Burt Wolf's Table: Hawaii - #202

BURT WOLF:  Hawaii:  a hundred and thirty-two islands that stretch across the center of the Pacific Ocean; a necklace of tropical jewels.  We'll see how the ancient Hawaiians cooked... whip up some great-tasting recipes, using some of the island’s healthiest native foods, and we'll discover the fruit that keeps the goddess of the volcanoes content.  So join me in Hawaii at Burt Wolf's Table.

WOLF:  The ancient Hawaiians had a story about how their people came to be. They believed that their history began in the deep darkness  below the earth, and boy, how right they were. The islands that make up Hawaii are actually the tops of a chain of mountains that have pushed themselves up from the bottom of the ocean floor.

Hot magma is forced up from the very center of the planet. It drives its way through standing vents in the Earth's crust. It escapes through fractures on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and begins to form volcanoes. The volcanoes build up for thousands of feet until they break through the  surface of the water. The mountains that make up Hawaii are some of the biggest mountains on Earth, bigger than Mount Everest. It's estimated that the process may have started about forty-five million years ago and it's still going on.  For the Hawaiians, the gods of creation are still very busy. 

The best way to get a good look at what has been created is from a helicopter. Papillon Hawaiian helicopters is the world's largest helicopter sightseeing company.  Larry Lariosa, one of their pilots, is the third generation of his family born in Hawaii and he has a great deal of knowledge about the Islands and their history.  His helicopter gives you a unique ability to discover the area. You can just drop in wherever you like. 

WOLF:  These islands were the last major body of land to be discovered by European explorers. They were first seen by Captain James Cook in 1778. He called them the Sandwich Islands in honor of his friend John Montague, who was the Earl of Sandwich, first Lord of the Admiralty and most important, the inventor of the sandwich. 

LARRY LARIOSA:  What we'll do here is we'll just... sneak on down here... get a better view of the shoreline area.

WOLF:  They all look like they were lava floes.

LARIOSA:  Yes they were. 

WOLF:  You can see how the lava dripped down and formed everything.

LARIOSA:  True. Very true. Here is one of the most interesting points I believe here on the island... the eastern point of the island, Makapuu, translated “bulging eye.”  A tiny island, Turtle Island, the larger, Manana Island  translated Rabbit Island. And here on our left side, Splash Park where they put on a beautiful show, the dolphins and the killer whale, seven days a week. I know it sounds like a sales pitch, it is...my cousin works there. 


LARIOSA:  Gotta help out the family. Now this another interesting area, Hanouma Bay.  Here at Hanouma Bay you can jump in the water, wade out on the shallow side with a handful of fish,  they will come right up to you, eat it right off the palm of your hands. 

WOLF:  So this was a crater.


WOLF:  Of a volcano and one side of it dropped away.

LARIOSA:  You got it.  Here is an interesting point on our left. That's the fish farm, that's one of twenty-five which we now we have around the island. A lot of 'em are still being used by island fisherman to store fish which they caught out in the ocean with nets.

WOLF:  You know, that's interesting because  we're beginning to farm fish in the United States now.

LARIOSA:  That's true.

WOLF:  And people think it's a brand new thing and it's been going on for thousands of years.

LARIOSA:  That's true.

WOLF:  It's a lot easier to grow a fish than to  catch one.

LARIOSA:  It is. It is. 

WOLF:  What a lovely unspoiled valley. 

LARIOSA:  Looking at all the plants and flowers that you have here around the island, we’ve got about two thousand five hundred species, of which seventeen hundred are indigenous to the islands.  Now here coming up ahead of us on our left front this is the sugar fields.  The dark green is about a year old, the lighter brown, twenty-two to twenty-four months. Sugar requires two thousand pounds of fresh water to produce just one pound of raw sugar. Amazing.

WOLF:  Pineapples.

LARIOSA:  There's over twenty-five species of pineapple in the world. It's hand planted and hand picked and of course in front of us... the infamous North Shore surfing beaches.  During the winter months, November to March, the waves out here could possibly get up to thirty-five feet.

