Recently a dear friend of mine who lives in Kapa’a, on the “coconut coast” of Kauai, Hawaii, told me a story about some good fortune he had received. It seems his neighbor had experienced an extremely good day fishing, and was kind enough to share his bounty with Stephen and his family. A beautiful Ahi tuna. I could hardly imagine such a wonderful gift (Of course I realize that living in Colorado, the odds that anyone would drop by with a fresh caught tuna are pretty slim).

Kauai, known as the “Garden Isle” is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands. It gets is nickname due to the fact that 97% of the island is composed of undeveloped mountain ranges and rainforests. Kauai also has 43 miles of beaches, the most per coastal mile of any of the Hawaiian islands.

photo courtesy

A couple of important parts of Hawaiian culture are family and food. I knew that Stephen, being a native Hawaiian, would do something wonderful with the fish, and of course include his family in whatever it was he decided to do. He told me he used the fresh fish to create a poke, which is a Hawaiian term meaning to slice or cut. As soon as I saw the photo of the amazing looking dish that he had prepared, I begged him for the recipe. He chuckled due to the fact that he and his family make poke on a regular basis and have for many years. As in many traditional types of dishes, the recipes are not written, just learned and passed from one family member to another. Stephen was gracious enough to speak with his mother and put together a “recipe” for me to share. So Stephen to you and your family (and your neighbor) I say “Mahalo Nui Loa”.

fresh caught Ahi tuna – photo courtesy Stephen Gerard Villanueva

To prepare Ahi Poke:

Note from Stephen: This is basically how we make it, but it’s mostly eyeballing the seasonings for the fish, and tasting to correct, if needed. 

  • 1 pound sashimi-grade ahi tuna, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • ¼  cup sweet onion (Maui), thinly sliced
  • ¼  cup green onions, diced
  • ¼  teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ½  teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • ¼  teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½  teaspoon chili oil
  • ½  teaspoon red Hawaiian Alaea sea salt (or ½  teaspoon Kosher salt)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds, optional

Combine all ingredients well, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours to let flavors develop and marry.

You can serve the poke in a martini glass and call it a “poke-‘tini”. Or you can eat it as a salad appetizer, like we locals do at the pu-pu hour–and you know how we like to eat poke while drinking da kine beer! Another way of serving the poke is over a salad of micro-greens that have been dressed with a light Asian vinaigrette and topped with the poke.

Or you can eat the poke as nachos: First, cut up some won ton skins into triangles and then fry them until crispy golden brown. Drain on paper bag, rather than paper towels. Sprinkle a little salt while they are still hot. Then to plate, line the serving plate with shredded Napa cabbage, then begin a layer of won ton chips, spoon some poke on the chips, then begin another layer of chips and more poke, building up to three layers–depending how high you want to make them. There is NO cheese whatsoever in this nachos recipe!  Serve with some wasabi and soy sauce. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro. (But if you don’t care for cilantro, then omit it, or maybe a sprig of Thai basil.) A hui hou!

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