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Homage to a humble grain

By Joleen Oshiro

LAST UPDATED: 10:18 p.m. HST, Jul 16, 2013

What could be more grand than rice, a cereal grain that is a staple to more than 3 billion people worldwide? What could be more humble?

Book signings

>> 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday: Barnes & Noble, Kahala Mall, 737-3323. Donations accepted for Hawaii Foodbank, and the store will donate three cans for every copy of “Hawaii Book of Rice” sold.
>> 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday: Longs Drugs, Windward City Shopping Center, 235-6451
>> 4 to 6 p.m. Monday:?Longs Drugs, Kailua, 261-8537
>> 10 a.m. to noon June 25: Hawaii’s Plantation Village, 677-0110. Talk story and sample dishes from the book.
>> Through May 31: Donate to the Hawaii Foodbank at any Territorial Savings Bank branch and qualify to enter a drawing for a gift bag of rice products. Visit events.

"All the time I was growing up, my dad told us how he grew up poor," said Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi, author of the newly released "The Hawaii Book of Rice: Tales, Trivia and 101 Great Recipes."

"‘I grew up on rice and gravy,' he used to say. He was so grateful for whatever they had. It hit me that rice was a lifeline for the family. And there were probably so many like him who grew up on rice the same way."

Her father's story might be universal, but Tsutsumi's own history is unique. Her maternal lineage includes a rice farmer on Kauai during a short era in Hawaii when rice was a sizable industry, from the latter half of the 19th to the early 20th century. (Lower-scale production continued on Kauai through 1960.)

"The idea for this cookbook came to mind in 1984. That was the year my mother's side of the family had their first reunion and I was asked to write the family history. That's when I discovered my great-grandfather farmed rice," she said.

That account is included in the book, plus histories of rice and rice farming, ethnic legends and personal anecdotes about rice. The cookbook section, containing recipes from both home cooks and isle chefs, is divided into six chapters.

"There was a lot of interest as I started asking for recipes. People would say stuff like, ‘My mother makes a fabulous gau,' and most of them were willing to share," she said.

Tsutsumi included recipes from every island and tried to represent a diversity of ethnic groups — "It's not just Japanese sushi and Chinese jook."

Some of her favorites include recipes for rice salads, rice au gratin and a rice pie.

One especially gratifying aspect of the project, she said, is being able to give back to the community: A portion of the book sales will benefit the Hawaii Foodbank.

"We're trying to organize a food drive with every book-signing event," she said. "When we met with the food bank, they told us that after a big drive people forget about them for a while. But the need continues.

"This way, everybody wins: Readers get recipes, the publisher and I are very happy with our creative work and we're benefiting the community."

Creamy Korean-Style Musubi

Kent Thompson, from “The Hawaii Book of Rice,” by Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi (Watermark, $15.95)

3 cups uncooked rice
3 cups water
1 12-ounce can Spam
Kent’s Kalbi Sauce
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, softened
4 cups won bok kim chee, drained, chopped and divided
5 to 6 sheets nori, cut in halves

>> Kent’s Kalbi Sauce

1/2 cup shoyu
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic

Thai sweet chili sauce, to taste

Sesame oil, to taste

To make kalbi sauce, combine ingredients and stir well until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Cook rice in the 3 cups water.

Cut Spam into 10 to 12 slices. Fry until brown on both sides. Add kalbi sauce gradually, and continue to cook until Spam is nicely caramelized on both sides. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Stir cream cheese into warm rice and mix well. Add 2 cups of the kim chee and reserve the rest.

Press a generous scoop of the rice mixture into a musubi mold. Top with a layer of reserved kim chee and a slice of Spam.

Press down, then remove from mold and wrap in nori. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Makes 10 to 12 musubi.

Approximate nutritional information, per musubi (based on 12 servings and not including Thai sweet chili sauce or sesame oil to taste): 400 calories, 15 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,400 mg sodium, 55 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 11 g protein


Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.

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