WOLF:  It's a nice way to spend a Monday morning.

LARIOSA:  You got it. Oh, you want to see something interesting here?  For thirty-five million dollars you can pick up this home here.

WOLF: If I had thirty-five million dollars I wouldn't pick up anything. (LAUGHS)

LARIOSA:  There's a beautiful phrase that I  tell a lot of people. (SAYS PHRASE)  It translates; With everlasting love and affection... until we meet again.


WOLF:  To understand the food of Hawaii you need to take a look at the ethnic groups that immigrated to these islands. The early groups were from Polynesia, particularly the island of Tahiti. Their major food festival was called the luau.  Authentic luaus are presented from time to time as charity events but you can see a visitor's version at Germaine's. 

WOLF:  Germaine's was started in the 70's by a woman who wanted to give people a sense of what Hawaiian hospitality is like and it turns out to be a lot of fun.

DANCE INSTRUCTOR:  To the right....and to the left. Hitchhike.  Way up in the air and pull, girls, pull. A fish...a fish.  Hitchhike.  Way up in the air, and pull girls. And pull. One more time. Step back with your left foot, touch your shoulders and throw a  kiss.  Throw a kiss.  Oh.  How about another hand for our girls, aren't they lovely.

WOLF:  Preparation for a luau centers around an emu, an ancient form of oven dug into the ground. The base and the walls of the pit are lined with a fragrant wood and lava stones. A pig goes in and is surrounded with tea and banana leaves. The fire heats up, the meat is covered. It cooks in the steam and ten to twelve hours later you are ready for the ultimate pig-out.  The luau is a way of bringing all the members of a family together for a shared experience. A food that's served at every luau is poi, a paste made from a baked root and pounded into a thick concentrate. The root is called taro. Taro is a tropical plant. For thousands of years it has been the basic starch for many cultural groups living in the South Pacific. It was originally brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians about fifteen hundred years ago, and it quickly became a food of great importance. It's grown in a patch fed by running water and harvested by hand.  The root is baked and made into a puree called poi. It has a taste somewhere between artichoke hearts and chestnuts. The islanders realized that poi could be wrapped up in leaves and would hold its nutritional value for months at a time. That made it the ideal food to take along on long ocean voyages or to stock up with to make sure you had a secure food supply. These days taro is used in Hawaii to make the traditional poi but you also find it in stuffings, cakes, breads and stews. The leaves are used as if they were spinach. Taro root and the leaves are an excellent source of protein.  They also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium and iron. The actual starch molecules are so small that they're usually easily digested by infants, the elderly and people on restricted diets.  So taro a moment in Hawaii and taste the poi that refreshes.

WOLF:  The luau and poi are essential elements in Hawaiian culture, and so are leis. The Hawaiian lei is a delicate necklace usually made from flowers but sometimes constructed of shells, leaves, nuts or feathers. Traditionally they were worn as head wreaths, necklaces and bracelets. They were worn during religious dances and considered as important offerings to the gods. A lei used in a sacred ceremony was thought of as the personal property of the deity to whom the ceremony was dedicated.  Each part of a lei has a specific significance. They were made with care and offered with great affection. Even today leis are a very important part of Hawaiian society. Many tourists receive them when the arrive on the islands but leis are also used by Hawaiians for all major and many minor occasions;  births, weddings, funerals, parties, and any time you want to express trust and affection.

WOLF:  The lei is clearly a symbol of Hawaiian folklore but so is the hula. Every  Sunday morning for well over a decade, children have performed the hula at the Ala Moana Center. The ritual of this dance is very complex and was always an important part of religious services.  It was central to a series of acts that were meant to establish contact with the ancient gods. In the old days, entering a hula school for a Hawaiian was the same as entering a monastery.  Some hulas are designed to influence events in the future, much as praying is used in other societies. The hula is an extraordinary folk art and its preservation a tribute to Hawaiian society.

