Last week, I was invited to “attend” a virtual cooking class hosted by Foodland Hawaii’s Corporate Chef Keoni Chang. All the ingredients for the Fusion Street Tacos and Elote-Inspired Salad would be provided by Foodland Farms Ka Makana Ali‘i, the local grocery chain’s newest store—we just had to head out ‘Ewa to pick them up. We don’t mind driving, and just leaving the house is a thrill these days, so we had ourselves a little adventure to check out the store. And now we are so, so jealous of people who live in ‘Ewa and have easy access to all of this. (Please, please, please, Foodland, do a Foodland Farms makeover on the Kāneʻohe store!)
Like the other Foodland Farms stores, there’s an emphasis on locally sourced products, lots of grab-and-go food options, and since it’s a new store, the aisles are nice and roomy. We spent more time than we had anticipated wandering around the store looking at all the things they had that “our” Foodland does not. We have even discussed changing up our grocery routine and driving all the way out ‘Ewa to shop, but that is currently just a hypothetical.
And now for some really terrible phone photos because I didn’t realize our grocery store adventure would have benefitted from me bringing the “big girl camera.”
There are a lot of things at the KMA store that are exclusive to the Foodland Farms stores, but I have seen these cookie kits at the “regular” Foodlands. If you want some dessert and you don’t want to buy bags of flour and sugar because you generally don’t cook, these are pretty awesome. I am mean and I also think nuts are a waste of space in my dessert (they take up room where chocolate chips could be), so I told Shake, “Here, get this and make your own cookies with nuts!”
We like the Foodland Calabash meal kit line (though we don’t get them often since the Foodland closest to us doesn’t carry them, and these days we try not to go to too many stores) and the KMA store also has these super-sized ‘Ohana kits that are meant to feed the whole family:
My favorite part was the butcher counter, which featured quite a lot of local meat. (Everything with the orange tag is locally sourced.) This is just the beef section. There were also small specialty bins showcasing lamb and bison, which I thought was pretty cool.
We stopped here to pick up some extras of the Spicy Pork Belly skewers that are used in the Tacos. These have been a favorite of ours for a long time. Any time we’ve introduced friends to them, they’ve said, “Where did you get these?!” They’re not at all Foodland stores, but they’re not a super-exclusive item like the Calabash or Chef Essentials products. You can find them at Market City, ʻĀina Haina, Pūpūkea and Kailua, as well as Foodland Farms Ala Moana, Ka Makana Ali‘i and Pearl City. The skewers come in two varieties: Korean Spicy and Honey-Glazed Spicy. They’re not so spicy that spice-wimp me can’t handle them, but they do have a kick. They’re basically bacon, sauced up well with tasty marinades, threaded onto skewers. So. Good.
There’s also the Foodland Chef Essentials product line, which offers house-made marinades, dressings, stocks, broths, spice rubs, dips and vinaigrettes. The Chef Essentials products are currently only available at Foodland Farms Ala Moana, Ka Makana Ali‘i and Pearl City. There was a huge case of the various products, and we wish that these had been around when we first moved in together and my cooking was heavily dependent on “packet sauces.” (Pre-made, commercially packaged stuff. On the other hand, if it had existed I might never have learned to cook “for real.”) This is all fresh-made locally, so it is better in so many different ways. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with using pre-made components, especially if you can use ones that are prepared locally with fewer preservatives.
For the two recipes Chef Keoni would be teaching us to make, we were given two of the Chef Essentials dressings: Kim Chee Caesar and Citrus Squeeze Vinaigrette. They come in lovely glass bottles. Shameless self-promotion: Both my mom and Shake said when they tasted the Kim Chee Caesar dressing, “This tastes like the sauce you did for the grill cookbook!” (It does, but it’s not quite as thick or intense.) The dressing seems pretty multipurpose—you could toss salads and veggies with it, spread it like mayo, dip your chips in it; it probably would make a tasty egg salad. (Note to self: Try that, because we have half a bottle left…)
The Citrus Squeeze Vinaigrette is bright-tasting and creamy; Shake says it tastes like a not-so-sweet lemon bar and he wants me to make lemon bars “but use this as the filling.” I do not know if that will work, but we have a lot left, so maybe it’s worth an experiment. (Personally, I think he should do the experimenting since he wants the lemon bars…) Some Japanese restaurants serve salads with a creamy, lemony dressing and this reminds me of that.
Here’s the entire haul of groceries we got for the two recipes:
Clockwise-ish from top center: The two Chef Essentials dressings; purple cabbage; local corn (four ears); red onion; Spicy Pork Belly Skewers (they gave us six, rather than the four listed on the ingredient list, so we totally did not need the extras we bought!); tortillas; radishes; cucumber; cilantro; Cotija cheese; Foodland Maika‘i Pineapple Salsa. Not shown because I am an idiot who forgot them on the counter when setting up this photo: Ho Farms Family Tomatoes pack.
Foodland Hawaii Corporate Chef Keoni Chang (right) and Chef de Cuisine Brian Nagai led the demo class. (Terrible Zoom screencaps to follow…) We started out with Chef Keoni showing us how to make the Elote-Inspired Salad. Elote means “corn cob” and it usually refers to grilled Mexican street corn—the kind that’s slathered in creamy sauce, seasoned with chili and lime and sprinkled with Cotija. So this salad is a deconstructed version of that. It’s similar to one that I learned to make from the ladies at Holoholo General Store, but with more salty cheesiness and no kale.
