Food: Wear your grass skirt

A luau my Orthodox Jewish mother would have loved.

Vegan Luau 521 (photo credit: Yakir Levy)
Vegan Luau 521
(photo credit: Yakir Levy)
When my mother and I visited Hawaii, we didn’t go to a luau, the traditional local feast, because classic luaus feature a whole roasted pig. But if my mother had still been with us, she would have loved the luau at the home of our friends Zel and Reuben Allen.
At the Allens’ luau there was not a pig in sight, nor any other meat for that matter. In fact, the menu was vegan.
“Wear your grass skirt,” the invitation read. The only other requirement for this potluck party was that the dishes that the guests bring should contain no animal products, including no dairy and no eggs.
My husband and I decided we wanted to bring a Hawaiian-inspired dish. We modeled it after one of our favorite vegan dishes – majadra, or Middle-Eastern lentils with rice and browned onions.
Since Hawaiian cooking is influenced by Japanese and Chinese cuisines, we decided to Hawaiianize our majadra by flavoring our rice with fresh ginger and enriching it with Asian sesame oil instead of olive oil. Instead of lentils, we used shelled edamame, the fresh green soybeans you often find in the pod as a sushi bar appetizer. We added carrots and zucchini to the sauteed onions to make our dish lighter. To give it a Hawaiian signature, we topped it with buttery-tasting macadamia nuts, which contributed a delicate crunch. We served our “Hawaiian majadra” as a salad at room temperature.
Sesame seed-coated appetizer balls made of walnuts and green olives blended with tomatoes, onions and garlic were one of the starters made by hostess Zel Reuben, author of Vegan for the Holidays. Another was Medjool dates stuffed with caper berries – a surprisingly tasty hors d’oeuvre that made me eager to eat a second one.
Of course there was plenty of fresh pineapple, Hawaii’s best-known food. Some pineapples were halved, hollowed and filled with a colorful fruit salad. One guest skewered pineapple pieces with cubes of melon, watermelon and strawberries to make fruit “kebabs.” Another used pineapple slices to garnish her vegan coconut cake.
The buffet table featured a delicious display of summertime salads. There was a beautiful baby lettuce salad with blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, a savory quinoa salad with chickpeas and shredded carrots, a colorful corn salad with black olives and halved red and orange cherry tomatoes, a salad of mixed greens with pomegranate seeds and toasted sliced almonds and a baby spinach salad with shredded vegetables and a creamy-textured basil dressing.
A standout of the sweet table was the luscious cashew dessert sauce. It was hard to believe there was no cream in it. Guests were dipping crackers, fruit and even raw vegetables in it – whatever we dipped tasted wonderful.
The sauce was made by Marilyn Peterson, author of Vegan Bite By Bite. She told me she made it by blending cashews with water, agave syrup and plenty of vanilla. What gave it such a smooth texture was her use of a high-powered blender to process the ingredients. (The recipe is below.) Zel Allen gave me a tip for making such a sauce in an ordinary blender: “The trick is to put the nuts into the blender and add about 1⁄2 to 1 cup of liquid. Blend until the mixture is smooth, and then add the remaining liquid and ingredients.”
My mother was in her early 80s when we visited Hawaii and was eager to see as many hula dancing performances as possible. She imitated the dancers’ moves as we walked back to our hotel. If she had come to the luau, she would have loved the hula dancing.
And she would have given the hulahoop contest winner a run for his money.
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook and Feast from the Mideast.
You can prepare this dish up to three days in advance. Serve it hot, warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
6 to 9 Tbsp. canola oil or other vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
350 gr. (12 ounces) shelled frozen edamame
4 tsp minced gingerroot
2 carrots, finely diced
2 cups long-grain rice
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
2 white squash (kishuim) or zucchini, finely diced
freshly ground pepper to taste
1.5 tsp Asian (toasted) sesame oil
3 Tbsp. finely chopped green onion (green part only)
1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped toasted macadamia nuts
Heat 1 or 2 Tbsp. canola oil in a shallow stew pan. Add 1⁄2 chopped large onion (about 1⁄4 of the total) and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until soft but not brown.
Meanwhile combine edamame and 1 cup hot water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave for 4 minutes or until edamame is completely thawed.
(You can instead cook the edamame in hot water in a small saucepan for about 5 minutes.) Boil 3 cups water.
Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pan of onions and heat slightly. Add ginger and carrots and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add rice and cook briefly until translucent.
Add the edamame’s cooking liquid, 3 cups boiling water and 1 tsp. salt. Stir once and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 18 minutes or until rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. Let rice mixture stand, covered, for about 10 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 or 2 Tbsp.
oil in a large skillet. Add the squash and saute over medium heat about 2 minutes or until just tender. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add 3 or 4 Tbsp. oil to the skillet, heat it and add remaining chopped onions. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until onions are tender and golden brown.
Fluff rice with a fork and add freshly ground pepper to taste, sesame oil, cooked edamame, sauteed squash, browned onions and chopped green onion. Taste and add more salt if desired.
Shortly before serving, garnish with macadamia nuts.
This recipe is from Vegan for the Holidays. Author Zel Allen writes, “Easy to assemble, these sesame crusted starters can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature. The convenience factor puts this recipe on the Alist of dishes that can be prepared a day or two ahead and still taste great taken right from the fridge or briefly warmed in the oven.”
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 slices whole wheat bread
1 tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
1⁄2 cup coarsely ground walnuts
1⁄3 cup diced sweet onion
1⁄4 cup minced Spanish (green) olives
2.5 Tbsp red wine vinegar 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 to 2⁄3 cup sesame seeds, preferably unhulled
1⁄4 bunch parsley, for garnish (optional)
3 cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Line a 44.5 x 32-cm. (17.5 x 12.5-inch) rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Tear the bread into pieces and put them in a medium bowl.
Pour water over the bread to cover. Drain thoroughly, squeeze the bread until dry and put it in a food processor.
Add the tomato, walnuts, onion, olives, vinegar, garlic and salt. Process until ingredients are incorporated and form a coarse mixture, stopping occasionally to scrape down the bowl.
Put the sesame seeds in a small, deep bowl. Roll tablespoonfuls of the bread mixture into 2.5-cm. (1-inch) balls. Roll each ball in the sesame seeds to coat completely.
Place the balls on the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Arrange the parsley around the perimeter of a serving platter and place cherry tomato halves on parsley, if desired. Transfer the balls to the serving platter.
This recipe is from Vegan Bite By Bite. Author Marilyn Peterson recommends using it as a topping for desserts, as an addition to fruit smoothies or as an accompaniment to a bowl of mixed fruit for breakfast.
Makes 2 cups
2 cups cashews
1 cup water
4 Tbsp. agave nectar
2 Tbsp. vanilla flavoring
Place all the ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend mixture until it is a creamy and smooth texture.
Serve, or store in an airtight container for several days.