One cuisine I've never had the pleasure of eating was Hawaiian foods. I figured I'll never visit the islands so I never gave it much thought. Perhaps if I saw something that sounded Hawaiian on a menu somewhere then maybe then I would, but it hasn't happened yet. That was until I met Kendra Ku'uleilani Spade a-Mattos. A tiny little Hawaiian princess who can eat her weight in her favorite island dishes. I talked to her about different cuisines I've cooked and tried perfecting when she asked me if I've ever "tried cooking any type of Hawaiian recipes." Immediately she gripped my attention! After all, I've never eaten anything Hawaiian (except those little rolls) so why would I consider cooking anything Hawaiian?
As she effortlessly and fluently began naming off a few of her favorite meals I had no clue what she was talking about. Suddenly I recognized the word "Kalua",
"Of course I've heard of Kahlua, it goes with cream in a cocktail." I told her as I chuckled looking at her stare that screamed "you're an idiot!"
I realized this lady is dead serious about her native dishes and there is no room for jokes. I felt if I even attempted another bad joke I'd end up on a spit being the main course at a luau, so I asked her to carry on with all the seriousness I had in me. Yea, we all know that didn't last long!
Kendra passionately told me how she'd watch her mom and dad create magnificent dinners in their kitchen back in Hawaii. All the prep and love they'd put into each dish and the flavors she remembers savoring with each bite. Humbling myself I asked her if she would mind coming into my kitchen and teaching me the exact dishes she's described since I have no clue what they are. Happily, no, more like proudly Kendra agreed as she chose Kalua (pork) and Lomi (knead) salmon as the dinners we'd be cooking.
We purchased everything needed and proceeded to the kitchen! In between stores she was getting frustrated not finding the the necessary ingredients. Kendra explained the traditional way of cooking Kalua which refers to the process of cooking in an earth oven (ka, the; lua, hole). Pits are built in ground where heated stones and banana leaves are used to roast a pig so tender it's shredded by hand. Lacking a pit in my backyard we opted to use the slow and low oven method of cooking using just the pork butt.
While the oven was preheating to 350° Kendra began rubbing liquid smoke into the roast. Kendra brought "kapi" or Hawaiian salt to which she massaged it well into the meat. We put it in the oven, set the timer for 3 1/2 hrs (45 minutes per pound) and let her roast until time to shred it. As the music of the Kahiko hula dance blue toothed thru my sound bar played in the living room, we prepared the Lomi salmon. It all seemed basic I thought while watching and helping prep and make these recipes. Basic prep and simple techniques yes, flavor and aroma no! As we sat to eat I secretly thought, God I hope this food taste just like Kendra remembers. I asked her "how many times have you cooked this and how do you remember the recipes so well?"
Her answer, "I've never cooked it, I remember watching my dad make this."
I quickly interrupted "Oh the men dig the pits and the women carry stones from the river in baskets on their heads?"
She again looked at me like I'm a freaking dumb ass rebutting with "no f*cker we're not from Nigeria!" I immediately saw what I'm doing wrong here!! Back to the dinner table! It took me one bite to realize there is nothing basic about this taste I got from the Kalua. It was everything Kendra said they would be. Never been to Hawaii I can't say I was taken back to any special place by what I tasted; but I can say it was delightfully powerful enough to remind me of the only Hawaiian saying I know, I thought about it a minute then in what I thought was under my breath blurted out "Kumona I wanna lieu!"
I waited in silence. Oh geez I thought, she's not taken to any of my jokes tonight I wondered what's coming next. I slyly looked over anticipating her verbal wrath only to see her head dropped into her hand as she was laughing and I'm thinking WITH me and not at me finally!!!
Another successful dinner and fun night with a lovely friend. So hang loose and E ' ai kãkou (let's eat) my friends!! KALUA
4 1/2 lbs pork butt, fat trimmed
2ozs from a 4oz bottle of liquid smoke
3T kapi or Hawaiian salt
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Wash roast in white vinegar.
Using both hands massage the liquid smoke into every area of the roast.
Rub kapi / Hawaiian salt into meat well.
Bake 45 minutes per pound, in this case 3 1/2 hrs.
After roasted to temp shred with large forks.
Optional: you can boil dipping juice then top shredded kalua
1lb skinless, boneless salmon filet
3 tomatoes, deseeeded and diced
3 green onions diced
1 white onion diced
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut salmon into small chunks. Add chunks to diced vegetables.
Add salt and pepper to taste, gently fold all ingredients together.
Sit in refrigerator for three hours. Fold again before serving.