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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Two local-style treats to make at home

 •  Asparagus of the sea

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Sea asparagus already is available in a number of O'ahu retail stores including Marukai, above. The vegetable's crisp texture makes it a natural for all kinds of dishes. Use your imagination!

Marine Agritech Inc.

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In thinking about how to use sea asparagus, think slim, young stalks of asparagus, or think sweet, crunchy cucumber. You can roughly chop sea asparagus sprigs and toss them into a salad, or you can saute them in butter with shallots or minced onions and sprinkle them with lemon juice. Or make cucumber and sea asparagus sandwiches with unsalted butter. Or for a pupu, make aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or other flavored mayonnaise and dip the sea asparagus into the mixture.

However you use sea asparagus, the first step is to wash the green sprigs in cold running water. Afterward, to reduce saltiness, either immerse the sprigs in cold water for an hour, or blanch them very briefly in briskly boiling water.

For a celebration honoring Doc Lum of the North Shore Cattle Co. a couple of weeks ago, Alan Wong made a poi stew that transported me back to small-kid time at the first bite. In the same way that old-time Hawaiians liked to add crunchy fern shoots to stews as a garnish, he laced the stew with crisp sprigs of sea asparagus. This delicious stew is very simple to make; all it takes is time for the beef to become tender and the tomatoes to melt into the broth. When I begged, Wong sent me the broad outlines of the recipe, and I tested it at home.

This makes a rather thin stew, so I tried dredging the beef in flour, but that was a mistake; the stew became too thick and the delicate poi flavor was masked. (I should have known I couldn't do better than Alan Wong!). Eryngii mushrooms, aka ali'i oyster mushrooms, are sold under the Hamakua Mushroom Fungal Jungle brand; their firm texture stands up to long simmering. Remember to taste and adjust seasonings, but be aware that the sea asparagus adds salty flavor. This stew gets better by the day.


  • 2 1/2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks

  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, quartered

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon pepper

  • 2 or 3 bay leaves

  • Water or beef stock

  • 2 (16-ounce) packages poi

  • 1 cup sliced Hamakua eryngii or other fresh mushrooms

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Chili pepper water

  • Sea asparagus sprigs, washed and soaked

    In a large stew pot, combine stew meat, tomatoes, salt, pepper and bay leaves and add water or beef stock to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer, bubbling, for 2 to 3 hours, until beef is tender. Drain before use. Add poi and mushrooms to stew. Stir; taste and add chili pepper water, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer until mushrooms are tender. Remove bay leaves and serve, garnishing each serving with a tablespoon of sea-asparagus sprigs or sea-asparagus relish.*

    Serves 8.

  • Per serving: 420 calories, 18 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 700 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 26 g protein.

    * To make a relish: Combine equal parts cleaned sea asparagus sprigs, finely chopped sweet onion, finely chopped ripe tomatoes and a splash of chili pepper water.

    This sea-asparagus pickle is absolutely delicious. Instead of the pickling spice, try using Korean chili pepper flakes, or ko chu jang paste, which makes it particularly complementary to local-style dishes. The one drawback is you need an awful lot of sea asparagus, which can get pricey. It's OK to halve the recipe.


  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice

  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves

  • 3 pounds fresh sea asparagus

  • 3 1/2 cups white vinegar

  • 3 1/2 cups water

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar

    Place spices and 3 to 5 peeled cloves of garlic in each of 10 1-pint sterilized jars. Wash sea asparagus in cold running water, then immerse in cold water for one hour to leach the salt away. Drain; chop into 2- to 3-inch lengths and pack fairly tightly into the jars.

    Bring vinegar, water and sugar to boil and simmer 15 minutes. Pour hot solution over sea asparagus, leaving 1/2-inch headroom. Seal jars and process in hot-water bath for 15 minutes. Makes about 10 pints.

    Note: The asparagus is pickled after a couple of days, but gets better the longer it keeps.

  • Per serving: 5 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 0 g protein.

    Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.