Hawaiian Meal for Cook the Books

I can’t believe that it’s time to post for Cook the Books, the first for 2019.  Deb at Kahakai Kitchen is hosting Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman.

This was a quick read and  the plot was intriguing but the writing and dialogue left me wanting.  I felt like I was reading a YA book at times (not that there’s anything wring with that).

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is set in Honoka’a on the island of Hawaii during WWII. The narration swings back and forth between Violet (told in the third person) and her young daughter Ella (told in the first person). Besides dealing with a war close to home (very soon after Pearl Harbor), Violet must also cope with the disappearance of her husband. And, Ella has a burdensome secret.

Strong female characters are abundant in this novel. Along with Violet and Ella are Jean (Violet’s roommate and colleague) and Setsuko, another teacher.

I won’t give away any of the plot, but Ackerman throws in some hunky soldiers and a lion cub for cuteness.

I did read the novel very quickly. It was one of those that you could skim chapters and still get the gist.

For food, obviously there’s sweet pies:  Okinawa Sweet Potato, Chocolate Honeycomb, Moonshine, Coconut, Sweet Potato-Coconut, Ohelo berry.

It was a no-brainer what to be inspired by.  Pie.  But wait.  What happened to eating healthy—turning over a new leaf and all that?

Luckily, I was perusing through Eating Well‘s latest edition and the article “Maui’s Greener Side” (74-83).   I knew exactly what I wanted to make:  a Hawaiian meal of Kula Pickled Beet Salad and Huli Huli Chicken with Pineapple-Ginger Sauce.  (These recipes actually replaced the Sweet Potato Pie with Bourbon cream that I was going to make.  Healthier and all that…)


Kula Pickled Beet Salad

From EatingWell Magazine, January/February 2019

Quick-pickled beets are topped here with a namasu (a lightly pickled vegetable salad) made with carrot, cucumber and daikon radish. Recipes like this reflect the influence of Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations in the 1800s. Recipe adapted from Chef Greg Harrison, Pacific’O Restaurant.


  • 1 c. julienned carrots
  • 1 c. julienned cucumber
  • 1 c/ julienned daikon
  • 2½ c. water plus, 5 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
  • ½ c. rice vinegar
  • 2 lbs. beets, trimmed, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 c. red-wine vinegar
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, pale yellow part only
  • 1½ T. sliced fresh ginger
  • 1¾ t. kosher salt, divided
  • 4 T. sesame oil, divided
  • 6 c. chopped kale
  • 1 clove garlic, minced


  1. Place carrots, cucumber and daikon in a medium heatproof bowl. Combine ½ cup each water, sugar and rice vinegar in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the vegetables. Let marinate, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, bring 1 inch of water in the saucepan fitted with a steamer basket to a boil over high heat. Add beets, cover and steam until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add 2 cups water, the remaining ¾ cup sugar, red-wine vinegar, lemongrass, ginger and 1½ teaspoons salt to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the beets. Let marinate, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add kale, garlic and 3 tablespoons water; cook, stirring, until the kale is wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons water and ¼ teaspoon salt; puree until the consistency of pesto.
  4. Spread the kale puree on a serving platter. Drain the beets and arrange on top of the kale. Serve topped with the marinated vegetables.

To make ahead: Refrigerate pickled beets and kale puree (Steps 2-4) for up to 2 days.

Yield: 8

Prep Time: 45 mins.

Cook time: 65 mins.

Total time: 110 mins.

A couple of changes to the above recipe:
I was lazy and shredded my daikon and carrots and just made “sticks” out of the cucumber.  Because I had a surplus of jarred pickled beets (more about that later), I just used a premade pickled beet for this recipe.   That being said, I do want to try the ginger and lemongrass recipe the next time I harvest beets.

I was a little skeptical about the pureed kale.  I have to say that the smear of kale made this salad!

Huli Huli Chicken with Pineapple-Ginger Sauce

“Huli” is a Hawaiian word that means to turn over. Traditional versions of this dish are grilled, constantly turning the chicken back and forth as a rotisserie would This elbow-grease saver is made in the oven.


For the chicken:

  • 2 T. coconut oil
  • 1 head garlic, halved
  • 3 (4-inch) stalks lemongrass, smashed and diced
  • 1 (3-inch) piece of fresh ginger, chopped
  • 4 c. ice water
  • 1 c. reduced-sodium tamari*
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 4 lbs.)

For the sauce:

  • 3/4 c. pineapple juice
  • 1/3 c. chopped pineapple
  • 1/3 c. reduced sodium tamari*
  • 3 T. light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 T. minced garlic
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 2 t. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 t. minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 T. rice vinegar


  1. To prepare chicken: Heat oil, garlic halves, lemongrass and ginger in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Immediately transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add water, 1 c. tamari and orange. Add chicken, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 1 day.
  2. Meanwhile, to prepare sauce: Puree pineapple juice and pineapple in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add tamari, brown sugar, garlic, scallion, ginger, shallot and vinegar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. (Discard the marinade.) Place on the prepared pan. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part without touching bone registers 160 F, about 25 minutes. Brush with 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Increase oven temperature to broil. Broil on high until charred in spots, 2-3 minutes.

Yield: 8

Prep Time: 35 mins.

Cook time: 30 mins.

Total time: 65 mins.

*I used ponzu sauce because that’s what I had on hand.

Wow, what can I say.   This is a great meal to prepare ahead of time.  I actually marinated the chicken for two days because we weren’t able to get into the kitchen immediately (more about that later and maybe more about the remodeling project later).  I am also not a fan of chicken thighs.   The chicken was moist and tender and very flavorful.  I only baked two thighs so we had sauce leftover.   We are going to baste a grilled pork loin with the rest of the sauce this weekend.    As far as the salad goes, I had made the kale “smear” the previous night and prepped all the veggies.  All I had to do was marinate the quick pickles for this dish.

We will make this again.

Thanks, Deb, for an interesting book selection.  I’m glad I read it and I’m glad I found these Hawaiian inspired recipes.    I’m linking up with Souper Sundays (hosted by Deb as well) for the salad portion of this meal.  

I’m also contributing to Foodies Read.

Look for the announcement post by Claudia for the February/March Cook the Books selection, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.   It should be up at CTB soon.

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