Taste of the Tropics

Taste of the Tropics

by Beth Rotto

“Watch for falling coconuts” the sign said. How do I do that, I wondered? The palm branches waved high above my head and I hustled on. I was in Hawaii for the first time with my family for an amazing week-long vacation. I’d like to share with you some of our food related experiences. Hopefully you will get a little taste of the tropics this winter too!

We arrived in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii at night. It had been a long flight. Although we were tired, we needed to look around a bit and find some refreshment. It proved to be very easy. We strolled through lush vegetation from our hotel to a raised, open air restaurant that was near the water at one end of the sleepy town. We could hear the waves and smell the salt air. Ahh. . . Ingrid and I ordered virgin pina coladas- that is pineapple-coconut juice. What a flavor blast.  Here’s my first recommendation for you. Buy a bottle of Knudsen’s Pineapple Coconut Juice and savor the unique flavor. You can skewer a piece of pineapple with a little paper umbrella and perch it on the rim of your glass if you want. You can even add a little puff of whipped cream.

We also had delicious fish tacos made with ono fish. These were just like the beef version, only lighter and more tropical. Jim McCaffrey has a recipe for fish tacos in his book “Midwest Corn Fusion.”  He’s offered to share another version of that recipe, using broiled cod, haddock or other white fish.

We visited our friends Tim Blakley and Heather McNeill at their home near Hilo, on the wet side of the island. As we arrived and turned into their driveway, the end of a complete rainbow ended on their roof. Wow! They have a garden like no other I’ve seen: papaya, bananas, pineapple, avocados, coffee, and much more all spring from the sharp, gravely, mineral-rich soil. What an experience to go to the garden to pick tropical fruit for breakfast every day.

A large bunch of bananas ripened while we were there, so we helped cut them in half and prepared them for drying. The bananas were a stubby, little variety, very delicious. Tim and Heather’s home is solar powered with the exception of an occasional power tool and the food dehydrator which gets plugged into the power pole at the edge of their lot. Rainwater is collected and solar water heaters are mandatory. Long, hot, guilt-free showers were possible. We were treated to Heather’s banana bread, and she has shared the recipe with us here.

Many readers may know Tim and Heather who lived here several years ago.  They have asked us to bring you their greetings. Tim and I worked together at the Seed Savers Exchange and at our Co-op where he was the Wellness Department manager for a time at our former location. He now works for Frontier Co-operative Herbs and Aura Cacia, based in Iowa, as an educator and herb expert. He travels a large part of the year.  We watched several interesting short clips of his work in Asia with people who produce the plants used in essential oils. Check up on Tim here and learn about the production of ylang-ylang essential oil. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itqfgwUAwto

We visited three farmer’s markets. We sipped from macheted coconuts, bought orchid leis and cut orchids for the table, oranges for the road, kava powder to try the Polynesian calming drink, famous Kona coffee to take home, and lots of new fruits to try (have you ever seen rambutan?). On Sunday the market included a booth making very large, delicious crepes. We brought our food to tables and listened to a Hawaiian band while we ate. Mine was shrimp with cheese, basil and magic sauce (I’m pretty sure it was a white sauce with garlic.). I intend to recreate these at home. Does anyone have a good crepe recipe? I think I’ll bake them on a lefse griddle.  Mmmmmm. . .

McCaffrey’s Fish Tacos

McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita Restaurant in Decorah will be serving a version of this recipe during Lent on Fridays.


1-12 oz. can evaporated milk
8 limes
2 large tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, deseeded and diced
salt and pepper
fresh cilantro (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. white fish (haddock, cod, etc.)
Cajun seasoning
1/2 head small red cabbage, shredded
20 corn tortillas

Directions: In a small bowl combine evaporated milk and the juice of 7 limes. Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes. Divide in half.

Combine the juice of the remaining lime, tomatoes, garlic, green and jalapeno peppers and fresh cilantro, chopped (if desired). Salt and pepper to taste. This is fresh salsa. Set aside.

Cut fish into 1/2 x 2 inch strips. Marinade the fish pieces in half of the lime milk. Shake off excess. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. Place on an oiled baking sheet. Broil or bake until done. (Broiling will take approx. 8-10 minutes. Baking will take closer to 20 minutes for 1″ thick piece.  Warm tortillas one at a time, flipping in 10- 15 seconds over medium heat in a dry, heavy duty skillet until flexible, about 30-40 seconds altogether. Top tortillas with 2-3 fish pieces, cabbage, a little remaining lime milk, and fresh salsa. Eat and be happy!