Beautifully plated food doesn’t always have to be airy and delicate. Sometimes a hearty meal is all our eyes are seeking to behold.

Photography by Tiffani Jones / Styled by Lisa Malott

Oh, Hawaii. You glorious place, you. I am writing this while getting some R&R on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, back on the island for the first time in 10 years and spending time in the little country neighborhood where I grew up. I have missed it so much.

I had a wonderful childhood in my little sun-shiny jungle wonderland. Being back has been the loveliest reminder of the beauty of the island and the ridiculously tasty and culturally rich food.

Hawaii has all the ingredients for an amazing food scene. Rich soil that brings amazing local produce, people living here from many different cultures, and an overall sense of aloha (Hawaiian for love) that you can definitely taste in the food.

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For me, the perfect meal is super soulful and full of flavor. The more rustic, the better. These recipes, inspired by my childhood home, are just that. More focus on flavor than fancy. The famous plate lunches there which are traditionally made up of two scoops of sticky white rice, Hawaiian-style macaroni salad, and a super flavorful protein are a great example of simple and soulful. Often served on a paper plate, piled high. No frills, no fuss. Perfect, really.

Hawaii is a melting pot of so many different cultures, and this is definitely evident in the wide variety of food found on the islands: Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, just to name a few.

Try these out. Mix them up. Throw them in a bowl or pile high on a plate. The beauty of these recipes is that all of the components which originally come from different cultures all taste fantastic both separate and together. Like a lovely food melting pot that is filled with aloha, just like my sweet little hometown.


[item title=”KALBI SHORT RIBS“]


3 pounds cross-cut short ribs

For marinade

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup mirin

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 can Korean pear juice*

*(locally found at Gigi’s market in Lakeland or at any Asian grocery)

1/2 medium onion, grated

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper

For garnish

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

3 scallions, thinly sliced


Begin by soaking the ribs in cold water for 20 minutes. This soaks out the old blood and makes for much better flavor, and allows the meat to marinate more effectively. Mix all of the marinating ingredients in a bowl. Add the drained short ribs. Marinate for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Grill on medium high heat and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.


[item title=”SESAME SPINACH“]



3 bunches of spinach, cleaned

2 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

2 greens onions, bulb only, sliced

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt

2 fresh red chili peppers, thinly sliced

Blanch the spinach in boiling water. Be very careful not to overcook. Immediately soak in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Hand squeeze the water out of the spinach and place in a bowl. If needed, cut the spinach in smaller pieces using kitchen shears. Toss the spinach with sesame oil, sesame seeds, chili pepper, onion, and season with garlic salt.

[item title=”SO ONO SPICY POTATOES“]



3 medium red potatoes, peeled and sliced

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon Korean hot chili powder*

*(locally found at Gigi’s market in Lakeland or at any Asian grocery)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 1/2 cups water

First, soak the potatoes in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes. This makes the potatoes less starchy. Then drain and add the potatoes to a saucepan along with all the other ingredients. Cover the pan and cook for 7-10 minutes over medium heat until very little moisture remains. Watch closely, especially at the end to avoid burning.



1 package glass noodles, also called Japchae

1/4 napa cabbage, thinly sliced, about 1/2 inch

1/2 head romaine lettuce thinly sliced, about 1/2 inch

5 green onions, thinly sliced

2 radishes, thinly sliced (easier to do using a mandolin)

1/2 hot-house cucumber

1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds for garnish

Lime wedges for garnish

For sauce:

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled

2 small garlic cloves

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

2 tablespoons Korean soy sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

1 heaping tablespoon sambal

1/3 cup water


Cook the glass noodles in boiling water for 6 minutes until al dente or according to the package. Cooking time depends on the noodle. Immediately rinse with cold water and toss with 1 tablespoon sesame oil to prevent the noodles from sticking.

While the noodles are cooking, place all of the ingredients for the sauce in a blender. Turn on the blender and slowly add water until smooth.

Toss the cooled noodles in the peanut sauce. Prepare a bowl with the napa cabbage and lettuce mixture. Place noodles and other veggies on top. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onion.



4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs with skin

4 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 cups shoyu (soy sauce)

1 cup light brown sugar

1 bulb of garlic, peeled and smashed

4-inch piece of ginger, sliced

4 tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in 4 tablespoons of water

4 green onions, thinly sliced for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients, except for the green onions and cornstarch, in a pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to low, and cook for about 35 minutes or until the chicken is nice and tender. Remove the chicken, then skim the fat from the sauce. Strain the sauce, then bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornstarch until the sauce thickens. Pour the sauce over the chicken, then garnish with green onions.


6 tablespoons warm water

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons mirin or rice vinegar

3/4 cup soy sauce*

*(My favorite is Korean; it is less salty than normal soy sauce and has great flavor. It can be found locally at Gigi’s Oriental Market or at any Asian grocery.)

6 large eggs

Maldon salt and fresh-ground pepper for serving

In a medium bowl, whisk together the water and sugar to dissolve the sugar, then stir in the mirin and shoyu.

Bring the water to a boil, then place the eggs carefully into the boiling water. Cook for exactly 6 and a half minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Transfer the eggs immediately to the ice bath. When cool, carefully peel them, then place in the sauce and marinate for 2 hours. Make sure the eggs are completely submerged in the sauce so that they marinate evenly. A small plate works great for this. (You are using the plate to submerge the eggs in the bowl of marinade.) When serving, cut and season with a little Maldon salt and fresh-ground pepper.