June 23, 2009

Exploring the Regional Cuisine of Hawaii

I just got back from a great trip to Kauai, Hawaii with my boyfriend Justin and his family. Sun, sand, good food, and outdoor activities are definitely my idea of a perfect vacation.

Kauai, also known as the “Garden Isle”, is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands and receives some of the most rainfall in the world. Mount Waialeale, at the heart of the island, receives up to 400 inches of rain per year! Where we stayed on the South Shore, however, we saw nothing but warm breezes and sunny skies.

One of my most memorable activities was visiting Kauai’s breathtaking Na Pali coast, which extends along the northwest side of the island. The coastline can only be seen by sea, air or hiking so we set out on a rafting tour adventure to witness the incredible views. And an adventure it was—fast, wet and bumpy, but well worth it. The spectacular coastlines are the result of millions of years of wind and water erosion with soaring cliffs, lush valleys, waterfalls, sea caves and some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done.

In 1992, Hurricane Iniki was the worst hurricane to strike the area in recorded history and devastated much of the island. It had an effect on the island’s ecosystem, uprooting many agricultural crops, and destroying many domestic chicken farms. Years later, visitors will find thousands of wild chickens clucking, crowing and pecking throughout the island. With few natural predators, they are bound to remain significant inhabitants of the island.

As one can imagine, the land in Kauai is very fertile and home to a variety of agricultural crops. During the plantation era, sugar cane, pineapple, coffee and macadamia nuts were discovered to be profitable crops by U.S. landowners. Cheap labor was brought in from China, and other immigrants followed, namely from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Portugal. Each of these groups introduced flavors and ingredients from their homelands.

Unfortunately the methods used to grow the mass-produced crops relied heavily on pesticides and depleted the soil of much of its nutrients. Recently, there has been a movement to revive sustainable and organic farming throughout Hawaii. After doing some research, I learned that in the 1980’s, acclaimed chefs Peter Merriman and Alan Wong helped to pioneer a regional cuisine that uses fresh local ingredients. Since then, community efforts to eat locally and sustainably have flourished.

Farmers are now growing a variety of crops including taro root, pineapple, chocolate, coffee, guava, mango, banana, coconut, lettuce, cucumber, pikake (Hawaiian jasmine) and gardenia.

The modern cuisine of Hawaii is a fusion of many ethnic flavors, often incorporating fresh fish and unique foods grown on the islands. I have been inspired by the push for a regional cuisine using local ingredients and set out to create my own take on a fresh, healthy dish that employs the unique flavors of Hawaii. I encourage you to try this recipe—the combination of sweet, tart and spicy, paired with crisp vegetables and flaky, moist mahi mahi makes for a tasty and satisfying meal.

Macadamia-Coconut Crusted Mahi Mahi with Banana Salsa
Baby Greens with Citrus Dressing

The spicy banana salsa, paired with the sweet and crunchy macadamia-coconut crust truly makes the meal. Use bananas that are deep yellow and still firm. An overripe banana would likely overpower the dish. If you'd like, you could substitute the banana with other tropical fruits such as mango or papaya.

For Mahi Mahi

Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp soy sauce
4 (6-ounce) skinless mahi mahi fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup roasted, salted macadamia nuts
3 Tbsp unsweetened flaked coconut
3 Tbsp plain bread crumbs
1 organic egg
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

For Banana Salsa

1/2 jalapeƱo, minced
1-2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup red onion, minced
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 medium banana, sliced in half lengthwise and chopped into small cubes

For Mixed Greens

4 large handfuls organic baby mixed greens
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lime plus ½ teaspoon finely grated lime zest
Juice of ½ orange plus ½ tsp finely grated orange zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced on a diagonal

1. Arrange mahi mahi on a large platter and pour lime juice and soy sauce over fillets. Turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to marinate for no longer than 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the salsa ingredients in a small bowl. Toss gently to combine and set aside at room temperature.
3. In a food processor, blend macadamia nuts, coconut, and bread crumbs until nuts are ground coarsely. Place ingredients in a shallow bowl. Beat egg in another shallow bowl. Set aside.
4. Prepare the citrus dressing: whisk together olive oil, lime juice, orange juice and zests. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Remove mahi mahi from refrigerator and pat dry. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
6. Dip each fillet in egg, and then in macadamia-coconut mixture so that it is thoroughly coated. Place in skillet. Cook over medium heat approximately 8 minutes on each side or until mahi mahi is cooked through. Reduce heat to low if coating begins to burn. Do not overcook.
7. Drizzle citrus dressing over mixed greens and toss to coat. Divide among 4 plates and top with mahi mahi. Spoon on salsa and garnish with cucumber.

1 comment:

  1. Banana salsa sounds amazing... why have i never had/seen this anywhere before?