To prove that good food is well understood across borders and seas, Sharon McKenzie writes from across both: "Last year I was studying at UH-Manoa on exchange from New Zealand, and LOVED the taro poke that was sold by Taro Delight at the KCC farmers market on Saturday. I used to buy it every week and really miss it."
McKenzie has found a source for taro and wants to make this vegan poke.
Most of us equate poke with raw fish, but the literal translation of the Hawaiian word is to cut or slice, which explains such concoctions as tofu poke or even tripe poke.
Tom Purdy, owner of Taro Delight, prepares his taro poke with the familiar flavorings of sesame oil, soy sauce and ogo (limu kohu, or red seaweed). He prepares the taro through pressure-cooking and smoking over wood chips. "It’s really labor intensive, but I’ve been doing it so long I don’t really see it that way," Purdy says.
The process is, however, confidential, so duplicating the Taro Delight mix is not going to happen. Your best approximation is to steam peeled chunks of taro — or use a pressure cooker if you have one. Purdy uses Chinese taro, the type commonly sold in supermarkets. He suggests chilling the cooked taro before cubing it to reduce stickiness.
From there, the usual mix of flavorings for about a pound of ahi poke would be a tablespoon of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, plus minced chili peppers and diced green or white onions to taste. You can vamp from there. To purchase the Taro Delight product, hit up the farmers markets at Kapiolani Community College on Saturday, in Kailua on Thursday or Kaiser Permanente’s Fresh Markets held twice a month at the Moanalua and Pensacola locations.
I HUNTED AROUND for another taro poke recipe and only found two: One from a website called taroandti.com, run by a guy named Michael Vanecek out of, believe it or not, Comanche, Texas. The other is in chef Sam Choy’s 2009 cookbook, "Poke" (Mutual Publishing, $32.95).
Both use equal parts cooked taro and raw ahi, but to turn it vegan you could make the dish all taro. Choy’s suggestion is to scrub and peel the taro, using gloves or a paper towel to protect your hands from the irritants in raw taro. Cut it in chunks and steam or boil until cooked but not mushy. He uses olive oil, ginger juice (squeezed from fresh grated ginger) and zest of Buddha’s hand (a not-so-common citron).
At this point I’d like to go back to Vanecek and his made-in-Texas website partly because his recipe is simpler, and also because –Texas? Who woulda thought?
Vanecek is a "horticultural enthusiast" who lived in Hawaii for just the first two years of life. The closest he’s come to returning is a stint in the Navy on Guam for a couple of years. "Nevertheless, as a child I was obsessed with Hawaii from as early as I can remember," he says.
His corner of Texas is a little dry for taro, but Vanecek has been trying valiantly to nurture a crop. "I’ve lost more than a few varieties to the extremes we have here as I figured this plant out and my little journey of discovery continues to this day. My latest project involves growing taro in flooded containers — my own little bucket-lo’i."
Who woulda thought?
His website has recipes, resources and discussion groups dedicated to taro and other tropical plants. "’Taro and Ti’ is my way of bring some of Hawaii here," he says. "It’s not nearly the same, but it scratches an itch I get from time to time …"
Here’s the recipe. It was contributed by Ellane Baker from her 2001 cookbook "Taro & Breadfruit (and Potato!)," which notes that Nalani Kaneakua of Kauai won second place for the recipe in the 1996 Taro Festival. The primary flavors are ginger and cilantro, making it very different from traditional poke. It’s also lightly cooked, so the fish isn’t raw.
Taro Poke Salad
1/2 cup raw ahi, cubed
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Pinch fresh garlic
1/2 cup cooked, cubed taro
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon diced sweet chili peppers
1 stalk green onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients and saute until medium rare. Serve on bed of greens. Serves 2.
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