Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair
Friday, June 17, 2011
A Japanese harbinger of Spring, reinterpreted in Hawaii
by Nanette Geller
In all cultures, Spring is a time to celebrate rebirth and renewal. Nowhere is it greeted more joyously than in Japan, where the unfolding of the season brings one symbol after another into focus as an excuse to party. February’s plum blossoms remind us that the snow will soon melt. A couple of months later, weather programs report the cherry blossom front as it moves north, lingering for just a few precious days in each location.
The first bamboo shoots of Spring are greeted not only with joy, but also with appetite. The mountain ranges to the East and West of the ancient capitol of Kyoto are home to both temples and bamboo forests. Small wonder, then, that Kyoto cuisine includes special Spring dishes, many of them in the Buddhist vegetarian tradition, celebrating the season with fresh bamboo shoots.
Another Japanese ingredient which shouts “Spring” is ki-no-me, the tender young leaves of the sansho bush (Japanese prickly ash, closely related to Sichuan pepper). The way they harmonize with bamboo shoots is a perfect illustration of the saying “what grows together goes together.” Ki-no-me can be used whole, laid across the top of a dish as a fragrant last-minute garnish. They can also be blanched and blended with sweet white miso for a thick dressing which is delicious with bamboo shoots.
One typical Spring favorite in Kyoto is waka-take-ni, a simple simmered dish of wakame seaweed and bamboo shoots (takenoko). In temple cooking it is simmered with a vegetarian broth, but in homes and restaurants can be made with katsuo dashi (stock made from shaved dried bonito and kelp). It is served topped with fresh ki-no-me as the perfect finishing touch.
I recently used fresh Big Island hearts of palm (from Wailea Ag Group) in a dish which is often made with bamboo shoots: sautéed and coated with katsuo shavings. The texture and flavor were not the same, but were remarkably reminiscent of bamboo shoot.
I decided to try substituting hearts of palm in waka-take-ni.
I used katsuo dashi with a glug each of sake and mirin. I wanted to maintain the color so I used just a touch of shoyu and then added salt to taste. I also added some ginger juice, typical in this dish (just squeeze some freshly grated ginger with your fingers and discard the pulp). Kyoto cuisine features delicate seasoning so I kept it on the light side. The idea is to enhance the flavors of the main ingredients, not mask them.
While the cut-up hearts of palm were simmering, I soaked dry wakame to rehydrate it. When the hearts of palm were almost tender I added the wakame and continued simmering until both were tender. I allowed it to cool to room temperature before plating.
In the absence of ki-no-me, I added a few drops of ginger juice as a finishing touch. Next time (and there will be a next time!) I think I’ll try a light sprinkle of grated lemon zest as well.
No one could mistake this for bamboo shoot, but the dish was definitely successful. Of course, without bamboo shoot I can’t call it waka-take-ni. I wonder if anyone else has ever made simmered wakame and hearts of palm?
Wailea Ag Group will be at KCC farmers market tomorrow with fresh hearts of palm. Go ahead and try it, it’s delicious cooked or raw. And if you decide to simmer it with wakame, let me know how it turns out.
Fresh shrimp alert
by Nanette Geller
Big Island Abalone will be bringing their incredible Kona Kea shrimp to the KCC farmers market tomorrow. Sweet, fresh, never frozen. I’d forgotten how much better really good, really fresh shrimp are compared to frozen.
Even leftover, they were still delicious.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
“Super colossal” shrimp, broiled in the shell
by Nanette Geller
I have quite a backlog of posts I want to write. I’m going to try to catch up but meanwhile things may not be in the order we ate them!
A couple of weeks ago, I bought some “super colossal” shrimp on sale. As I wrote here, words like colossal are not actually meaningful for shrimp. These were U-8, which means under eight shrimp per pound. I bought six and wound up serving just two each, which was ample.
Since they were easy-peel, all I had to do was defrost them overnight in the refrigerator, then leave them in cold, very salty water for about 15 minutes to freshen them.
I marinated them for about 30 minutes with olive oil, cumin, smoked paprika, and a pinch of cayenne. Bamboo skewers (soaked in water while the shrimp marinated) helped keep them from curling while they cooked.
A quick broil, just a couple of minutes on each side, and they were ready to serve. Cooking them in the shell adds flavor and helps keep the flesh moist.
Yukon Gold potatoes (from Milner Farms) roasted with Penzey’s Turkish seasoning.
Long beans (from Ho Farms) seared in hot oil until they started to brown, then simmered with Andy’s salsa until the salsa reduced to a glaze.
Fresh hearts of palm (Wailea Ag Group) marinated in a light dressing of olive oil, Myer lemon juice (also Wailea Ag Group), Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme (SKA Tropicals).
Calamansi to squeeze over the shrimp (also SKA).
Not pictured: a platter of lovely green leaf lettuce, a gift from my friend, picked that day in her friend’s organic garden.
These were good, but a few days later we found fresh Kona Kea shrimp at the KCC farmer’s market. The fresh, local shrimp were so much better that I doubt I’ll bother buying frozen shrimp again.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Don’t worry, Hawaii milk won’t contain boron
by Larry Geller
A letter signed from the Milk and Honey Farm, Pahoa, Big Island, Hawaii is spreading around the Internet with titles such as “Dairy Farmers fight radiation with Boron.”
