As we approach mid-winter, with its dreary gray cold days and heaps of snow in some parts of the country, it’s easy to dream about somewhere a bit more tropical than the east coast I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several wonderful vacations over the years but the tropical locale I’ve visited so far that stands out in my mind the most is our 50th state, Hawaii. My husband and I spent our first Hawaiian vacation exploring Oahu. We hit the typical tourist stops to include Pearl Harbor, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, Waikiki, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, and hiking up Diamond Head (which turned out to be a crazy experience…but I’ve save that story for another day).
On our second trip to Hawaii, we first visited Moloka’i. I wanted to experience the old leprosy colony since I find the history fascinating and my husband agreed to it because we got to ride mules down sea cliffs, the highest sea cliffs in the world. Nerve wracking, to say the least, but totally worth it.
Then we went island hopping on a cruise and got a taste for Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai’i. I look forward to getting back to Hawaii someday. Though not yet because the thought of that long of a flight with my little son induces a panic attack.
Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of Pacific Rim (Asian-American), Hawaiian regional, ethnic cooking from the multiple nationalities that make up the population, as well as local favorites and ends up being quite diverse in flavors and ingredients. It may be cliche but I made it my business to eat pineapple, in some form, every single day while vacationing in Hawaii. We even planted some at the pineapple plantation to help replenish the supply.
I made sure to bring home a few cookbooks with me as souvenirs and this week, I’ll share several recipes I discovered from those books. Are they traditional Hawaiian cuisine? I’m not totally sure. But the flavors sure do remind me of a sunnier, warmer time. Aloha!
We’ll start with this Pineapple Curry Stir Fry showing off the local food (pineapple) and the Asian influence. There is some spice to this dish but it’s nicely tempered by the sweetness of the pineapple. We used tofu as the protein in this meal but boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into small chunks would work great as well. After cooking minced onion on low heat to sweat out the flavor, garlic, ginger, and several other spices (essentially creating your own curry mixture) are added in along with the tofu (or chicken). After it’s cooked slightly, it’s simmered on low until cooked through, then pineapple is added. Use fresh pineapple if you have it available but canned works just fine. Coconut milk (which also brings back Hawaiian memories…I did not know you could eat the skin of a coconut!), cashews, and a little cilantro are stirred in to finish it off and the curry is served over rice.
Pineapple Curry Stir Fry (adapted from Best of the Best from Hawaii)
Yield: serves 4
1 package of firm or extra firm tofu (or 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely minced
3 cloves garlic (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnmon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup water
fresh lemon juice, to taste (I used 1 tablespoon)
salt, to taste (I used 1/4 teaspoon)
1 cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup cashew nuts (I used salted but unsalted would work too)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
rice, for serving (optional)
1. Drain the tofu and cut it into 1 inch cubes. Let sit on a plate lined with paper towels covered with more paper towels and another plate to get some of the liquid out. If using chicken, cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces.
2. In a large deep skillet, heat the oil over low heat and saute the onion until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and other spices to the skillet along with the tofu or chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the water, and lemon juice and salt to taste then cover the skillet and let simmer over low heat for 6-7 minutes.
4. Stir in the pineapple and let simmer for another 4 minutes.
5. Add in the coconut milk, cashews, and cilantro. Stir together and cook for 1 minute. Serve hot over rice.