Two takes on Hawaiian poke

With several more poke-devoted eateries opening in Auckland recently, New Zealand seems to be fully embracing a dish that has been making a buzz in places like LA for a while, and in Hawai‘i for, well, centuries.

Poke, which according to some sources is pronounced ‘poh-kay’ and others ‘poh-keh’ (this seems more likely to me, seeing it’s a Polynesian language), means ‘to cut’ or ‘section’, referring to the raw fish that is the star of the show.


I found two recent cookbooks focusing on the tasty bowl-food. Poke: Hawaiian-inspired sushi bowls by Celia Farrar and Guy Jackson of Eat Poke in London has an abstract pop-art style cover and a more fast-and-loose approach to ingredients, while The Poke Cookbook: the freshest way to eat fish by Martha Cheng sticks with a more trad food-pic cover and ingredients (though it does have a ‘modern’ section). Both include seafood and vegetarian versions. Cheng’s book also includes a section called ‘Local Style’, which has recipes for Hawaiian favourites like kālua pig (pork ‘butt’ cooked in an underground imu), butter mochi (a chewy, custardy baked treat) and lychee fizz, and Farrar and Jackson include a drinks section, with both alcoholic and booze-free offerings.

I’ve flagged many recipes in both of the books for my next trip to the seafood market, but the spirit of poke is versatility – it’s more about the style of preparation than sticking to particular ingredients – so in that spirit, I made up my own combination based on what we had at home.

Our compile-your-own poke bowls featured a mix of brown basmati and red rice; ribbons of purple and orange carrot; thinly sliced radish, red capsicum, spring onion, avocado (hooray that they are no longer the price of an Auckland house deposit) and iceberg lettuce for crunch; rehydrated dried seaweed from the Asian supermarket; and trevally marinated in lemon juice and coconut cream and combined with diced cucumber, tomato and red onion and perked up with a little minced fresh chilli. Because condiments are everything, we topped it all off with drizzles of kewpie mayo, soy sauce and sesame oil and sprinklings of my homemade furikake (made using seaweed collected from the local beach; you can find the recipe here) and chopped roasted and salted macadamias. As we were putting it all together, it felt a bit odd adding nuts to a meal that takes its cues from Japanese cuisine, but the crunchy, creamy macadamias – a staple of traditional Hawaiian poke – really make this dish.

Despite the fairly long list of ingredients, one of the joys of poke is the simplicity of preparation: chop everything up roughly the same size and serve over rice, or if you fancy, just veg. You don’t necessarily have to prepare a marinated fish, either – unadulterated thinly sliced or cubed raw fish is a marvellous thing, as long as you can get your hands on very fresh fish.

Now the library-book test (am I happy to return it, or do I want to renew my loan so I can savour it longer, or buy the book?). I admit that in this instance, I am judging a book/books by the cover, and buying Celia Farrar and Guy Jackson’s version.

The Poke Cookbook: the freshest way to eat fish by Martha Cheng (Clarkson Potter, 2017) and Poke: Hawaiian-inspired sushi bowls by Celia Farrar and Guy Jackson (2017).

Lighter seafood chowder

This chowder is incredibly flavoursome and a lot lighter than traditional fish chowder. I’ve been curious to see whether removing dairy from my diet could have health benefits for me, so this is my milk- and cream-free take on this classic soup. I used homemade fish stock made from snapper frames, but you could use vegetable stock; it just might not be quite as tasty.

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 leek, white and light green parts, finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds then quarters

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 tbsp flour

pinch of paprika

pinch of chilli flakes

1 litre fish stock

1/3 can coconut cream

200–250g firm white fish (I used tarakihi), diced

150g raw prawns or prawn meat

zest and juice of 1 lemon

crispy friend pancetta, to garnish

fennel fronds, parsley or dill fronds, to garnish

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add leek and cook for 4–5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add garlic and carrots and cook for a further 2 minutes, taking care to not let the garlic burn.

Add potatoes, flour, paprika and chilli flakes and stir until vegetables are lightly coated in flour.

Add fish stock. Scoop the cream from the top of the can of coconut cream and stir this into the mix. I used about 2 tablespoons of it, but you can vary this depending on how creamy you want your chowder, or how much coconut flavour you want. Simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are cooked through.

