How sad and yet I gave my consent to have the old Royal Hawaiian Band who are now the Government U.S. band come and serenade me on this the occasion of my 62nd birthday. My consent is the healing over of ill will of all great differences caused by the overthrow of my throne and the deprivation of my people of their rights. Tho’ for a moment it cost me a pang of pain for my people – it was only momentary, for the present has a hope for the future for my people.’
– Queen Lili’uokalani of the Islands of Hawaii
Buenos Aires – I’m not going to get into the politics of the U.S.’s annexation at gunpoint of Hawaii, or any of the controversy surrounding statehood, the overthrow of the monarchy, the later lawsuits, or even the context of the quote above. There’s no agreement on the exact meaning, though there seems to be some trend towards the idea that on this occasion of her 62nd birthday the former Queen was feeling a bit sad for the loss of sovereignty brought on by listening to the old royal band, but that she was conceding that there was at least some hope for the future of Hawaii as a state (some say, as opposed to the takeover by white plantation owners who wanted to supplant the monarchy with their own, more or less corporate oligarchy). Regardless, this weekend would have been her birthday, and that became the inspiration to play around with some ideas based on Hawaiian cuisine. The cuisine itself is multicultural and varied, with influences from various Pacific and Asian cultures as well as from the mainland U.S., all tied together with the use of indigenous products. There’s also a lot of consumption of Spam, but I wasn’t going there.
In the end, I spend some time perusing through menus from some of the islands’ more touted chefs, and then just making up my own dishes. But I give credit to inspirations from folks like Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, Sam Choy, Jean-Marie Josselin, and a variety of websites about Hawaiian cooking in general. I make no claims to authenticity or tradition. I just did my own things using local ingredients here that were the same or similar to some of the ideas presented by various others. Dinner was well attended both evenings – with a private birthday party of porteños on Friday and a mixed group of expats and tourists on Saturday.
This was a very simple, basic soup. A couple of kilos of batatas, or yams, and one large potato, got themselves roasted in the oven. Then I peeled them, tossed them into a pot with a chopped and sauteed red onion, a couple of liters of vegetable stock and a roughly equal amount of water, and a handful of fresh basil leaves. I pureed the whole thing with an immersion blender and then seasoned it with salt, white pepper, and good vanilla extract (seeds scraped from a scraped vanilla bean would have been probably even better, but I just couldn’t find one this week that wasn’t completely dried out to dust). At service time I added about a pint of cream, ladled it out, and dusted it with some mild paprika.
I think both nights, people raved about this dish, and I have to admit, I loved the way it turned out. I looked for some of those long, thin Japanese eggpplants, which are slightly milder than Italian eggplants, and a touch prettier for presentation. In the end though, this actually may have worked better for the flavors. I split and roasted the eggplants with olive oil and salt until they were tender and cooked through. I let them cool, and then mashed down a depression along the centerline of each. I filled that with sauteed (and cooled) chinese sausage (removed the casing and crumbled the meat), and topped it with a semi-hard goat cheese. For service, I popped them under the broiler to heat them up and brown the cheese. The sauce is a simple puree of scallions (green onions, or verdeos will work too, but the scallions taste better if you can find them), fresh ginger, mirin (sweet sake), olive oil, and a touch of salt.
You know, for a good Jewish boy from the midwest, it’s a trifle disconcerting that I’m getting known for my various versions of pork empanadas. Obviously it’s my own fault, I don’t need to be making them, but it seemed a niche that no one was filling, and besides, I like ’em too! I started these off with about 3 pounds of fresh, beautiful pork loin, diced into ¼” cubes. An onion, garlic chives and shishito peppers (a mild Japanese green pepper, great grilled, pictured above) were chopped and sauteed in a splash of peanut oil flavored with amchor, or dried mango, then the pork added and cooked until lightly browned. I wanted to go for a “Hawaiian barbecue” style, so at this point I added about a teaspoon and a half of powdered chipotle pepper, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and a pureed mixture of ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar, two plum tomatoes, and the flesh of a mango. I cooked the whole thing until the sauce had thickened and darkened, just like a good barbecue sauce. I let it cool, then filled the empanada dough with about two tablespoons of filling each. The first night I served just one apiece and folks were clamoring for more, so the second night I served two apiece, which apparently was just a touch too much – I guess one, but bigger, will be in the future…
I went to the new fish market I’ve found in Barrio Chino (back of the Asia Oriental supermarket on Mendoza), and saw these beautiful fresh trilla, or red mullet. Now, red mullet are a risk at a dinner party – especially knowing that I had one evening of all locals, and fish is not one of the more popular dishes amongst many porteños. But I’d asked the host, and he assured me that the menu wasn’t an issue. These fish in particular, while absolutely delicious, and among my favorites, are notable for a large amount of bones – sometimes to the extent that it seems not worth the effort. I also decided to serve them whole, though, in deference to potential squeamishness, I beheaded them, which also gives me the benefit of having cooked the heads down with a mirepoix and some red wine to create a nice fish stock for future use. The fish were steamed in foil packets in the oven with a little bit of mirin, olive oil, coarse salt, and kaffir lime leaves (a type of lime leaf from southeast Asia).
The fish were served with a piece or two of baby corn, lightly warmed in a mix of water, mirin, and soy sauce; and a black bean salsa. The salsa is a mix of 2 cups of cooked black beans, ¼ cup of fermented black beans, 1 cup of finely diced papaya, 1 diced red onion, 1 diced red bell pepper, 2 diced stalks of celery, 2 seeded and finely diced cayenne peppers, ¼ cup of red wine vinegar, ½ cup of chopped yerba buena, pictured here, and a little salt to taste. Yerba buena is a name used for a variety of different herbs in different parts of the world. In this particular part of the world, it’s spearmint, or a very close relative of spearmint. I purposely kept the salsa mild so as to not overpower the fish. If you want something with a little more kick, add more cayenne peppers to the mix, and maybe even a bit of chili powder.
I went back to Nick Maglieri’s book Chocolate, from which I’d gotten a delicious Spicy Chocolate Tart a few weeks ago. I took out the spices and replaced them with a mashed banana and some grated coconut. For service I simply topped the tart slices with a bit more coconut, and made some lightly sweetened whipped cream topped with a touch of cocoa. Simple, but delicious!