A Backyard Luau Brings the Islands Home In Hawaii, a luau is the perfect celebration for graduations, reunions, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries and as housewarming parties. But any excuse will do for writer Christina Eng.

A Backyard Luau Brings the Islands Home

The foods of Hawaii: (clockwise, from left) kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon and seasoned bean sprouts. Scroll down for backyard luau recipes. Evelyn Eng hide caption

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Evelyn Eng

The foods of Hawaii: (clockwise, from left) kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon and seasoned bean sprouts. Scroll down for backyard luau recipes.

Evelyn Eng

I learned about luau at the source.

On my first trip to Hawaii, my sisters, brothers and I feasted under sunset skies at tables long enough to seat dozens. We had kalua pork, a pig roasted whole in an underground oven (imu) for roughly two days; lomi lomi salmon (shredded, salted fish with onions and tomatoes); poi (cooked and pounded taro root); haupia (coconut custard dessert); and mai tais (fruity rum-based drinks).

We were participating in an ancient island tradition of celebration. Auspicious occasions such as a good harvest, the birth of a child or a winning battle were marked by such meals, which by the 19th century were called luau. The word comes from a dish made with young taro leaves.

About the Author

Christina Eng is a writer in Oakland, Calif.

"With the luau," Hawaiian chef Alan Wong writes in New Wave Luau, "we celebrate the spirit of ohana and family, and mark important passages and events." Ohana is a Hawaiian word referring to family and friends. Today, people throw a luau for graduations, reunions, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries and as housewarming parties.

Any excuse works. So when my neighbors take another Hawaiian golf-and-spa vacation, leaving me to pick up their mail or keep an eye on their house, I find ways to cook luau foods in my own kitchen. I have learned to make kalua pork in a conventional oven in just a few hours. I have tried my hand at lomi lomi salmon.

The luau is my festive default for summer parties. When guests arrive in casual Hawaiian shirts, I can greet them at the door with a floral or shell lei. I set up tiki torches and citronella candles, and play slack key guitar music or classic Don Ho. It all goes well with pitchers of mai tais.

On a buffet table decorated with small tropical plants, I lay out platters of homemade luau dishes. I supplement the oven-roasted pork with grilled chicken teriyaki or kalbi, Korean barbecued ribs, nods to the Aloha State's multicultural influences.

My siblings and I saw the polyglot nature of Hawaiian food in the plate lunches we got from roadside diners and drive-ins. Considered local comfort food, the quick, affordable Hawaiian plate lunch includes generous scoops of white rice and macaroni salad, and a chicken, beef or fish entree.

I sometimes serve poi at a luau. Poi (which means "to pound") is made of steamed and mashed taro root with water added for consistency. It is like a creamy, starchy mixture of potatoes and chestnuts. The purple paste is occasionally left to ferment, giving it a slightly sour flavor. It is an acquired taste.

Other sides and salads and fresh-cut tropical fruits -- guavas, mangos and papayas, for example -- are on my luau menu. For dessert, I make a banana cake or a pineapple upside-down cake, and coconut custard. Or I bake cookies. In Hawaii, we snacked on crisp Kauai Kookies, with varieties such as chocolate chip macadamia and guava macadamia. And any dessert tastes good with a cup of Kona coffee.

By the end of the evening, I have traveled to the islands without leaving my backyard.

Read last week's Kitchen Window.

Oven Kalua Pork

Traditional kalua pork involves a whole pig, an underground oven (imu) and two days of cooking. This more convenient recipe has been adapted from Alan Wong's New Wave Luau: Recipes from Honolulu's Award-Winning Chef (Ten Speed Press 1999).

Serves 12

1 (5-to-7-pound) pork roast (a shoulder or Boston butt)

4 to 5 tablespoons kosher salt or coarse sea salt

4 to 5 tablespoons liquid smoke

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Lay a large sheet of aluminum foil on an even work surface. Place the pork on top. Season the meat with salt and liquid smoke. Cover with additional foil and seal tightly.

