Hawaii is my happy place, so when my brother, Gary, invited me recently to accompany him and my nephew, I didn’t need to think about it. He had rented a house on the north shore of Kauai, and although we had dinner reservations for several evenings, we would be doing some cooking as well.
In an ideal world, your kitchen is well equipped with tools and staples and you have all ingredients on hand for your recipes. Enter the real world. This family vacation proved to be a lesson in the art of improvisation.
Because the best shopping is on the south shore, we went directly from the airport to Costco and then to a supermarket to stock up before the long drive north. We would not be close to shopping at the house, so we had to think ahead. Would the rental house have staples? Would there be cooking implements? We didn’t know.
My 13-year-old nephew, Jared, was determined to bake a challah for Shabbat the next day. Surely, they would have salt, but would there be flour, sugar or oil? We bought those, and, of course, yeast. We even bought measuring spoons and cups (unnecessary, as it turned out). The house had a hand mixer, but the beaters were rusty, so Jared did it the old-fashioned way—by hand. The bread was delicious.
On Saturday my brother invited a friend to dinner who mentioned her mother was staying with her, so now we had two extra people at the table. What to serve? If I’m in your group, you can be sure there will always be plenty of salad and vegetables, and I had stocked up on those. Gary had bought salmon, which he barbecued, using a recipe from grilling expert Steven Raichlen, author of 31 cookbooks which have won five James Beard Awards and host of Barbecue University, Project Fire, Project Smoke and Primal Grill on PBS, so we felt confident. Of course, we had no fresh basil or garlic, but miraculously there was dried. (Fortunately, the friend and her mother are small eaters!) I roasted some veggies, and we had yesterday’s challah. This being Hawaii, we had a good supply of those addictively sweet Okinawan sweet potatoes on hand. Also known as Hawaiian Sweet Potatoes or Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potatoes, these unique potatoes are creamy beige on the outside, magenta on the inside when raw and deep purple when cooked, with a honey-like sweet flavor and a very dry, starchy texture. Botanically they are in the morning glory family and not actually related to the potato. Unlike ordinary potatoes, this one is not a nightshade vegetable.
It is believed that the Aztecs of South America introduced the Okinawan sweet potatoes to the Spaniards, who then brought them to the Philippines and China in the 1490s. By the 1600s they reached Japan where they were planted in Okinawa and then throughout Japan. Later early Polynesian settlers brought them to Hawaii where they have become a staple. These nutritious potatoes are high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, and health-promoting fiber and actually contain 150 percent more antioxidants than blueberries.
A trip to Hawaii not in your travel plans? No worries. You can find Okinawan sweet potatoes at many Asian markets throughout Orange County. I get mine at Tokyo Central in Yorba Linda. They don’t need much fussing. Just bake them at 350 degrees until very, very soft, an hour or more depending on size. I prefer them plain, but add butter if you like.
Our menu was set, but Jared was determined to make dessert. Noting that we had berries in the house, he found the Mixed Berry Crumble Bars recipe on the internet. We had the flour from the challah. but it was bread flour. It turned out not to be a problem in this recipe. By some miracle there was baking powder in the house. We had used our one and only lemon on the fish, but we had oranges, so we zested one and used the juice. There was no vanilla, but we had cinnamon. There was no cornstarch, of course, but I had packed some, because I like to sprinkle it in my shoes. Now we had a bigger problem. We couldn’t find a baking pan.
Jared, the master of improvisation, found a non-stick pot, the kind you might use for soup or stew, and we decided to bake half the recipe in that. While not the easiest to spoon out, dessert was a big hit! Wouldn’t you know it, as I was putting dishes away right before we left to go home, I found baking pans at the back of a shelf.
Mixed Berry Crumble
Crust and Topping:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ½ cups chopped fresh berries
½ cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
Juice of 1 small lemon
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment, and spray with non-stick spray.
2. Crust and topping: Using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine sugar, baking powder, flour, and salt. Add lemon zest, butter, egg, and vanilla. Beat on low speed until butter is evenly distributed in small pieces and mixture is crumbly. Dump a little more than half the mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Evenly press dough into pan.
3. Filling: Gently stir together all ingredients until well incorporated. Spread filling over crust, then crumble remaining dough over top of berries. Bake until top is light golden brown, approximately 40 minutes, Transfer pan to rack to cool, before cutting into squares. (Easier if you refrigerate first.)
Raichlen’s Summer Salmon with a Bunch of Basil
4 pieces skinless salmon fillet (each about 6 ounces), or 4 salmon steaks (each about 1 inch thick and 6 to 8 ounces)
1 bunch fresh basil, rinsed and stemmed (for about ½ cup packed leaves), coarsely chopped; reserve 4 small basil sprigs for garnish
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 strips lemon zest (each about 2 by ½ inch)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon), or more to taste
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea), or more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. If using salmon fillets, run your fingers over them, feeling for bones. Using needle-nose pliers or tweezers, pull out any you find (you will not need to do this with salmon steaks). Rinse the salmon under cold running water, then blot it dry with paper towels. Cut salmon fillets crosswise sharply on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the salmon in a nonreactive baking dish.2. Place the chopped basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (a blender produces a smoother puree than a food processor, but either way the marinade will work). Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or lemon juice as necessary. Pour the marinade over the salmon, turning the fish to coat both sides. Let the salmon marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 30 minutes to 1 hour, turning it once so that it marinates evenly.
3. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.
4. When ready to cook, drain the marinade from the salmon and discard the marinade. Brush and oil the hot grate, placing the salmon on a diagonal to the bars. Grill the salmon until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side for fillet slices, 4 to 6 minutes per side for steaks, rotating each piece a quarter turn halfway through grilling on each side to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks, if desired. To test for doneness, press the fish with your finger; it should break into clean flakes. Transfer the grilled salmon to a platter or plates, garnish with the basil sprigs, and serve at once.
Source: “Barbecue Bible” by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $22.95)
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.