Try These Uniquely Hawaiian Thanksgiving Foods
Home cooks across the country are defrosting their turkeys and stocking up on stuffing. But, on arguably the biggest food holiday of the year, why limit yourself to the same old tastes? Hawaiian cuisine is renowned for its use of high-quality ingredients, colorful character, and fresh, tropical flavors. This Thanksgiving, take a cue from paradise, and explore the tastes and textures of the islands.
Bring a Taste of the Tropics to Your Thanksgiving Feast
Say “aloha” to an island-inspired Thanksgiving menu. Fresh ingredients, colors, and flavors will liven up your plate and your celebration. Whether you’re trying traditional meals from centuries past or putting a fresh spin on a classic, bring a taste of the tropics to the table this year.
No Hawaiian meal is complete without a kālua entree! The traditional kālua cooking method consists of preparing meat in an underground oven called an imu, and dates back centuries to when the Polynesians first settled in and around Hilo (average home value of $353,627 today, if you’d like to live in Hawaii’s oldest town). If you’ve enjoyed the traditional roast pig often served at luaus, you’re familiar with the juicy outcome of this cooking method.
Turns out, it makes for great turkey as well. Traditionally, kālua turkey is seasoned, placed in the imu, and left to roast for a few long, sweet hours. The smoke and steam combine to make the meat uniquely moist, smoky, and fall-off-the-bone with a distinct Hawaiian twist.
If you’d like to go the traditional route but don’t want to dig your own imu, community organizations, like The KEY Project in Kaneohe, offer sharable underground ovens for locals. Otherwise, you can also try a modern take on the kālua turkey in the oven, Crock-pot, or even Instant Pot.
Okinawan Sweet Potatoes
Okinawan sweet potatoes, also known as purple yams or Hawaiian purple sweet potatoes, were brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians in the late 1800s. This colorful root vegetable grew well in the state’s warm, volcanic environments and quickly became a staple in many Hawaiian diets. Today you can find Okinawan sweet potatoes growing all over the island chain, from Peepeekeo on The Big Island to Honolulu on Oahu. Superfans of the sweet spuds should check out this contemporary 1 bed, 1 bath Honolulu apartment, just two blocks from the beach and one block from the Hawaiian Sweet Potato Factory.
These locally-grown root vegetables are a tropical alternative to traditional Thanksgiving yams. Not only are they tasty, they’re rich in Vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. Plus, they’ll add a beautiful splash of island color to your spread.
Portuguese immigrants brought recipes for sweetbreads and rolls to Hawaii in the mid-to-late 1800s. As most of the state’s refined sugar was slated for export, sweeteners became scarce and expensive. Local honeys and pineapple juices were introduced as replacements, creating a soft and sweet side that is quintessentially Hawaiian.
You can still find some families baking Portuguese-style bread in hive-like outdoor ovens. The practice is particularly popular in the Kona region on the Big Island, where the average home price is $538,984, if you’d like to try some traditional outdoor cooking. King’s Hawaiian bakery, a Honolulu original, has also popularized the bread across the United States. Families all over the nation turn to these Hawaiian-style sweetbreads to cut some of the savory flavors in their Thanksgiving feasts.
To incorporate this Hawaiian delicacy, you can purchase a package of the popular King's Hawaiian rolls, stop by a local bakery, or go the homemade route.
Lau lau is a traditional dish consisting of steamed salted fish and fatty meat wrapped in layers of taro leaves and ti leaves. The leaves and root of the taro plant, grown primarily in the Hanalei Valley on Kauai, have been central to Native Hawaiian culture for centuries. In fact, Hawaiian origin stories describe taro as man’s older brother. Taro enthusiasts can settle this 3 bed, 3 bath home to enjoy fresh taro products from the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a sixth-generation family farm just down the street.
While traditional lau lau often contains pork and butterfish, you can choose your own combination of fish, turkey, chicken, or beef. The possibilities are endless. A truly versatile dish, each islander has their own specifications and technique when it comes to preparing lau lau. The only real constants are the outer taro and ti leaves, used to package the meat up, then the bundle is tied with string and steamed.
No Hawaiian feast is complete without some lau lau on the table. Nowadays, many Hawaiians will forgo the traditional underground oven and instead cook lau lau in a pressure cooker, steamer, or conventional oven.
Macadamia Nut Pie
Macadamia nuts were first planted in Hawaii in the late 1800s, and the state is now the nation’s largest exporter. Their sweet flavor profile quickly became popular among the sugar barons frequenting the islands and, by the mid-1900s, a robust growing and processing system was in place. Today, some of the largest macadamia nut producers in the world remain in Keaau and Captain Cook, median home values of $295,665 and $506,033, respectively.
Hawaiian macadamia nut pie is another island-inspired Thanksgiving favorite. This fresh take on pecan pie features local macadamia nuts, toasted to a perfect golden-brown, and a buttery, flaky crust for a delicious, tropical ending to your Thanksgiving meal.
For a blue ribbon-worthy macadamia nut pie, take your pick of tasty homemade recipes, or check out a local bakery. For brownie points, serve with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, sweetened with Hawaiian vanilla, of course!