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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Dishing up da kine local food favorites

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Meet the author

Jean Watanabe Hee will sign her books:

Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Borders, Waikele

Noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 9, Sam's Club

Noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 14, Waldenbooks, Kahala Mall

There are recipes. And there are Recipes You Have to Have.

Jean Watanabe Hee deals in the latter.

Hee, author of three popular recipe collections, the latest of which is "Hawai'i's Best Local Dishes" (Mutual Publishing, paperback, $11.95) explains that a Recipe You Have to Have is the kind that knocks you so totally out that you are willing to go to great lengths to get your hands on it.

You know when you've got one, said Hee, because your phone will ring at some odd hour and there will be a friend — or maybe a friend of a friend you've never even met — sounding desperate, begging for the instructions, having misplaced that precious slip of paper.

Hee, a retired teacher who lives in Kane'ohe, started out with an admittedly selfish mission: to gather all her little slips of paper into a single book, something to leave to her family — husband Don, two daughters and two granddaughters. She had had a close brush with cancer and, following treatment and her retirement in 1999 after 34 years of teaching, it was important to her to create a personal legacy.

Thinking back to her early years growing up in Amau'ulu Camp 1, a now-vanished Hilo-area plantation community, she recalled the mochi-pounding parties that the issei and nissei Japanese would have at New Year's. She remembered how, after she married and moved to O'ahu, she would take the children to visit each year; her mother's friends would visit with mochi desserts as gifts for the two little girls. She paged through older recipe collections gathered by members of Buddhist temples and homemakers' extension agencies, and discovered dozens of ways to use mochiko, the snow-white, airy-textured flour made from rice.

The result was "Hawai'i's Best Mochi Recipes" (fall 2000), which has sold more than 25,000 copies. At her publisher's request, she followed with "Hawai'i's Best Local Desserts," based on hit recipes from co-workers, relatives and others.

As she sits signing cookbooks, Hee listens to the conversations around her, and takes note of the questions she hears. That's how "Local Dishes" became a logical third project. Younger people told her they were looking for simple, local-style entrees. Older folks lamented never having gotten the recipe for their mother's butter yaki, Popo's pork hash, Daddy's tripe stew.

Hee defines a "local dish" as one that has strong taste appeal among Islanders. Folks of her mother's generation tend to prefer Asian dishes with robust, sweet flavors, while younger adults are into Italian and Mexican dishes. "I tried to get something for different groups, different generations," she said. And although there are one or two more challenging preparations, she picked dishes that would be easy for less-experienced cooks or busy families.

All the island standards are here: beef and tripe stews, shoyu and mochiko chicken, all those recipes that involve a can of soup or tomato sauce, oxtail and Portuguese bean soups, pork dishes from harm ha to Lazy Style Laulau. Titles like "Tired Teacher's Dinner" say it all.

Here's a sample: Florence Au's oxtail soup, which Hee says has "the best-tasting broth." Note that shelled raw peanuts can be purchased in Chinatown; soak them in hot water to soften the skins.

Oxtail Soup

  • 4 pounds oxtail, cut into pieces
  • 2 cups beef bouillon (Knorr brand, Extra Large Cubes)
  • 2 cubes chicken bouillon (Knorr brand, Extra Large Cubes)
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 4 slivers fresh peeled ginger
  • 1 cup shelled and skinned raw peanuts
  • Hawaiian salt to taste
  • Chinese parsley for garnish

Parboil oxtail 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse and trim fat. Place in a pot and cover with water approximately 2 inches above oxtail. Bring to a boil and add bouillon cubes, star anise and ginger. Simmer for 1 hour. Add peanuts. Simmer for another 1-2 1/2 hours or until oxtail is tender. Skim. Add Hawaiian salt to taste. Garnish with Chinese parsley and serve.

Variation: Serve with ground ginger and shoyu as condiments.