WOLF:  His name is George Mavrothalassitis. He was born in the south of France on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and  trained with some of the great chefs of Paris.  These days he is the executive chef at a magnificent restaurant in Waikiki called  La Mer.  Today George is preparing fish with a salsa made from local papayas. A  quarter cup of lime juice goes into a bowl, plus a little salt, white pepper, chopped  jalepeno pepper and fresh ginger.

GEORGE:  I prefer to chop like that than to grate...to grate it becau...to grate because...you keep the juice of the ginger inside when you cut... finely as that.

WOLF:  That gets mixed together with a half cup of olive oil, a little garlic, a half cup of chopped onion, same amount of papaya and diced red bell pepper.  A tablespoon of cilantro completes the salsa, which then rests for about an hour to let the flavors blend. While that's happening, a piece of fish steak is trimmed. What George was doing was trimming away the dark part of the fish. Whenever you have a piece of fish and you see one of these dark cores, cut it out.  If there are impurities in the fish, this is where they're stored.  A little salt goes onto the fish and some of the liquid from the salsa to keep it moist, and into a steamer over water for eight minutes. When the fish comes out, it goes on to a leaf- covered plate, and the papaya salsa goes on top. 

Shortly after Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he noted in his logbook that the natives were very strong and lived largely on a tree melon called the fruit of the angels.  The particular fruit that Columbus was actually talking about was the papaya.  European countries with trading companies in the Caribbean like England, France and Portugal were also doing business in the South Pacific and they brought papayas to Hawaii. If you see a papaya fresh in a U.S. market, the odds are a thousand to one that it was grown here in Hawaii. Papaya is a major crop here. When you're picking out a papaya in your market look for ones that have a smooth and unblemished skin. The green color should be gone and replaced by a golden yellow-orange. Half a papaya has about eighty calories and it's a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. It can be served as a fruit with a spray of lemon or lime juice to enhance the flavor... in salads... or as the container for seafood or chicken recipes.  Hawaiian chefs use papaya to make jams, jellies, sherbets and drinks. Perhaps the most unusual quality to a papaya is its ability to tenderize meat. The juice of a green papaya contains an enzyme that's actually used to make commercial tenderizers.


WOLF:  When a volcano would erupt on Hawaii, an offering of meat was thrown into the fiery lava to quiet down Pele, the goddess who was in charge of all volcanoes.  When you did that you threw in a papaya too, just to make sure that the meat offering would be tender. You know, it's a small touch, but it's the kind of thing that a goddess always appreciates.

And any goddess would also appreciate this recipe for swordfish with a watercress crust. A piece of swordfish is trimmed into a steak.  A little vegetable oil goes into a pan and in goes the fish.  One minute of cooking on the first side, a gentle flip, and one minute of cooking on the second side.

GEORGE:  This...was I...I have to say this was my best discovery in Hawaii.  This was because it's just great to coo...for cooking. You know in France, we use English watercress and it's very good for soup and...for salad. This watercress was more a...

WOLF:  Like a vegetable.

GEORGE:  ...to make sauce gor...is just gorgeous.  It's very peppery. It's very, very, very nice.

WOLF:  Watercress is pureed in a blender with a little vegetable oil and it's mixed together with the white of an egg and a little salt and pepper. That mixture is spread out on top of the fishsteak. Into a three hundred and fifty degree fahrenheit oven for three minutes and it's ready to serve. Some braised leeks go onto a serving plate and the fish with the watercress crust and some sliced carrots that have been cooked with a little  butter, sugar and fresh ginger. The watercress crust is a great idea. Watercress is actually a very  important crop in Hawaii. 

