Hawaiians long ago left us a cheat sheet for sustainable for food production. They had to know such things if they were to feed the great numbers of people in the islands.
They used plants like the coconut for food but also fiber, bowls and wood. Ulu (breadfruit) trees were prominent, and their fruit was very versatile. The milky sap in the tree also used as a glue.
Breadfruit and coconut tree groves have diminished in the last decade, but replenishing and supporting these tree crops may be crucial to increasing our islands’ food supply. Sweet potato, taro and banana were also prominent in Hawaiian diets. These plants grow well in the Hawaiian climate, and can provide plenty of food.
A diet rich in community garden products or school garden produce, for that matter, is a step toward self-sustaining food. Raising rotating crops is important, but most of us don’t know the details of small farming practices.
Independent gardens grown in the spirit of community are far from giant corporate ag productions, and their carbon footprint is small–they have to work efficiently to produce food. Still, we have community gardens all over the island, including organic plots offered at the University of Hawaii Maui Campus.
Looking to our local beef and pork production, diversifying proteins and demanding more local sources is cleaner, smarter and healthier. Put simply, seek out duck, venison, elk, pheasant, insect, goat and other alternative sources of proteins for your menu. If we’re going to eat meat, then we should use the whole animal.
Here is my Top Ten list of dishes to seek out for your Earth Day pleasure:
1. Maui Ulu Hummus and Pono Pies
John Cadman is a one-man ulu show, researching and networking to find trees, pick fruits and then create his amazing pie and hummus. He also delivers it to stores, markets, hotels and restaurants. The ulu hummus and pie are 90 percent sourced to Maui or Hawaii products, and are flying off the shelves because they taste so good. Cadman says his biggest problem right now is finding more ulu to make into more of these products. Available at Down to Earth, Honokowai Farmers Market, Kuau Mart and Whole Foods.
2. Lengua Tacos
It’s hardly ironic that beef tongue is one of the most flavorful parts of the cow. The Mexicans take pride in its preparation, slow cooking the tongue until it’s tender and adding plenty of seasonings to make the most of its rich flavor. Add grilled tortilla, onion and cilantro and you have a winning combination with bright herbs, crunchy veggies and beefy goodness. Available at Amigo’s in Kihei, Kahului and Lahaina.
3. Coconut Kefir
Just hearing how Chef Sha Anan at Alive & Well works with one of his favorite ingredients is inspiring. “I make a coconut yogurt–coconut Kefir yogurt, to be exact,” he says. “It’s made out of fresh coconut meat and coconut water; it’s completely coconut. It’s not watered down in any sense of the word. The process only takes 18 hrs–it literally ferments overnight. The fresh oily coconut meat is combined with young coconut water. The Kefir strains are stirred in and 18 hrs later, life is teaming from the jars. The enormity of benefits that probiotic rich foods possess make them close to the best thing you can put in your body.” You can buy jars of the kefir, but its also used in the raw pie that people are crazy for, or whatever else the store comes up with that the day. Available at Alive & Well in Kahului.
4. Shoyu Duck Bao Buns
These creamy buns are filled with Alan Wong’s take on shoyu duck, a riff off our island favorite, shoyu chicken. The sweet, braised duck proves to be the perfect filling for his bao, a traditional dim sum dish, that you can get long after dim sum hours have passed. Available at Amasia in the Grand Wailea Resort.
5. Thursday night dinner at Market Fresh Bistro
Owner/Chef Justin Pardo has been working directly with people that grow their own food. In fact, he’s never relied on any other source for his restaurant. The quality of what’s on your plate and the passion that created it just tastes better. “We’re just extremely lucky that our community provides us the best ingredients in the world,” Pardo says. “Maui is a chef’s paradise. We at Market Fresh Bistro believe that we have to stop this ‘barge to table’ practice.” His Thursday nights are dedicated to a phenomenal six-course tasting dinner that starts at 6pm, lasts around two hours, and often sells out. The Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Available at Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao.
6. Chapulines Taco
It’s not often that you can find grasshopper on the menu. Chef Paris Nabavi touts the benefits of this pure protein, saying that it has no fat and can provide you with all the protein you need in a day. He also, ahem, jumped through a lot of hoops to get it here and put it on the taco list at his Sangrita Grill.There, the grasshopper is toasted, chopped, seasoned and resembles more of a vegetarian taco mix than a mash of insects. There’s nothing unusual about the texture, and it’s delicious when topped with their guacamole, onion and cilantro. Available at Sangrita Grill in Ka’anapali.
7. Elk & Venison
The Ulupalakua Ranch Store serves their own ranch-raised elk and lamb burgers cowboy-style, with tons of Upcountry charm. The Ranch Store is conveniently located near the Tedeschi Vineyards tasting room, so you might add a taste of their Maui-made wine if you’re headed that way. Over on Lanai, Four Seasons Lanai Chef Eren Guryel serves venison sausage on his starter list at the Terrace. He also prepares a Molokai Venison Loin with red cabbage, pear and mushroom ivory sauce that’s seared on a volcanic rock table-side. Available in Ulupalakua and Lanai City.
Charcuterie crafts should be revered. Chef Christopher Kulis captures the essence of old charcuterie tricks with a modern gourmet palate. It’s not surprising, since that’s what Capische? is good at. Maui’s Malama Farms sends happy pork his way. Their selection of fresh charcuterie varies with what’s seasonal, but it never disappoints when appearing on their Salami and Cheese Platter. Available at Capische? in Wailea.
If you’ve never tried it before, sisig is an amazingly flavorful Filipino dish that comes sizzling to your table. It combines pork jowl, ear and shoulder, all marinated in vinegar and lemon. The server delivers it hissing over a scorching iron dish with an egg cracked over it and calamansi garnish. Washing it down with a Maui Brewing Co. Bikini Blond Lager is especially satisfying. Bistro Manila serves it up at lunch and dinner, and you can bring your own beer in. Available at Bistro Manila in Kahului.
10. Kale Salad
Of all the salads, kale is king. One cup of raw kale has five grams of protein and just a single gram of fat. It’s high in vitamins A, B and C as well as calcium, potassium and folic acids. It’s also a good source of carotenes and chlorophyll, and has been promoted as a great cancer fighting agent. It’s also grown on Maui, and you can find in farmers markets, community gardens, school gardens and, subsequently, smoothies, salads and juice bars across the island. I like Cafe Cafe’s version with red quinoa and soybeans. Choice’s daily kale salad has a dressing that’s electrifying to your tastebuds. Monkeypod Kitchen’s version with a miso dressing is killer, too. Available at Cafe Cafe and Choice in Lahaina and Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea.
What is on your plate this earth day?