Hawaiian food

Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad

When things get a bit crazy one of my go-to stress relievers, cooking, is often the first casualty. I start eating out more or ordering takeout and the next thing I know its been a good two weeks since I've cooked a real meal. 

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Part of this whole month-long exercise of renewal is, for me, a recommitment to spending time in the kitchen. I am fully aware of the benefits cooking brings; it makes me less stressed, it brings me joy to feed myself and my loved ones, it saves money. I just need to carve out the time, to make cooking a priority.

This recipe is one I've made a few times in the past, but it seemed appropriate to share now that I'm in Hawaii. Fruit, especially the pineapple, reigns supreme on the Hawaiian islands. Within a 30 second walk from my brother's front door I can pick lemons, limes, or avocados. It's no wonder then that fruit plays a huge role in Hawaiian cuisine. This salad, while originally based on one from the Caribbean, would be just as at home here on Kauai as it would on a dinner table in Barbados.

So if you're feeling a bit out-of-sorts and cooking is one of your stress-relievers, like me, take a few minutes to brighten your day with this tropical salad. Bonus points if you can enjoy it overlooking the beach, but at the very least turn on some reggae and transport your kitchen to the islands.

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Avocado, Watercress, and Pineapple Salad

 (adapted from Maricel Presilla's "Gran Cocina Latina")

Prep time:  30 mins

Total time:  30 mins

Serves: 4-6

This traditional Cuban salad hits all the right notes. While the different parts of the salad can be prepped ahead of time, don't assemble the salad until right before serving to keep the watercress from wilting. Watercress can usually be found in most supermarkets these days, but feel free to substitute baby spinach or even mixed greens if you like. (Some sautéed or grilled shrimp added to this right at the end would turn this salad into a full meal.) 

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches watercress, thoroughly rinsed and dried
  • 2 Haas avocados
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3 cups pineapple, in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ⅛ tsp ground cumin
  • salt and black pepper

Instructions

  1. Turn your oven broiler to high and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Toss the pineapple with 1 Tbsp sugar and spread on a baking sheet. Broil until browned and caramelized, tossing a few times, 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it! Remove and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Chop off the thick stems of the watercress and discard. Rinse it to remove any dirt, then put the watercress in a large serving bowl.
  3. Peel, quarter, and thinly slice the red onion. Add the to watercress.
  4. Halve the avocados. Remove the pits and cut them in a cross-hatch pattern (to create small cubes). Using a spoon or knife gently dislodge the avocado pieces into a small bowl. Toss with 1 Tbsp. of the lime juice and set aside.
  5. Finely chop the garlic. In a small bowl whisk together the chopped garlic, olive oil, remaining 2 Tbsp. of lime juice, and cumin. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. Assemble the salad just before serving. Top the watercress and onions with the pineapple and avocado. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss.
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Eating Maui

Maui is many things – beautiful, tropical, welcoming, wondrous, and of course, delicious. Seafood, of course, reigns supreme, but there are also Mexican-Asian mashups, delicious kalua pork, and more fresh fruit than you could ever possibly hope to consume. I ate basically from the moment my plane touched down to the second I departed for the mainland. Here are some of my favorite Maui dishes, some traditional and others not so much.

One of my favorite meals was this late of red curry chicken from Thai Food by Pranee in Hana. Little more than a roadside shack with some picnic tables, Thai Food by Pranee manages to churn out delicious and authentic Thai dishes to the dozens of customers who queue up every day around lunch time. With the tropical setting this meal was one of the most memorable of my trip to Maui, and a welcome reward after the long trip on the road to Hana.

Let’s be honest – these were probably Costco burgers and hot dogs, but the setting made this lunch one of the best. After a long day of snorkeling along the shores of Wailea, the charter company fired up the grill (and opened the bar!) for a great cookout on the sea. If a day spent chasing sea turtles and diving amongst the coral doesn’t make you want to wolf down a burger AND a hot dog, well, you’re not doing it right.

Leave it to me to seek out pizza on a island known for seafood. On our way to Maui Brewing Co. we stopped in at Fabiani’s Bakery & Pizzeria in Kihei where I treated myself to my favorite food, but with a Hawaiian twist. This beautiful pie was topped with pineapple and kalua pork, and was easily in the top ten of pizzas I’ve had in my lifetime. As someone who eats pizza multiple times a week, that is saying something!

There are numerous places to stop for both food and a good view along the road to Hana, but one of the most spectacular has got to be the Ke’anae Peninsula. The views of the coast (and interesting history of the peninsula) are made all the better when you’re tearing into a fresh, hot loaf of Aunty Sandy’s banana bread. It might just be the experience of the road to Hana that makes everything so delicious, but this was seriously some of the best banana bread I’ve ever had.

There is a large amount of Mexican-Hawaiian food on Maui, and while a number of people knock the state’s Mexican food offerings as “inauthentic”, I for one am always game for a culinary mashup. Three’s Bar and Grill in Kihei offers just that sort of mashup with their Kalua Pork Quesadilla. Tender kalua pork and cheese are sandwiched between flour tortillas and smothered with homemade guava chipotle barbecue sauce, peanut ginger slaw, cilantro lime aioli, and spiced maui gold pineapple chutney. If Mexican-Hawaiian fusion cuisine is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

This was the first dish I had in Maui (after a looooong day of travel from the East Coast) and it reigns supreme as probably my favorite. Hana Ranch Provisions in Paia hits that sweet spot between locally-sourced cuisine and five-star presentation without any of the pretension you might expect from a place that puts out a dish as gorgeous as this. The ‘ulu & sweet potatoo gnocchi with brown butter, carrots, and balsamic sauce, completely erased any embarrassment I felt at having to ask our server what ‘ulu was (it’s a type of yam, fyi). Our meal at Hana Ranch Provisions was fantastic from start to end, and despite the fact that we were nearly dead from exhaustion, it was hands-down the best dining experience I had in Maui.

Last, and certainly not least, we have poke. I think there is some sort of law you unknowingly agree to that states you cannot go to Hawaii and NOT have poke under punishment of death by pineapple stoning. First off – you need to order it correctly. It’s pronounced poh-KAY, not poke as in that silly Facebook thing that people over the age of 65 still seem enthralled with. Second – it comes in a variety of flavors, and while traditionally tuna, can also be made with shrimp and octopus as a base. I went with the shoyu poke and it was delicious. Over the course of the week I also tried spicy ahi, octopus, and one smothered in avocado that I can only assume is the closest thing to Hawaiian guacamole. You can get poke pretty much anywhere, and its almost all decent. I will not tell you where I got this because it was at an embarrassingly touristic spot. Let’s just say there was a Gucci 50 yards away from where I was sitting.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. (Do people still say that?) I ate a LOT of food in Maui and a good deal of it was…just ok. The most memorable meals I had were at establishments a little outside the usual touristy areas. In addition, the food is pricey. I spent $75 one afternoon just buying snacks. I’m not above paying top dollar for good food, but I get annoyed at paying top dollar for mediocre fare that is meant to appease the legions of cruise ship denizens and resort types that can make up a large portion of the tourist base in Maui. However, by digging a little deeper, going a little farther, and taking a few chances I was able to find some truly delicious eats in settings that were equally as stunning and inspiring.

Maui – I’ll definitely be back, and I’ll definitely bring my appetite.

Have you been to Maui? Where are some of your favorite places to eat on the island, or in Hawaii?