Chef Abby Ferrer draws inspiration from her international travels and the traditional Filipino cuisine she grew up with to create her signature menu items and dining experiences.
The native New Yorker lived in Hong Kong as a young child, and her career brought her to Maui in 2013 from Boston to assist with the opening of Morimoto at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. She later worked at Morimoto Miami and Tommy Bahama in Wailea before joining Star Noodle as executive chef in April 2017. The popular Lahaina restaurant is part of the Na Hoaloha Ekolu ohana, which includes Old Lahaina Lu‘au, Aloha Mixed Plate, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, Hoaloha Bakery and Hoaloha Farms.
In an homage to her Filipino heritage, Ferrer in December held Star Noodle’s first Kamayan Dinner, a traditional communal meal in which dishes are served on banana leaves and eaten without utensils. She’s also become a fixture at such community events as the Grand Taste at AgFest and the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival in Kaanapali.
This recipe, which is not on the Star Noodle menu, was created for the Grand Taste at Maui AgFest 2019. The dish features produce from six Hawaii farms: Wai-poli Hydroponic Greens butter lettuce, Lapa‘au Farm oyster and lion’s mane mushrooms, Pauwela Produce edible flowers and microgreens, Napili Flo Farm microgreens, Oko‘a Farms radishes and Hamakua Heritage Farms alii mushrooms.
“I’m a big fan of Korean food and love the freshness of lettuce wraps paired with smoky grilled meats, ban chan and all the sauces,” Ferrer said. “I love mushrooms, and they are such a versatile vegetable. The Hamakua alii and oyster mushrooms stand up well to grilling, marinating and sauteing.”
For the Korean-style ssamjang sauce — a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf — she added firm tofu to give the lettuce cups a little more bulk and protein. Ferrer also added more green onions and roasted white sesame seeds for texture, and lots of garlic — because who doesn’t love garlic?
>> Rice. “I like using a white sticky rice like Thai or Japanese. I have also used a Gen-Ji Mai multigrain rice (brown rice, barley, rye berries, red rice, black barley, whole oats, wild rice), which gives a nice texture and nuttiness. You can also soak black rice for an hour, then mix it with your white rice (equal amounts) and cook per package instructions. You get a nice deep purple rice with great flavor.”
>> Seasoning. “I didn’t use salt and pepper since the mushrooms are already marinated in shoyu. The tofu ssamjang sauce has a good amount of sodium and slight heat, so I would wait till the end after you try everything together and decide if it needs more.”
>> Vegan/gluten free. To make the dish vegan, skip the honey, use tamari sauce instead of shoyu and substitute white miso for fermented soybean paste. Make it gluten free by substituting tamari for shoyu and making sure the gochujang (red chili paste) does not have any wheat.
>> Extra sauce. The recipe makes more tofu ssamjang sauce than needed for this dish. “The extra sauce can be saved to be used for a later date. It’s great with grilled meats or with a bowl of steamed rice. You can also share and send some home with friends.”
MUSHROOM CUPS WITH TOFU SSAMJANG SAUCE
>> 3 cups cooked rice
>> 2 cups tofu ssamjang sauce
>> 1 cup radish, sliced to matchsticks
>> 20 butter lettuce cups, washed and dried
>> 2 pounds alii mushrooms
>> 2 pounds oyster mushrooms
>> ¼ cup minced garlic
>> 1 cup canola oil
>> 1 cup shoyu
>> 1 cup white vinegar
>> ½ cup white sugar
First, make rice per packaging instructions, then make tofu ssamjang sauce (recipe follows).
Whisk shoyu, vinegar, garlic and sugar in a large bowl, then set aside. Slice mushrooms similar in size for even cooking and place in the bowl with shoyu liquid. Marinate for 15 to 20 minutes, mixing several times.
Add small amount of canola oil to large saute pan and heat to medium high. Remove mushrooms from marinade and saute in small batches, adding oil as needed, to get a nice sear. Mushrooms may also be grilled. Set aside.
Tofu ssamjang sauce
>> 1 cup gochujang red chili paste
>> 1 cup white miso
>> ¼ cup minced garlic
>> 1 tablespoon minced ginger
>> 1 cup green onion, thinly sliced
>> ¾ cup sesame oil
>> ½ cup roasted sesame seeds
>> 1 14-ounce package firm tofu, drained
Crumble tofu into a medium-size bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix well with a spatula. (If it’s too thick, add a little water to desired consistency.)
Building lettuce cups
Smear a little tofu ssamjang sauce inside of lettuce cup, then add rice, sauteed mushrooms and radish. Add extra sauce and garnish with green onion, shredded carrots, bean sprouts or whatever vegetables are available.
Serves 4 to 6.