class, or watch the food channel on TV to get ideas.
• Buy one of my cookbooks or get a subscription to a cooking magazine.
And don't forget... "Variety is the Spice of Life!".

Panzanella - Italian Bread Salad
There are many variations for this rustic Tuscan Italian bread salad, but basically the bread, tomatoes, and basil are the stars here. You'll need a good, dense loaf of bread that is at least a day old! Other options are to add capers, olives, roasted red bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, anchovies, etc.

5 ripe Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small Japanese cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces with your hands
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 thick slices of stale country style Italian bread, or French baguette, torn into bite-size pieces.

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic and basil. Drizzle with the 1/2 cup olive oil and the 2 tablespoons vinegar and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Place half of the bread in a wide, shallow bowl. Spoon half of the tomato mixture over the bread. Layer the remaining bread on top and then the remaining tomato mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or until serving time. Just before serving, toss the salad and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. At this point the bread should have assorbed the juice from the tomatoes and be all moist. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

Mar 11, 2012

Loco Moco, "Local Kine Grindz"

Loco Moco at Kualapuu Cookhouse on Moloka'i
When I first started cooking "Local Kine Grindz" (local food) here on Moloka'i, I realized that most of the locals liked to eat big portions, and always with two scoops of rice. One of those dishes was "Loco Moco", a huge breakfast or lunch meal that is very Hawaiian. It seems that this dish was created 1949 in a restaurant in the town of Hilo, on the Big Island called the Lincoln Grill. A team of local teenage athletes, who had big appetites, requested that the restaurant come up with this dish. It was named after the first kid who tried it, his nickname was "Crazy", which means "Loco" in Portuguese. Loco sounded good with moco, so they named the dish "Loco Moco". So what is Loco Moco? Well hold on to your hats, because this is a meal that is hard to finish. Basically it’s two scoops of white rice topped with a quarter pound grilled hamburger patty, with brown gravy, topped off with a sunny-side-up fried egg, plus various side dishes, like mac salad and perhaps fried saimin. But there are many variations depending on what type of meat you want to substitute for the hamburger. Some people like Spam, ham, roast pork, bacon, chili, Portuguese sausage, teriyaki beef or chicken, mahi-mahi, shrimp or even oysters.

This iconic Hawaiian dish is now eaten from the mainland to the Pacific islands of Samoa to Guam and Saipan. Here on Moloka'i, you need to try our Loco Moco for breakfast at the Kualapuu Cookhouse, in the little town near where I live, Kualapuu. Their Loco Moco is served with a house-made beef patty, rice & gravy topped with tomatoes, cheese and green onions. The service is friendly at the Cookhouse, but everything is made to order, so relax and get ready for a big meal to start your day.

Loco Moco with Brown Gravy
This is classic Hawaiian comfort food. The gravy is what makes this dish slide down so onolicious!

Ingredients for Ground Beef Steak:
1 pound lean ground beef (hamburger)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Ingredients for Brown Gravy:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup onions, chopped
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
dash of soy sauce
dash of Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the rest:
4 eggs (cooked sunny-side-up or over easy)
1 tablespoon butter

4 cups cooked white rice, mixed with a slice of chopped spam and green onions

After you have seasoned the ground beef with salt, pepper and onion powder, form them into four patties. Add canola oil to a large frying pan, cook beef patties until they are cooked to your liking, then remove and keep warm. 

For the gravy, combine the butter and oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until slightly browned. Add the flour and stir until pale brown, then gradually add the beef stock. Stir until the gravy thickens and turns brown in about three minutes. add garlic, ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Taste and season with a dash of soy sauce and Tabasco sauce and salt and pepper if needed. Set gravy aside. 

Fry eggs (sunny-side up or over easy) in butter. Divide hot rice mixture onto four plates or bowls, top with hamburger patties and hot gravy, top that off with the fried eggs. Serve with side dishes of your choice; mac salad, fried saimin, or perhaps just a big slice of orange. 

Makes 4 big serving.