When we got our instructions, we were told that we could cook along with Chefs Keoni and Brian, but I knew there was no way I would be able to watch what they were doing while cooking and taking notes and photos (plus it was getting dark, so terrible photo lighting and other people messing about in the kitchen), so I opted to just watch the Zoom session and make notes for cooking the next day. (There were some folks in the class who actually were managing to do all these things at once, and I am just in awe.) In typical fashion, I took screencaps so I’d remember what to do, and then I forgot to transfer them from my desktop computer to my phone, so I ended up winging it while cooking anyway…good thing these are super flexible recipes. Actually, Chef Keoni told us that the recipes are just rough guidelines, and that you should use your own preferences when assembling everything.
He walked us through some helpful tips, such as telling us that after you grill the corn, if you run a knife down the center of the kernels before cutting them off (screencap above), you help release the sweet corn juices into the salad as you toss the mix. You can also save the corn cobs and boil them to make a flavorful base for soups or chowders. (I am not that ambitious; I also did not score my corn because…well, I have no excuse other than sheer laziness.) And here’s what Chef Keoni’s bowl of Elote-Inspired Salad ingredients looked like:
I did not organize my bowl nicely like he did. I just threw everything in there. I also probably added too much cheese. You can make this salad in advance and the flavors will meld and intensify (it actually tastes better after a few hours) but the cheese also intensifies, and it was kind of a bit much for me. (It was a whole quarter of that big wedge…) Shake liked it, though, and he added more on top, so, you know, to each his own. The salad is seasoned by using the Kim Chee Caesar dressing, which also gives it a creamy texture, instead of using mayonnaise.
For the demo, Chef Brian cooked the corn in a grill pan, which I do own, but it is in storage, alas. So instead, I started the corn in the broiler and then got impatient and just threw it in a regular pan on the stove. It works fine; you really don’t need to grill or use any special pans for this recipe. The point is to just cook the corn so it’s nice and juicy; when the kernels look a bit translucent, you know it’s ready. I like to really char the corn, so I left it on the stove for a while, and mine had a bit more color (char) than these in the Zoom caps.
The Fusion Street Tacos involved the Spicy Pork Skewers (super easy because they’re already marinated and threaded; you just need to cook them) and a vegetable slaw. When I was a kid, I was super obsessed with purple cabbage. I hadn’t actually eaten it, I just thought it was pretty when we saw it at the grocery store, and I kept begging my mom to buy it. She wouldn’t. I don’t remember if she finally caved one day, or if I had it some other way, but I tried it, and it was not all I thought it would be. It was…cabbage. But it does look pretty. And because it’s coming up on Halloween, here is a photo of purple cabbage that I thought looked like a sliced open brain. I’m weird and you’re welcome.
In addition to the cabbage, the slaw includes radishes and cucumbers. All veggies are supposed to be cut into julienned strips/matchsticks. After you cut the seeded cucumber on the bias, you might want to cut those pieces on the bias again, so you don’t have super long dangly pieces of cucumber. (I hate biting into a taco or sandwich and having long strips of veg pull away and drip sauce all over the place.)
The slaw is seasoned with the Citrus Squeeze Vinaigrette. As Chef Keoni explained, since the meat going into the tacos is spicy, the slaw should be a contrast, and the Vinaigrette is citrusy, creamy and a little bit sweet, so it fits the bill perfectly. My mom uses salad dressings as marinades often, but I never really think about doing it myself too often. It’s a really handy way to add all your flavoring ingredients to a dish, though, without having to buy separate everything (juices, oils, mayo, spices, etc.).
I prepped both veggie parts of the meal in the morning, before lunch, and we had the tacos for dinner. The slaw can be prepared in advance like this, but it does shed a lot of water as it sits in the fridge, so you’ll want to drain it off before using. And your cucumbers might not be as crispy-crunchy. On the other hand, it’s nice to have the chilly slaw with the hot pork and warm tortillas.
The Pork Belly Skewers should be cooked right before you serve so that they’re nice and hot. (Warm up the tortillas just before, as well.) These are best cooked on a grill (though you’ll want to watch out for flareups because they are pretty fatty), but you can do them in the broiler like I do. (Set the rack at least a notch lower than you normally might; if they’re too close to the broiler element, the fat will spatter up and you’ll get alarming popping sounds and bursts of flame in the oven.) As Chef Keoni pointed out, it’s really hard to overcook these because they are so fatty. (Like I said, essentially bacon!) You want them at least a little charred to give that grill flavor. Once they’re cooked to your satisfaction, let them cool enough so you can pull them off the skewers and rough chop the meat. Since I was using the oven to broil the meat, I put the tortillas in a baking dish with a layer of very damp paper towels above and below, covered the dish with foil and put it in about 10 minutes before the meat was done, and then left them in the oven (heat turned off) while I chopped up the pork and got all the taco fixings into dishes and on the table.
Fill your tacos with the slaw and pork, top with Cotija, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime and serve with the corn salad on the side. We were also given a tub of Foodland’s Maka‘i in-house brand Pineapple Salsa to put on the tacos—you can see the little tomato and green pepper bits in the photo. It is really spicy! (The second ingredient is habanero hot sauce, plus it has jalapenos.) I felt that the pork belly was already spicy enough, so after my first taco, I didn’t add any salsa. But if you like spicy things, go for it.
There’s a lot of chopping that goes on for this meal, but since the meat comes already marinated and all the seasonings for the veggie components are contained in the two Chef Essentials dressings, it’s really easy to assemble all this, especially if you opt to prep the veg ahead of time. In a future world when we can once again have parties, doing a DIY taco bar with all of this would be a pretty foolproof and low-stress plan.
You can get the recipe at the Foodland website here. And if you do nothing else, go try those Pork Belly Skewers!
Disclosure: I was invited to attend this virtual cooking class event and provided with all the ingredients by Foodland Hawaii. Both Shake and I have prior and/or current business relationships with Foodland. No financial compensation was received for this post and no representative from the company was given the opportunity to review or comment upon this post prior to publication.