Sunday, June 13, 2010

ho'i'o: foraging for fiddleheads


on the continent they're called fiddleheads. here in hawai'i they're known as ho'i'o. unless you're from maui - then they are pohole. or if you're japanese, in which case: warabi. these are my current vegetable obsession. closely followed by watercress - but more on that later.

i have had the incredible good fortune of spending a lot of time lately in waiahole, where my friend maile lives with a waterfall, taro patches, gardens, and a very sweet dog. maile invited us out a few weeks ago for a "true food sovereignty experience" - foraging in near her stream for young fern shoots. i love foraging. it's so satisfying. i think i could spend all day rummaging around in ferns taller than myself, hunting for those tightly curled little fronds, bursting with life. the first time we picked we were advised not to be careful with the rest of the fern leaves - the mature ones. the more you knock those down the more the plant send out new shoots, and i have been reaping the bounty on that advice as new shoots come up weekly.

you can eat them right there while you're picking; raw they have a kind of what my aunty wanda calls "gneah-gneah" quality to them. meaning, i think, that they leave a bit of a texture on the roof of your mouth. i would describe ho'i'o as the cross between asparagus and okra. but much prettier. it's got that firm, watery, tasty quality of asparagus with a bit of the slimy this-must-be-good-for-me quality of okra.

 the most popular way to eat ho'i'o is in a salad, where you blanch the ferns and combine them with opae (shrimps), tomato and onion.  i tried a number of different dishes using ho'i'o, like stir fried with leftover ahi poke and chili peppers. or sauteed with carmelized onions. i also made my own version of ho'i'o salad, adapting grandma ho's recipe for watercress salad. this went over pretty well at a couple of potlucks, so i'll share that recipe with you here.

ho'i'o salmon salad

1 block tofu, drained and cubed
2 tomatoes, diced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 package bean sprouts (1/2 lb?), blanched
1 can salmon
1 can bamboo shoots, sliced thin
1 can baby corn
as much ho'i'o as you like, blanched

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs sesame oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon

just layer the ingredients in an order that's visually appealing - with the ho'i'o on top to showcase it, and then pour the sauce on top. obviously all of those ingredients are optional - i added the bamboo shoots and baby corn, that does not feature in grandma's watercress salad - which she was sure to let me know.
there aren't any photos of this salad because, well, when i'm cooking for a potluck i'm usually running late. so here's a photo of  one of what they look like in a pan. i'd love to hear about any other dishes you've tried with fern shoots - leave a comment!

thanks to maile for the photos and for the experience!