Join the 'ono revolution with your plate
By Melanie Kosaka
Special to The Advertiser
Passionate declarations of "that's too hard, I love rice and bread" surface in conversations with friends when I suggest they consider switching to a more local diet. But you can have your cake (or your rice, in this case) and eat local too.
There are simple strategies for putting more Island-grown products at the center of your plate without having to forego rice and bread. Small but consistent changes in buying habits can have meaningful impacts on local agriculture and our economy.
Like Hawaii's dependence on imported oil, our dependence on imported food takes billions of dollars each year out of the local economy. A 2008 University of Hawaii CTAHR study put the estimate at about $3.1 billion annually. The study also found Hawaii could potentially add $313 million annually to the local economy by replacing just 10 percent of imported food with local products.
The co-author of the Economic Impacts of Increasing Hawaii's Food Self-Sufficiency, P.S. Leung, Ph.D. UH-CTAHR and Mathew Loke, Ph.D., Hawaii Department of Agriculture stated the benefits of greater food self-sufficiency are not just economic, the preservation of open green space, reduction of water run-offs, recharging the aquifer system, risk reduction in importation of harmful pests and invasive species, and improved access to fresh, quality produce are also factors.
Increasing the amount of local ingredients on your plate is easier than you think. Over the past two years, the website I publish — www.ShareYourTable.com — has worked with local farmers, fishers, food writers and chefs to collect easy how-to ideas, videos and recipes centered on local ingredients and flavors.
Here are a few simple, everyday ideas for adding more aloha to your plate. I hope you'll use them to create your own repertoire of everyday locavore menus.
GREEN UP RICE POT
Because we import 100 percent of our rice and we eat so much of it, this small change can make a big difference: drop a handful of greens in your rice cooker.
Instead of cooking the usual quantity of rice, reduce the measure by a third and replace it with fresh, local chopped spinach, sliced mushrooms or baby kale. You can also use Okinawan sweet potatoes (diced into 1/2 -inch cubes), but be sure to add an extra 1/8 cup of water for every cup of potatoes. The vegetables add delicious flavor and texture and are an easy way to increase fiber in your diet.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LOCAL FRUIT
With summer just around the corner and lots of ripe, delicious local fruit available, now is the time to experiment. Here are recipes.
WATERMELON, MINT AND FETA SALAD
Take a very cold watermelon (chilling keeps melon firm when slicing) and cut into small cubes, sprinkle with feta cheese, juilienned mint and kosher salt to taste.
MANGO AND SMOKED SWORDFISH SALAD WITH LIME HONEY DRESSING
Enjoying a just-picked, tree-ripened mango is one of the delicious privileges of summer in Hawai'i. Every season, I wait for Mark and Candy Suiso's Mākaha mangoes. The idea for this salad, which, aside from the olive and pepper, can be made with 100 percent locally sourced products, was inspired by a bag of mangoes the Suisos shared with me last season. To make this easy main course salad, toss baby romaine with diced mango, flaked (not diced) bits of smoked swordfish and goat cheese. Drizzle with lime juice, honey and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
EXPERIMENT WITH LOCAL GROUND BEEF
To keep budgets intact, start with ground beef and experiment with recipes that incorporate lots of vegetables and plant-based proteins. A local cooperative, Hawaii Rancher's Ground Beef, made up of generations-old local ranching families, sells a product that's 100 percent grass-fed and hormone- and antibiotic-free. That's in line with a recent report from the President's Cancer Panel that recommends choosing free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. Here's a basic recipe for burgers that's tried and true in our household.
Moisten a slice of bread in milk and crumble over a pound of ground beef. Mix in one egg, one cup each of minced onions, finely shredded carrots and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Form into patties and grill over medium heat. This basic recipe can also be used to make teriyaki meatballs or meatloaf.
BE AN INFORMED FISH BUYER
Current labeling guidelines don't require poke and sashimi to be labeled with country of origin. If you want to know where the fish used in the poke or sashimi tray you bought at the market came from, ask. As for the fillets you buy in the supermarket, if it's fresh mahi mahi, 'ahi, swordfish or aku and is labeled "U.S. wild caught" it almost certainly came from a Hawai'i boat. However, when it comes to frozen fish, be sure to carefully read labels. Hawai'i fleets follow stringent safe-handling practices. For more information, visit the Hawaii Seafood Council's website www.hawaii-seafood.org.
By using less expensive grades of fish for poke and fried fish and experimenting with nairagi (stiped marlin) and kajiki (blue marlin) local fish can be fresh and affordable.
Cooking is about enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Perusing farmers markets is an opportunity to connect with the people who grow your food. I always find it strange that we know more about the personalities behind our attire than we do about the foods we eat. The more you cook, the easier and less stressful it becomes, as you'll have ingredients and leftovers to make quick weekday meals. The Sunday Night Supper section on http://www.ShareYourTable.com has lots of recipes for meals that give you enough leftovers for quick weeknight dinners.
As the debate on ways to increase local agriculture production continues at the policy level, Hawai'i consumers can make their case with fork and chopsticks in hand. Maybe it's time to start an 'ono revolution right here?