Place the meat package in a deep roasting pan, fill with 2 inches of water, and cover the pan with sheets of aluminum foil to seal in the steam.

Cook for 5 hours, until the pork falls apart easily. (An instant-read thermometer tucked into the thickest part of the roast should read 170 degrees.) When cool, shred using two forks.

Seasoned Soybean Sprouts

This simple side dish comes from Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall's Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook (Ten Speed Press 2001). Mung bean sprouts can be substituted for soybean sprouts.

Serves 4-6

1 pound soybean sprouts, tails trimmed

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped

2 tablespoons sesame oil

Pinch of salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 green onions, white and pale green parts only, finely minced

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, for garnish

Wash the soybean sprouts a few times and drain in a colander. Place the sprouts in a stockpot with 1/2 cup of cold water and cover tightly. Boil over high heat for 2 minutes. Drain.

In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, salt, pepper, green onions and toasted sesame seeds. Mix well. Add the soybean sprouts; toss well. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with red pepper flakes. Serve at room temperature as a side dish or salad.

Lomi Lomi Salmon

This recipe is adapted from Alan Wong's New Wave Luau: Recipes from Honolulu's Award-Winning Chef (Ten Speed Press 1999). The Hawaiian word "lomi" means "to crush, massage or knead." The salt cures the salmon. Ingredients here are hand-tossed to gently blend flavors.

Serves 8-10

1/4 cup kosher salt or coarse sea salt

1 pound fresh salmon fillet

1 cup finely diced red or yellow onion

2 cups diced tomatoes

1/4 to 1/3 cup coarsely chopped green onions

Combine the salt and salmon in a large plastic bag or glass container. Coat the fish evenly. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Remove the fish. Rinse well. Soak the salmon in ice water for 2 hours, changing the water every half hour or so. Drain well. Pat the fish dry and dice it.

Place the salmon in a large bowl. Add the diced onions, tomatoes and green onions. Toss gently to combine. Serve slightly chilled.

Macadamia Lace Cookies

These aren't Kauai Kookies, but they are still sinfully sweet. The recipe comes from Pacific Bounty: Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi (KQED Books and Tapes 1994). For lacy edges, bake only one sheet of cookies at a time.

Makes 16-24 cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup flour

1/2 cup Hawaiian macadamia nuts, chopped into bits

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets.

Bring the butter, corn syrup and brown sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly.

Combine the cocoa powder, cinnamon, flour and chopped macadamia nuts in a small bowl, and gradually stir them into the hot butter mixture.

Drop the dough by level tablespoons, about 3 inches apart, onto the cookie sheets.

Bake the cookies for 5 to 6 minutes, until they are golden brown and bubbling. Cool them on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove them to a wire cooling rack.

Haupia with Tropical Fruit Salad

This recipe for a coconut custard dessert is adapted from Chef Jean-Marie Josselin's A Taste of Hawaii: New Cooking from the Crossroads of the Pacific (Stewart, Tabori & Chang 1992).

Serves 6-8

1 medium mango

1/2 medium papaya

2 kiwi fruit

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup good honey

Juice of 1 lemon

6 mint leaves, julienned

3/4 cup coconut milk, canned or frozen if fresh is not available

3/4 cup water

2/3 cup cornstarch

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Peel and cut the fruit into 1-inch cubes and place in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the pineapple juice, honey, lemon juice and mint. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk and water and place over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of water to the cornstarch, stir to make a paste, and add the mixture to the coconut milk, stirring constantly.

Add the sugar and vanilla bean or vanilla extract to the mixture and continue to cook over medium heat until thickened. When the mixture coats the back of a spoon, reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, stirring often to avoid any lumps or scorching.

Pour the mixture into an 8-inch square pan and chill until set, at least 4 hours.

When ready to serve, cut the haupia into squares. Put each square on a plate, add a serving of tropical fruit salad, and pour the pineapple juice mixture on top.