Add fish and prawns and cook for 3–4 minutes, until just cooked through. Take care not to overcook.

Stir through lemon zest and juice.

Divide between bowls and garnish with crispy pancetta and fennel, parsley or dill.

Gooey lemon and rosemary slice

This recipe was inspired by the groaning lemon tree in my backyard. I’ve been stalking it for weeks, waiting for the lemons to tip over into juicy ripeness so I could make some limoncello using the family recipe some Dutch/Italian friends shared with us. Luckily there are plenty for baking too. For this slice, I freestyled the measures (not being a natural baker I like a test!) and next time might use a little more lemon zest or juice and a little less sugar (I used 1 3/4 cups) in the topping to make it tarter. Some recipes for this type of slice use icing sugar for the base, which would give more of a shortbread texture. (Limoncello to come.)

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2–3/4 cups caster sugar

150g room-temp. butter, cut into cubes

4 large eggs

1–1 3/4 cups caster sugar (depending on how tart you like things)

zest and juice of 3–4 large lemons (about 2/3 cup juice)

1/3 cup flour

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a slice tray. I used a glass dish and that worked fine.

Sift first measures of flour and sugar into a bowl. Mix in butter until you have a crumb-like texture. You could also do this in a food processor.

Press into tin and bake for around 20 minutes, or until just starting to colour.

Beat eggs and second measure of sugar until pale and thick. Add lemon zest and juice and then sift in second measure of flour. Fold gently to combine fully (don’t stir too hard or the tiny air bubbles in the mixture will skedaddle). Pour over base.

Bake for 30–40 minutes, until set and slightly crispy on top but still gooey in the middle. If it starts to colour too quickly, drop the temperature to around 150°C.

Leave in tin to cool then remove, dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with rosemary flowers (and extra lemon zest if you like) and slice as desired.

You can turn this slice into a decadent dessert by fancying it up with some whipped cream or ice cream and a drizzle of limoncello.

❤️ your library (and your bookshop)

It might seem against my interests to promote libraries given my livelihood depends on book sales, but recently I have once again rediscovered the joys of the library request system. With something like a cookbook, it gives you the chance to try before you buy. Most Fridays I swing by the library to pick up whatever requests are waiting for me, and borrow any other books or magazines that look like good weekend reading.

Sometimes I’m happy to flick through and maybe try out a recipe or two before returning a cookbook, while other times I just don’t want to give it back, and decide to buy a copy.

The public library system is such a fantastic free resource, offering much more than book loans – libraries provide a place for interest groups to meet, activities for kids, computers, internet and printers for those who do not have access at home (my local even has a 3D printer). You can ‘book a librarian’ for personalised help, and have books delivered if you are housebound. The fairly new Waiheke library building has become my office-away-from-home, a cosy and quiet (and well-designed) place to work when I need to get out of the house and don’t feel like lurking in a cafe. And I am not alone – many local freelancers use it regularly.

‘A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination’, wrote the great-value British author Caitlin Moran when lamenting the ‘cost-saving’ library closures all over England. It makes me sad that a large number of Auckland librarians recently lost their jobs, especially given that the various libraries I frequent in Auckland seem well-used.

So I say #loveyourlibrary

What do your cookbooks say about who you are, and who you want to be?

Inspiration or aspiration? In 2016, cookbooks sales were up 12% on the previous year, meaning they’re not going out of favour any time soon, despite changing lifestyles meaning we all eat out more and cook less, the existence of a world of easily accessible online recipes, and forecasts that ebooks would be the end of print books. I think this is because they are generally well-designed objects, and also because they provide a statement about who you are and what you want to be, rather than merely a collection of recipes (indeed, apparently on average people only ever make three recipes from a cookbook).

Thanks to my friend Ema (, who drew my attention to a fascinating BBC World Service podcast called ‘The Unlikely Power of Cookbooks’. From the blurb:

Even if you’ve never picked up a book of recipes, cookbooks will have had a huge influence on how you live.

What may appear to be mere collections of ingredients and cooking methods, sometimes tell us just as much about social class, politics and gender.

We explore how cookery books have been used to demonstrate power, strengthen colonial and soviet ideology, and divide society by class and race.

Do we see these dividing lines reflected in today’s publishing industry? And what does your choice of cookbook say about you?

Listen to it here.