Jan 15, 2013

Ti... "The Good-Luck-Plant"

The Hawaiian Ti Plant
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The ti plant, also known as ti and the good-luck-plant, is a mainstay throughout Polynesia. In Hawaii, they show up in hula skirts, leis, packaging, and as liners for food trays. Smooth, fresh-smelling ti leaves are also essential to the Hawaiian kitchen. There are approximately 20 species of ti, which is in the agave family. The ti plant has a distinctive cluster of large, glossy, green leaves on a stalk that can grow up to ten feet high. Ti is a “canoe plant,” or one of the few plants the early Polynesians brought thousands of miles across open ocean to their new home, Hawaii.

This important canoe plant is known to these early Hawaiians as la'i, and was believed to have divine powers. The Hawaiians would wear the tough leaves of the la'i around their necks, waist and ankles to ward off evil and bring good fortune. They would even plant la'i around their homes for the same reason. When I first arrived on the island of Moloka'i, 11 years ago, I built my home. I was told by local Hawaiians to plant la'i around my home, as well as the herb rosemary. Naturally not wanting to invite evil spirits, I did as they said. It has been a very happy eleven years, full of good luck, here on Moloka'i, so maybe there is something to this ritual.


Maui
Okolehao Liqueur
In the early days, the ti leaf was used for thatching homes, fashioned into rain capes, used as plates to serve and cook food, even fed to horses and cattle. Because the ti plant is related to the agave (used as a sweetener known as agave nectar), the root of the ti plant was also eaten because of it's sweet taste. Later, the root of the ti was fermented and distilled to make a brandy called Okolehao. After its initial production in 1790, Hawaiians continued to make okolehao. They added sugar cane as another fermentable. When pineapple was introduced, this too was sometimes added for its sugar content. When the Japanese and Chinese immigrants arrived to work in the sugarcane and pineapple fields they brought with them their native rice. The propagated rice was also sometimes added to the formula. By the beginning of World War II, the locals were producing okolehao of various formulations, all of which were sold to US military personnel located at the many bases in Hawaii. When the war was over, the production of okolehao gradually died out as rum and vodka became readily available and better tasting than the crude okolehao then being produced. A 1936 hit by Honolulu musicians Harry Owens and Ray Kinney, includes the line "When my dream of love comes true/There'll be okolehao for two." The beverage was a key ingredient in Hawaiian festivals such as the luau. Recently Okolehao was resurrected by Hawaii's only rum distiller, located on Maui, called Haleakala Distillery's. They have a website with lots of tropical drink recipes made with this 80 proof rum. 

In old Hawaii, a delicious dish called laulau was assembled by taking a few luau leaves (the leafy tops of taro leaves) and placing a few pieces of fish and pork in the center. The ends of the luau leaf are folded and wrapped again in ti leaf. When ready, all the laulau is placed in an underground oven, called an imu. Hot rocks are placed on the dish and covered in banana leaves and buried again. A few hours later the laulau is ready to eat. Today this dish is cooked very much the same way using ti and taro leaves, salted butterfish, and either pork, beef, or chicken and is usually steamed on the stove. Laulau is a typical plate lunch dish here in Hawaii, and is usually served with a side of rice and macaroni salad.

Note: Unlike banana leaves or taro leaves, it is my belief that the inedible ti leaf really doesn't have much flavor, but is used in cooking mainly as a way to contain the food while it is being cooked. If you can't find ti leaves, you can check with a florist. They usually have a source of ti leaves. Be sure you specify that you will use them for cooking food so as not to get something sprayed. You can also buy ti leaves from Maui online at this website. A good substitute for ti leaves is the banana leaf, but it will give off an anise flavor to the food you are cooking, which is actually quite nice. You can also just use foil instead of ti leaves. To prepare a ti leaf for cooking purposes, with a sharp knife, remove the stiff back of the leaf rib by making a cut at the tip and pull it down toward the wide part of the leaf. Do not cut the leaf itself. With the rib removed, the leaf will be pliable enough to wrap food in packages tied with the removed rib, which has be peeled into strips and briefly blanched to make it pliable, or you can use kitchen string.

