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Sunday, December 21, 2014         

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Red has always been the symbolic color of good luck in Asia, and it's a color prominently displayed for the new year in many Hawaii households. In Japan, a red fish was eaten to usher in the new year, and it is perhaps this tradition that endears ahi to all of us during this festive season.

While zucchini is considered a summer squash, it is plentiful in the winter months in Hawaii. Its delicate flavor, green skin and tender texture make it simply delicious throughout the year.

Gingerbread is one of the holiday season's favorite flavors, rooted in a rhizome (plant stem) grown in the islands: ginger.

Eating a salad every day is a good thing, but sometimes you need a break from iceberg, red or green leaf, or romaine lettuces. Baby lettuces, also known as mesclun mixtures, are a good alternative, more delicate in texture and robust in flavor.

Purple is not a common food color, so purple sweet potatoes are kind of a novelty. Of course, we consider them common here in the islands, where they are grown by local farmers and known as Okinawan sweet potatoes.

Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are the spices we love at this time of year for pumpkin pie, eggnog, mulled wine, cookies and a multitude of holiday treats. All three come from tropical evergreen trees.

There's nothing like a great avocado: buttery, silky smooth, nutty and dense, served perfectly ripe with just a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of salt. (Remember when we used to eat avocados with sugar?)

Cute, crunchy and snack-friendly — these are the new Keiki Cukes appearing at supermarkets. Called Persian cucumbers, they are about 6 inches long, about half the size of a regular cucumber, and slender, thin-skinned and sized for eating out of hand without slicing.

Japanese call it kaki, Koreans call it kam, Chinese call it hong chee; we call it persimmon. 'Tis the season for this bright orange, delectable fruit of fall.

Those motley-looking, bronzy-green oranges from Hawaii island are often referred to as Kau oranges.

The nickname "Limey" was given to British sailors who were served fresh limes in the 18th century, a nickname that later became a slang for British people. Limes are a good source of vitamin C that can prevent scurvy, the disease that afflicted sailors who went without fresh rations of citrus.

There's nothing like a fresh chili pepper to add a kick to your favorite dish — a bowl of Vietnamese pho, guacamole, salsa or poke. Not only do chili peppers add heat; they add their vegetable flavor that can be sweet, earthy and, of course, spicy.

Chevre, soft, creamy, fresh cheese made from goat's milk, is such a treat. Stuffed in a piquillo pepper, spread on crackers, as a warm addition in a mesclun salad, no other cheese offers the distinctive flavor note of a goat cheese.

Burdock, known in Japan and Hawaii as gobo, is a thin, long root vegetable with a brown skin and beige flesh. It's a native of Siberia, and while we think of this vegetable as being Japa­nese, it is also prevalent in Europe and the U.S.

While we grow tomatoes throughout the year in Hawaii, this is the season for the best of island-grown tomatoes, just like on the mainland. Sun and heat help to develop the flavor and sugar of this most beloved of fruit (botanically speaking).

A luau wouldn't be a feast if it were not for luau, the leafy tops of taro. Laulau, the steamed taro-leaf bundle of pork and butterfish, is a key luau item, as is squid or octopus luau, the taro leaf-coconut milk stew that melts in your mouth.

Passion fruit is in season! Oahu consumers might not find much of it at farmers markets, but on Hawaii island there's an abundance of the golden yellow and purple varieties.

What comes to mind when you're faced with a surplus of lemons? Make lemonade, right? Yes, that's a good idea, but you can also make salad dressings, lemon curd, lemon meringue pie and lemon tart.

Mint is a flavor that can be found in sweet and savory preparations. Mint-flavored chocolate and confections, mint julep, mint sauce for lamb, Middle Eastern tabbouleh and tza­tziki and Vietnamese summer and spring rolls are just some of the delicious ways mint is used.

Kona Kampachi is no longer available, but Hawaiian Kampachi is plentiful. That's the news from Kea­hole on Hawaii island, where Blue Ocean Mariculture is now producing this tasty fish and a change in ownership and names has occurred.