Mar 1, 2012

Cooking With "Umami"

When we eat, we taste four basic tastes, sweet, sour, salt and bitter, but there is actually a fifth taste called umami. So what is umami and where did it come from? The word umami comes from Japan, it means "pleasant savory taste", and was discovered and named by a Japanese scientist, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1908. When Dr. Ikeda published his findings, He defined it as a savory taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, which is a structural element of protein. Unfortunately know one believed him for almost 80 years. It wasn't until the 1980's that various studies proved that umami is actually the fifth primary taste and that each of the twenty kinds of amino acids possesses its own unique taste. The combination of these various tastes is an important element in determining the flavor of foods. They found that umami occurs naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. This fifth taste is subtle and blends well with other tastes to enhance flavors. Umami is used all over the world. In Asia it is found in beans and grain, fermented seafood-based products, shitake mushrooms, kombu and dried seafood. In Western cuisine, there are also fermented or cured products derived from meat and dairy products, like ham and cheese. Basically when foods like fish, beans, grains, etc., are fermented using salt, proteins are broken down into amino acids and a condiment which contains high quantities of glutamate is produced. In Asian countries where white rice, vegetables and fish are the main diet, fermented seasonings like miso, soy sauce and fish sauce are used to flavor their food. These seasonings are umami seasonings. Other umami seasonings that you may be familiar with are anchovy paste, Worcestershire Sauce, tomato products like ketchup, chili sauce, and tomato paste. Foods that are considered high is umami are: Parmesan cheese (one of the most umami-rich foods in the world), tomatoes, soy beans, tuna, shell fish, potatoes, spinach, carrots, celery, shitake mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, green tea, cured meats, beef, pork, chicken, etc. An important discovery was made by one of Dr. Ikeda's disciples, Professor Shintaro Kodama in 1913, that by combining foods that contain umami, you significantly magnify the umami taste. A good example of that is when the great French chef Auguste Escoffier, in the late 1800s, set cuisine afire with his invention of veal stock, and the Italians combined Parmesan cheese with tomato sauce and mushrooms, or the Chinese added leek and cabbage with chicken soup. The Japanese people have been making use of ingredients containing different types of umami in their dashi stock, which is at the heart of many Japanese meals. Stock is the basis of cooking all over the world, and is a good example of the synergistic effect of umami.

Thanks to the Umami Information Center for their informative information needed to write this blog. For more information on umami, plus many delicious recipes, check out their website:

Cooks Note: If you are ever in San Francisco and like Japanese food, check out a restaurant called "Umami", This restaurant has twice been awarded the best Japanese and sushi restaurant in the city and is open 7 days a week. Address: 2909 Webster St., (between Filbert St & Union St), in the Marina/Cow Hollow district. (415) 346-3431,, and make reservations!

Recipes rich in umami:
Umami Spring Rolls
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 two inch piece ginger, grated
2 green onions, sliced into matchstick pieces
1/2 cup thinly sliced Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage)
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut into thin pieces
1 cup cooked small shrimp
2 cups bean sprouts or radish sprouts or a combination of both
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for deep-frying
1 package spring roll wrappers (thawed if frozen)

Stir-fry Sauce:
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Mix stir-fry sauce together and put aside. Place 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium to high heat. Add garlic, ginger, and green onions. Stir-fry until fragrant (about 1 minute). Stir-frying Tip: Add a little water to the wok/pan when it gets too dry instead of more oil. Add cabbage, mushrooms, and shrimp. As you cook, add the stir-fry sauce. Stir-fry 1-2 minutes, until vegetables have softened, do not overcook. Remove from heat and add sprouts, tossing to mix in. Do a taste test for salt, adding 1 tablespoon more fish or soy sauce if not salty enough. 

To assemble rolls, place a spring roll wrapper on a clean working surface. Place one heaping tablespoon of the filling on the wrapper. Tips: Spread the filling lengthwise along the spring roll wrapper nearer the end closest to you. Also, try not to include too much of the liquid left in the bottom of your wok/pan (a slotted spoon works well for this - drier filling is better. Now sprinkle some of the fresh cilantro and basil over the filling. Fold the left and right sides of wrapper over filling, then lift up the wide end nearest you and tuck overtop. Roll to the other end. Secure the roll by dipping your fingers in some water and wetting the end, "pasting" it shut.

To fry spring rolls, place some canola oil (about 1 inch deep) in a wok or deep-sided frying pan over medium-high heat. When bubbles rise, or when the oil begins to form snake-like lines across the bottom of the pan, the oil may be hot enough. To test it, dip one corner of a spring roll into the oil. If it begins to sizzle and cook, the oil is ready. If not, wait another 30 seconds to one minute and try again. Using tongs, place spring rolls in oil, allowing them to fry about 1 minute on each side. Spring rolls are done when they turn light to medium golden-brown. Place on paper towels to drain while you finish frying the rest. Makes about 20-25 spring rolls. Serve spring rolls while still hot with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce or Mae Ploy sweet chilli sauce, or make your own dipping sauce: 

Dipping Sauce:
1 teaspoon Asian chili paste, or 3 fresh red chilies, chopped
1 teaspoon Vietnamese chili garlic sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients and serve with spring rolls.