Ah, the virtues of taro, or kalo as it’s called in Hawaiian. Not only is it delicious, nutritious and local, but kalo also is the epitome of culture, thanks to its central role in the Hawaiian creation story.
But did you know that kalo is also versatile? We’re not talking poi mochi or even Chinese taro cake. How about using it as flour in a quick bread, as dough to make a flatbread, pizza crust, tortilla or dim sum wrapper? How about eating it as a frozen pop, poke, burger, hash brown, hummus, in stew or with a sauce?
At the Malama Learning Center, kalo experts are bringing their expertise to the classroom in two workshops to teach participants the many ways to prepare the foodstuff.
Presented by Malama Learning Center:
>> Cost: $20
>> Info: Call 483-0678 or email email@example.com
>> Register: malamalearningcenter.org
>> Cleaning and Processing Kalo: 9 a.m. to noon June 4, Ka’ala Farm, 85-555 Farrington Highway, Waianae
>> Cooking With Kalo: 9 a.m. to noon July 30, Kapolei High School, 91-5007 Kapolei Parkway
Ohana family days at Ka’ala Farm
Held on the third Saturday monthly at 85-555 Farrington Highway. Reservations required; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Enos of Ka‘ala Farm, a cultural learning center in Waianae, works with dryland kalo. He says it’s important to get access to good kalo, to learn about the varieties and where to obtain them — and to complete that the learning process takes time. A good place to start is at a farmers market that sells kalo.
“You must strike up a relationship with farmers to get your bearings,” he said. “Talk to growers, ask about texture and flavor. Get educated.”
Meanwhile, though, there are still many things to cook, he said. All that’s required is a flexible approach. For instance, a sweet variety of kalo with a sticky texture makes a delicious poke. But even if your kalo is a bit drier and less flavorful, slowly adding seasoning and oil — and tasting as you go — can result in something that appeals.
Or say you intend to make a kalo patty, for which a stickier kalo is best. Steam and grate the corm. If your kalo turns crumbly, add an egg and see whether that helps. Or cook it as a loose mixture instead and serve it as a filling for a tortilla or in a sauce. It’s like the difference between a hamburger patty and loose hamburger. The understated flavors of kalo go well with endless ingredients and seasonings.
The point of all this, said Enos, is to get more people to grow and cook kalo (learn about growing at Ka‘ala Farm; see listing at right). Since kalo isn’t a common contemporary ingredient, he recommends “bridging” it with familiar foods. Toss in a bit of meat or some favorite spices.
“There are so many things you can add, it’s like a base,” he said. “I had one can of Spam and fed 12 people because I cooked it with kalo. Spam is familiar to people; kalo is not, but they loved the texture.
“You can make vegetarian pastele stew. Leave out the pork, use kalo and all the spices in pasteles,” he added. “Use kalo as the ‘spine’ of a dish. Use it with tomato sauce or anything with strong flavor. There are 1,001 ways to cook it.”
Among those ways is to transform kalo into a powder to be used as a thickener and a flour. Brynn Foster bases her company, Voyaging Foods, on this concept, producing a pure kalo powder and gluten-free flour mixes that feature coconut, amaranth, rice and other flours combined with the kalo.
At Malama’s workshop Foster will explain how to make kalo powder. This entails drying the kalo extremely well, then grinding it in a blender.
Foster uses exclusively Hawaiian varieties in her powder. The upside to such heirloom varieties, she said, is that they can be so different — some have orange flesh, others are pink, purple or white — which means they offer a diversity of nutrients.
And making a product such as powder eliminates waste, as it uses off-grade kalo that can’t be sold.
“You can even cut out rot from a corm and use the rest of it,” she said. “This is why I love making flour.”
>> Steaming: The Hawaiian style of cooking is to steam it skin-on, then scrape off the skin before preparing it for specific dishes.
Steaming time varies greatly, depending on size of the corm. Small kalo can be cooked in an hour; large ones can take three hours. A pressure cooker cuts cooking time by one-third to one-half.
You don’t need to wait until the kalo cools before scraping it. Submerge it in a bowl of water while removing the skin. It’s not a labor-intensive task. With a little finger pressure, the skin will pop right off.
>> Grating: This increases kalo’s versatility. After cooking and peeling the corm, grate coarsely using a box grater or food processor. Grate bulk amounts, then freeze for later use.
Ka‘ala Farm’s Eric Enos says grated kalo can replace most starches, such as rice, noodles and bread. It can also be used to replace or supplement ground meat, for patties or to be cooked loosely.
“It has a hamburger consistency. Add onions, a little bit of meat, some other veggies like carrots and water chestnut, season with oyster sauce and make patties for the grill,” he suggests.
He also likes to season the kalo with herbs and spices, and cook it on a griddle like hash.
“It’s meaty — meatier than potatoes, more dense and succulent. It has a crispness on the outside and a nice texture inside, and it’s kalo, so you can taste that,” Enos said. “It has more going on than potatoes.”
To that grilled burger, add whatever toppings you desire. Enos likes his with gobo (burdock root), and squid doused with Korean seasonings.
>> Add flour to grated kalo and mix it with water and salt, then knead to make flatbread or pizza dough.
>> Run the dough through a pasta machine and make dim sum and empanada wrappers or tortillas.
>> Fill a kalo tortilla with veggies, meats and top with sauce, then wrap it like a burrito.
“Wow!” said Enos. “The texture and flavor are substantial. It’s got more going on than a traditional tortilla — more fiber, more depth, more nutrition.”
Kalo Banana bread
Courtesy Brynn Foster
>> Wet ingredients:
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 2/3 cup unrefined coconut oil
- 3 teaspoons chia gel (substitute with 2 eggs, or 6 tablespoons applesauce with 2 teaspoons baking powder)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1-1/2 cups pureed bananas (substitute pumpkin puree)
- 2 tablespoons agave or honey
- 1/4 teaspoon organic unsulphured molasses
- 1/4 cup hot water, as needed
>> Dry ingredients:
- 1/4 cup taro powder (instructions at right)
- 3/4 cup flour of your choice (or a mix of your favorite protein and fiber flours)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pan or minipans. Cream sugar with coconut oil.
In medium bowl, mix chia gel, vanilla and banana or pumpkin puree. Add creamed mixture to chia mixture. Add agave and molasses in increments.
Combine dry ingredients and whisk into wet ingredients until well blended. Add water as needed to keep batter moist (not runny).
Bake miniloaves 18 minutes, or whole loaf for 50 to 55 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting toothpick in center of loaf; if pick comes out clean, loaf is baked.
Cool before slicing. Makes 1 2-pound loaf or 8 miniloaves weighing 4 ounces each.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per miniloaf: 370 calories, 24 g fat, 20 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 25 g sugar, 2 g protein
Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
Turning kalo into powder
Steam the kalo corm, then peel and slice it. Put slices in a dehydrator, or dry in an oven set at 175 to 200 degrees for 7 hours. From there the kalo is processed in a blender or, ideally, a Vitamix.
Brynn Foster says the pieces must be extremely dry or they won’t process well. Assessing that takes some experience.
“Practice on something already dried,” Foster advised. (Think banana chips or dried peas.) “See how dry a vegetable needs to be to be made into a flour.”
The finished product is highly concentrated and needs to be mixed with other flours for baking.
Foster suggests using a proportion of 20-25 percent kalo powder to a 75-80 percent combination of fiber flour (such as brown rice, buckwheat, millet, teff or amaranth) and protein flour (such as chickpea, coconut or almond).
Foster’s kalo powder and flour mixes are available at voyagingfoods.com and SoHa Living stores.