Right smack in the middle of Aiea, Hawaii is the Sumida Farm... eleven acres that have resisted the developers’ concrete for almost a hundred years.  Since the turn of the century, the Sumida family has used this land to cultivate a delicate crop of watercress. Watercress is a peppery- flavored green leafy plant that grows along the  sides of flowing water. The water on the Sumida farm comes from this ancient natural spring. Watercress has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, the ancient Greeks thought of it as a health food and they would feed it to their soldiers before they went into battle. About two thousand years later, the British navy had pretty much the same approach. They would feed it to their sailors to prevent scurvy, a disease that you get if you don't have enough vitamin C in your diet.  Well, both the ancient Greeks and the British navy certainly knew what they were talking about. Watercress is packed with vitamin C, and it also contains lots of minerals that are very important to your health. These days we're finding out that watercress also contains beta carotene, which is a building block for vitamin A and may turn out to be a very important cancer blocker. Most of the watercress grown in Hawaii goes into the dishes of the large Asian population. The peppery flavor adds a natural zest. It's one of the islands favorite leafy vegetables.

WOLF:  When you think about the foods of Hawaii, watercress may not be the first thing that comes to mind.  The superstar of Hawaiian produce is the pineapple and it is the basis for one of George's most popular deserts. A pineapple is trimmed of its outside rind and sliced lengthwise into six wedges. The corestrip is cut off and the wedge is sliced into bite-sized pieces. The pieces go into a heated non-stick pan.  No oil or butter in the pan, just the hot surface. The heat of the surface caramelizes the natural sugar in the pineapple and you end up with a crisp brown crust. Turn the pineapple pieces until you see a crust forming. The total cooking time should be about a minute on each side. When they're ready, they get spread out on your favorite pastry crust that's been cut into an eight-inch disk and baked until done.  A little pineapple sauce goes around the dough, and a decoration of guava.

WOLF:  The ancient Hawaiians called it “wave sliding” and it was a symbolic pact that dealt with conquering fear and understanding the changes of life. It was also a lot of fun. As early as the fourteenth century, Hawaiians were singing songs about the achievements of the great surfers. Important chiefs would surf against each other, the winner receiving large plots of land from the losers. England's Captain Cook and his crew first saw surfers in the 1770's and wrote in their logbook that that “these men feel the most supreme pleasure.  The boldness with which they performed these difficult and dangerous maneuvers is astonishing and scarce to be believed.”

WOLF:  Well I'll tell you... two hundred years have passed since then but I feel pretty much the way Captain Cook did.  Surfing became a sport right here on Waikiki Beach in the early 1900's when a group of local surfers organized a club. I think for a man my age to learn to surf now would be a little nuts -- and if I'm going to deal with little nuts in Hawaii, it's going to be those macadamias.

Macadamia nuts are the seeds of a tropical tree that was originally a native of Australia. It was named after John McAdam, a chemist who lived during the mid 1800's and promoted the plant in Australia.  Macadamia nuts originally arrived in Hawaii in the 1880's and were thought of primarily as an ornamental plant rather than a source of nuts, because a macadamia nut is a tough nut to crack. As a matter of fact, when automobiles first arrived in Hawaii they were used to open macadamia nuts. They'd take two planks of wood, put the nuts in between and drive the car over the top to break the protective shells. These days that job is done by commercial rollers that produce over three thousand pounds of pressure per square inch -- but it's all worth it.

WOLF:  Inside is a delicate, crisp meat that seems to melt into a sweet creamy flavor. Today Hawaii produces ninety percent of the world's macadamia nuts, and local companies present them in many different ways -- including chocolate-covered, in brittle and as cookies.  Macadamia nuts contain about a hundred calories in a half-ounce portion and their fat is unsaturated, which is good. They also have some phosphorus, some iron, B-1 and a little bit of calcium. The vacuum-packed cans will last for about two years, but as soon as you open them you should refrigerate the contents. Macadamia nuts are a common ingredient in Hawaiian dishes. Chef Jamain at the Kahala Hilton uses them in his recipe for Hawaiian brownies. Two cups of sugar go into a mixing bowl, a half teaspoon of  salt, nine ounces of butter, a quarter cup of corn syrup and lots of mixing.