Ti leaf recipes:
Laulau
Ingredients:
1/3 pound salmon or butterfish
1 pound pork shoulder butt
16 luau leaves (taro leaves)
8 large ti leaves, ribs removed (strip ribs into strings and blanch to tie up ti bundles)

Procedure:
Cut each ti leaf in half along center rib and discard rib. Cut fish into 4 pieces. Cut pork butt into 4 pieces. Arrange 2 strips of ti leaves, shiny sides down, on top of one another in a cross shape. Place 4 luau leaves in center in center of cross, then top with a piece of pork and a pice of fish on luau leaves. Beginning with lower strip, fold leaves over filling, alternating strips and using each new strip to fold loose end of previous strip over filling. Tuck last strip beneath packet, then tie closed with 2 blanched rib strips. Repeat process with remaining ti leaf strips, luau leaves, pork and fish. Set a rack or steamer basket in a large pot and add water to about 1/2 inch below top of rack. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Place fish packets in a single layer on rack or in basket. Cover pot tightly and steam for 3 to 4 hours. Tip packets to drain any water. Serve hot or warm, with lime wedges and sea salt. Makes 4 servings.

Huli Huli Pig
Ingredients:
4 pound pork butt
4 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 banana leaf
4-6 large ti leaves, rib removed

Procedure:
Score pork on all sides by slashing diagonally and making slits that are 1/4 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Rub sea salt into the slits, then rub well with liquid smoke on all sides. Wrap pork in the banana leaf, then wrap in ti leaves. Overlap ti leaves to completely cover the pork. Tie securely with kitchen twine. Wrap and seal in aluminum foil. let pork stand at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Place wrapped pork on rack in shallow roasting pan. Roast at 500˚F for 45 minutes then at 400˚F for 3 1/4 hours longer. Shred pork and let stand in mild brine solution with a few drops of liquid smoke before serving. Makes 8-10 servings.

Chicken Laulau Casserole
Ingredients:
1 pound fresh butterfish cubes
1 package (1 pound) cooked taro root
1 package (1 pound) taro leaves
1 dozen chicken thighs
1 can (12 oz.) frozen coconut milk, thawed
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup water
ti leaves (enough to cover the sides, bottom and top of a large casserole dish)
poi (optional)

Procedure:
Scale butterfish and cut up into 1 inch square cubes. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Cut cooked taro root into 2 inch cubes. Wash taro leaves; remove stems and chop leaves into large pieces. Line the bottom and sides of a large covered casserole with Ti leaves. Place part of the taro leaves on the bottom of casserole; then layer chicken, taro root cubes and butterfish. Repeat layers until all of the ingredients are used. Combine coconut milk, cream and water; add to casserole. Cover with ti leaves and place covered casserole in oven. Bake for 2 hours. Gravy maybe thickened with mixed poi, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

Steamed Mahimahi Laulau
Ingredients:
8 large fresh ti leaves (strip ribs into strings and blanch to tie up ti bundles)
1 1/2 pounds mahimahi fillets, rinsed and patted dry
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large carrot, peeled
1 red bell pepper, stem and inner ribs trimmed
8 green onions, white and pale green parts only
1 tablespoon butter
1 piece fresh ginger (4 in.), peeled and minced
2 limes, cut into wedges
about 1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt

Procedure:
Cut each ti leaf in half along center rib and strip ribs into strings and blanch to tie up ti bundles. Cut fish into 12 equal pieces (about 2 inches by 2 inches each) and sprinkle both sides with salt. Chill 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cut carrot, bell pepper, and green onions into 2 inch lengths and then cut into thinnest possible slivers. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add vegetables and ginger and sauté, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Arrange 2 strips of ti leaves, shiny sides down, on top of one another in a cross shape. Place 1 mahimahi piece in center of cross, then top with a generous tablespoon of vegetable mixture. Beginning with lower strip, fold leaves over filling, alternating strips and using each new strip to fold loose end of previous strip over filling. Tuck last strip beneath packet, then tie closed with 2 blanched rib strips. Repeat with remaining leaf strips, fish, and vegetables. Set a rack or steamer basket in a large pot and add water to about 1/2 inch below top of rack. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Place fish packets in a single layer on rack or in basket (steam in batches if necessary). Cover pot tightly and steam until fish is just barely opaque in the center, 6 to 10 minutes (do not overcook; cut to test). Tip packets to drain any water. Serve hot or warm, with lime wedges and sea salt. Makes 12 servings.
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