Not to worry, your milk is not going to be contaminated with boron any time soon.
The letter begins:
I had not heard of the “Milk and Honey Farm” prior to the circulation of the letter.
First of all, it won’t work. Boron does absorb any stray neutron that comes its way, which is why isotopes of boron are used in control rods in nuclear reactors. But that’s all boron does, and in reactors, it emits an alpha particle. The alpha particle won’t feed the chain reaction that is the basis for operation of a nuclear reactor. It can also be used, if dumped as borax on top of a bunch of exposed fuel rods, to absorb some of the radiation so it won’t go into the air.
It does nothing for radiation emitters inside your body (or a cow’s). They just continue to emit, and maybe a neutron, if it finds some boron, will get absorbed. But iodine-131, for example, doesn’t emit neutrons.
Meanwhile, your body continues to get irradiated. In particular, the thyroid would absorb and concentrate radioactive iodine. Cesium 137, like Iodine 131, is a beta emitter and also emits hard gamma rays.
In any case, there does not seem to be enough radiation around to justify arbitrarily dosing cows with Borax. There is at least one paper that may relate to this, and it warns of the risks of using manure from cows dosed with borates.
I had not heard of the Milk and Honey Farm prior to the circulation of the letter. Milk in Hawaii comes primarily from the Continent, unrefrigerated, and is re-pasteurized by Meadow Gold prior to distribution. The two local commercial dairies, one on the Big Island and one on Oahu, are regulated. According to the Department of Agriculture, those dairies will not be feeding Borax to their cows.
There are other situations where people get together to share milk from a privately owned cow, for example. Usually they want to have the opportunity of drinking raw milk, which they can do by forming a “hui” to share the milk among themselves. Of course, that has great risk, which is why milk is pasteurized to begin with. There’s no need to start a debate about that, only to know that the milk from those cows won’t find its way into your breakfast cereal.
Please support local agriculture. We enjoy the “Hawaii Fresh” brand, available from Kokua Market, Foodland, Whole Foods and elsewhere. It is pasteurized through a low-temperature process (not “ultra-pasteurized”) and retains its good, wholesome taste.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Honoring the ingredients: fresh Kona Kea shrimp
by Nanette Geller
I was already at the KCC Farmers Market yesterday when the tweet came in from @hnlfarmers: “Big Island Abalone debuting fresh Kona Kea Pacific White Shrimp. Never frozen, fresh by the bag.”
If you’ve only eaten frozen shrimp, you can’t imagine how much better fresh shrimp can be. But they have to be very fresh, and properly handled. Shrimp spoil so quickly that they are almost always frozen, which is much better than fresh shrimp which have begun to deteriorate. Even when you buy them at a fish counter, they’re usually previously frozen and defrosted. I used to find Kauai shrimp, which were farmed in an ecologically sound way, but they shut down. I’d heard that shrimp were being farmed near Kona, but this is the first time I’ve seen them at the market.
These were big, ten per pound. They looked wonderful and (even more important) smelled fresh. They were also expensive, $15 for a one-pound bag. I hesitated, but fortunately greed won out.
With frozen shrimp, my strategy is to compensate for the loss of flavor and texture. But for these beauties I wanted to keep it simple, adding just a few ingredients to bring out the crustacean’s inherent sweetness.
I decided to go back to my favorite way of cooking the Kauai shrimp, a slight variation on a recipe I’d seen Mario Batali make on TV. Batali sautéed the shrimp in olive oil with garlic and chilies, then added white wine and finished with mint. My Free Range Gourmet touch is to add lots of julienned fresh ginger along with the garlic and chilies. Ginger goes so well with Mediterranean flavors, I’m convinced that if fresh ginger had been readily available it would be used as freely as it is in Asia.
When I cook shrimp this way, I usually just serve them in a shallow bowl, with bread to sop up the juices. Last night I decided to serve them with spaghetti.
Even though they are large, these shrimp were so clean that I didn’t have to devein them. All I did was clip off the two long whiskers, rinse, and pat dry. I like to cook shrimp with the shell. It contributes to the flavor and helps protect the shrimp from overcooking. Plus, it’s more fun to eat. The heads also contribute lots of flavor.
I sautéed garlic, ginger, and chilies with a big pinch of salt in olive oil . When the aromatics were soft (and starting to smell wonderful!) I added the shrimp and tossed them around to pick up the flavors. Then I added about 1/4 bottle of dry white wine, cooked just until the shrimp were completely red, and removed the shrimp to a plate, allowing the juices to continue boiling to concentrate the flavors. Meanwhile, I was also boiling 1/4 pound of spaghetti.
When the spaghetti was about a minute short of al dente I drained it and added it to the cooking juices to finish cooking to the al dente stage. Most of the liquid was soaked up by the pasta. I turned off the heat and finished the spaghetti with a little more olive oil and a handful of mint cut in chiffonade. After plating the spaghetti and shrimp I added more mint. I cooked all the shrimp, but only used six for the two of us. The remaining shrimp will make another meal, served cold or just warmed through.
The shrimp tasted like shrimp, with just a subtle enhancement from the aromatics and wine. Meanwhile, the spaghetti picked up lots of flavor from the shrimp. My big splurge paid off. We feasted like kings, for about the cost of a plate lunch.
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