Abalone is not the first item we think of when we think of seafood. But it is one of those delicacies worth savoring, and it is a food grown in Hawaii.

What would we do without carrots? They are a staple of our vegetable pantry, along with celery and onions, used to make mirepoix, the base for so many savory dishes.

More island-grown fruits and vegetables are available than what you see at farmers markets and in the produce section of super­mar­kets.

Guavas are a fruit once found growing wild in forests and along roads throughout the islands, bountiful in the summer months. That's not as likely on Oahu anymore, though the fruit is still prolific on the neighbor islands.

Spinach is the most incredible shrinking vegetable around. Buy a pound or two, steam it until it wilts, drain, cool and squeeze it down to just a handful of green — it shrinks by 90 percent when it is cooked.

Word is that it's a bumper-crop year for lychee. Commercial farmers like Wailea Ag Group, Onomea and Family Farm on the Hamakua coast of Hawaii island report that there will be plenty of this delicious fruit in Oahu markets in the coming weeks.

It doesn't seem to make sense to ship a beef calf to the mainland, then bring the meat back to Hawaii. But right now, that's the sensible thing for isle ranchers to do.

Hawaii has long been at the forefront of shrimp farming, having done extensive research and trials over the last several decades.

Tomatillos, often called Mexican green tomatoes, are not tomatoes at all even though they resemble them.

Culantro is a cousin of cilantro, and you've probably had it many times if you're a fan of pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

Mushrooms are the recycler of nature, says Fung Yang, and he's proving it as the owner of Small Kine Farm in Wai­ma­nalo.

When you want a hint of garlic flavor, chives are the answer. There are two types: the thin, long, dark green chive that's hollow with a delicate flavor and the flat, narrow Chinese chive with a stronger flavor.

There's nothing like a fresh egg, sunny side up, poached, soft-cooked, scrambled or hard-cooked and made into egg salad. Eggs are nature's perfect food, a good source of protein, and a delicious one at that.

Poha is the cape gooseberry, a tiny, golden ball of distinctive tart, bittersweet goodness. It's native to Brazil and was introduced to the islands in the 19th century, growing well in tropical climates. Poha grow on a bush, and a single bush can produce an abundance of fruit.

Germinating seeds from a variety of vegetables, grains and legumes produce sprouts, delicate tasty morsels of varying textures and tastes.

Young, edible, tightly coiled fern shoots are known by a host of names in Hawaii: pohole on Maui, hoio on Hawaii island, warabi by the Japa­nese, kosari by the Koreans and pako by the Filipinos.

When Oahu's last dairy was closing, Monique van der Stroom decided to continue her career in the dairy business and started Naked Cow Dairy in Waianae.

If you're a fan of Hama­kua Mushrooms from Hawaii island, you've probably already eaten a piop­pini mushroom, one of several mushrooms packaged together and available at island supermarkets.

Soybeans, or edamame, with their characteristic fuzzy pods and bright green color, are a delicious snack food. They are easy to eat and digest, high in protein and fiber and readily available in the freezer case.

At this time of year, thoughts turn to the Mardi Gras celebration next week in New Orleans. And when we think of New Orleans, we think of gumbo — and when we think of gumbo, we think of its key ingredient, okra.

Aromatic, silver-green, spiky rosemary is an herb with a robust flavor hinting of lemon and pine. Its distinctive flavor can evoke a thumbs up or thumbs down very quickly, but either way, its judicious use can be a delicious enhancement to foods.

It's hard to believe that mint and basil are related to shiso, the jagged leaf herb often served with sushi and sashimi. But they are distantly related and shiso's flavor and aroma are reminiscent of its cousins.

What do Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and won bok have in common? They're all brassicas, a species of the cabbage family that is wide and varied in its specimens. The word cabbage is derived from the French word "caboche," which refers to head.

Sugar pea is the horticultural term for edible podded peas, also known as mangetout (eat-all) in French.


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