GERMAIN:  They should be really made at home in the... in the mixer.

WOLF:  Then you don't get the great Hawaiian sun, but you do get a much fluffier mixture.

GERMAIN:  You know, Burt, we...we in Hawaii are now getting tired with the sun; is your turn now.

WOLF:  (LAUGHS) Okay. All of the ingredients need to be well-mixed. And in goes one cup of cocoa powder... four eggs, one cup of flour and two cups of chopped macadamia nuts.  When all the ingredients are fully incorporated, an eleven-by-seventeen jellyroll pan is lined with parchment paper.  Your batter gets poured in and  spread out, a garnish of chopped macadamia nuts on top and into a pre-heated three hundred and twenty-five degree fahrenheit oven for thirty minutes. When it comes out you get a bunch of brownies that could drive you nuts.  The chef likes to serve the brownies with a scoop of ice cream on top, some hot fudge, strawberries and whipped cream.  You know, it fits perfectly into my weight loss diet because I just share it with the other two hundred and thirty one guests at the hotel -- and what a hotel it is.

WOLF:  When travel writers rank the world's finest resorts, the Kahala Hilton is regularly included. It sits on the edge of a secluded white sandy beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. For over twenty-five  years it has lured travelers in search of a peaceful and private rest. Paddle boating, snorkeling, wind surfing, scuba diving or just lazing on a raft in the brilliant Hawaiian sun. There's an oceanside pool for those who prefer fresh-water swimming and a manmade lagoon which has become home to three bottlenosed dolphins. Waterfalls, lush gardens and an oceanside lounge that was a regular setting for scenes in Magnum P.I.   The Kahala Hilton is also well known for its food. Executive Chef Dominque Germain trained in a number of fine restaurants in his homeland of France and perfected his skills in Montreal, Canada before coming to Hawaii. Today the foods of Hawaii result from the many ethnic groups who have applied their homeland kitchen techniques to the local produce, including ginger. Ginger originated in Southeast Asia and was transplanted to the warm parts of our planet thousands of years ago. Ancient documents show ginger being traded in the Mediterranean in the first century A.D., and it shows up in English recipes by the 1100s. The Spanish planted it in the Caribbean right after the  arrival of Columbus. And Chef Dominque Germain puts that Hawaiian ginger to work in a  recipe for fish with a ginger pesto sauce.  Start by peeling the skin of a hand of ginger and slicing up about a half cup's worth. Peel and crush four cloves of garlic.  A little vegetable oil goes into a hot pan, and the ginger and the garlic.  A few flips while it's cooking, then into a blender, an ounce of cashew nuts, a few pinenuts, a few macadamia nuts, some cilantro, a few basil leaves, the juice of a lemon and a little vegetable oil, a hit of tabasco and a little sesame oil, a little tasting.  Salt and pepper goes onto a piece of red snapper, the snapper goes into a saucepan, fish stock and lemon juice are added and brought to a simmer so the fish can cook for about eight minutes. At that point the fish is removed to a serving plate, a touch of cream goes into the pan and the sauce is cooked down until it thickens.  Then in goes the ginger pesto.

DOMINIQUE GERMAIN:  Now it really looks ono.

WOLF:  What does ono mean?

GERMAIN:  Ono means in Hawaiian “delicious.” 

WOLF:  The fish goes onto a serving plate, a few vegetables and the sauce.

WOLF:  Every day somewhere on the islands of Hawaii there is a rainbow, a perfect symbol for the natural beauty of this area.  But it's also an excellent symbol for what's happening here culturally.  Hawaii is made up of dozens of different ethnic groups... different sizes, different colors, different shapes, different philosophies, different languages and different religions.  And yet  they live side by side with virtually no tension. It is a rainbow of people, more beautiful than any rainbow I have seen anywhere else in the world and as they exchange their appreciation for each other's culture, they exchange their appreciation for each other's foods.   And that has a lot to teach us about eating well.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for things that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.