Joan’s Healthy Recipes
How you doin’? I have vacationed in Hawaii many times. I love the islands, the people and the food. But I never really thought that much about traditional Hawaiian foods until I met Alan Wong at CanoeHouse Restaurant at the Mauna Lani resort on the Big Island. Back then, Alan was an up-and-coming star chef and Hawaiian philosopher. Alan knows more about Hawaiiana than anyone else I know.
That’s where I learned about traditional Poke (pronounced poh-KAY). Poke is diced raw fish served either as an appetizer or a main course and is one of the main dishes of Native Hawaiian cuisine. Traditional forms are aku and heʻe. Heʻe poke is sometimes called by its Japanese name tako poke in places where the Hawaiian language is not spoken. A traditional Hawaiian poke bowl consists of white rice topped with raw fish that's been marinated in a blend of sesame oil, soy sauce, green onions and other spices. Since the ingredients in a modern poke bowl can vary widely, the nutrition content can vary as well.
In recent years, poke bowls have become more popular across many cities on the United States mainland due to the emergence of new chains like Pokéworks, Poké Bar and Sweetfin, but Hawaiians have been enjoying this colorful and flavorful delicacy since the 1800s. Today, there are thousands of restaurants around the world specializing in poke bowls or featuring poke on their menus.
Over the years poke bowls have become more diversified. Some don't even feature fresh fish! That said, in traditional poke bowls the fish is the star and everything else acts like the chorus line.
Poke means "chunk" or "slice" in Hawaiian. Poke bowls started becoming widely consumed during the late 19th century when Japanese workers in Hawaii introduced "donburi," a traditional Japanese dish made with raw fish and rice, to the islands.
Traditionally, poke is made with ahi tuna, but it can also be made with marinated salmon, cooked shrimp or even tofu for a vegan option. Until the 1970s, it was very difficult to find a poke bowl outside of Hawaii. With the popularization of sushi and the rise in global fish exports, now they're sold all over the world.
However, many traditionalists say mainland poke just isn't the same. The biggest difference between a poke bowl in Hawaii and a poke bowl served elsewhere is the number of ingredients… and fresh ingredients speak for themselves. So, always start with the freshest fish possible. "If you’re sourcing from your local fish market, ask for sashimi or sushi-grade cuts. It’s a bit pricy but it’s the best.
Aside from the traditional poke marinade comprised of shoyu soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet Maui (or yellow) onion, spice (like red pepper flakes or "gochugaru," Korean chili pepper), seaweed and ginger. Recipes vary, but most call for marinating the fish for at least two hours to allow the flavors to be absorbed. Steamed white rice is a traditional poke bowl base, but today carb-conscious eaters are opting for shredded lettuce or zoodles (zucchini noodles). You’ll feel like you've been transported directly to Hawaii!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound fresh sashimi-grade ahi steak chilled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1-1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon Hawaiian salt (alaea salt), plus more or less to taste
1/4 cup thinly sliced Maui or yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped green onions or chives (green tops only)
1/8 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red chili powder)
1 tablespoon finely chopped toasted macadamia nuts
2 cups short grain steamed rice for serving
Optional: avocado chunks, edamame and sesame seeds
ChefSecret: You can substitute the gochugaru with Aleppo pepper or finely crushed red pepper flakes. If you can’t find Hawaiian alaea salt, you can substitute a coarse sea salt, or Pink Himalayan salt. Please keep in mind that salts have different densities and salinity—start with a smaller measure (if you're substituting) and season to taste.
Quip of the Day: “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono! This is a well-known Hawaiian phrase which was adopted in 1959 as the motto of the state of Hawaii. It is most commonly translated as "the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."
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