I love being able to participate in Kahala Nui's annual Healthy-licious healthy cooking competition because it provides the opportunity to sample some of the best of Kapiolani Community College culinary students' cooking, guilt-free.
Everything put on the table during the four-team competition is created with the magic combination of good flavor plus health benefits in mind.
This is the fourth year the senior retirement community has hosted the competition, presented at Kapiolani Community College Oct. 25, with the aim of creating unique healthy recipes for seniors, because as people age, dietary needs change, and the question for elders is how to satisfy cravings for tasty meals while ingesting less salt, sugar and fat.
The aim of the competition is to encourage the next generation of chefs to consider careers in health care, considering that seniors represent the fastest-growing demographic in this country. Kahala Nui also challenges the young chefs to come up with those elusive healthy + delicious meals.
The students had 20 minutes to present their cooking demonstrations, and another of the challenges was to keep recipes simple enough for the average home cook to follow, using simple ingredients easy to find at any supermarket.
The event also presents the opportunity to learn more about ingredients most people never think of adding to their meals, and given some of the information from the day, I think I will probably try to find more ways to add hemp seeds to my diet.
Here's what the students came up with:
Richelle Herreria and Regino Ojano 111 offered a soup of Kona kampachi in a pouch. Ojano explained that both their sets of grandparents love soup, and given that one of his grandfathers is 95 years old, he believes that drinking soup, incorporating omega 3-rich fish, contributes to longevity.
Most interesting was their use of malungay leaves, popular in Filipino food. I didn't realize the nutrition packed into these leaves. They are a significant source of vitamin C, provitamin A as beta-carotene, vitamin K, manganese, and protein. They can be found at farmers markets. My only beef with this leaf is that it is very fibrous; the pair offered spinach as a substitute ingredient.
After making the soup, they created a parchment pouch, added the fish and soup, and baked it to completion for a wonderful introduction to the competition.
They had also considered aesthetics in coming up with the dish that offered the vibrant green of the malungay leaves, the light green of green papaya and red of Ho Farms tomatoes layered over the white fish.
Jason Park and Ryan Aquino said both their fathers suffer from Type 2 diabetes so were motivated to come up with a dish that reduces blood sugar levels.
The result was a centerpiece of Kona kampachi encrusted with hemp seeds (the legal kind available at health-food stores), a superfood rich in easily digested proteins, essential fats (Omega 3 & 6), gamma linolenic acid, antioxidants, amino acids, fiber, iron, zinc, carotene, phospholipids, phytosterols, vitamins B1, B2 and B6, vitamin D, vitamin E, chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, potassium, phosphorus and enzymes.
The many benefits attributed to hemp seeds include controlling blood sugar levels, lowering blood LDL cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovasular circulation, organ function and immunity levels, reducing inflamation, and treating dry skin and hair conditions.
Of even more interest to the seniors in the audience was the Korean purple rice used to stuff a kabocha. The rice is actaully a mixture of long grain rice, black rice and black beans that when cooked, melds to give the illusion of being purple. The rice they used came from Walmart.
The fish was seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, thyme and ginger powder. After cooking, it was layered on a sauce of roasted cherry tomatoes, puréed with salt, pepper and garlic.
Competition winners David Rasmussen and Christian Wong, pictured at top, offered "fool the tastebuds" tofu chimichangas in Sinaloa whole-wheat tortillas.
Adding nutritional yeast flakes added a meatier, umami quality to the tofu, that Rasmussen said he fed to his younger brother, who later asked, "What kind of meat is that?"
The dish starts with draining a block of firm tofu of its liquid before breaking it up in a pan, flavoring with 3 tablespoons of the yeast flakes and sautéing it with garlic and a touch of cayenne. When heated through, add diced red onion, red bell pepper, black beans and grilled corn. Warm the tortilla, then place the tofu filling and roll.
The chimichangas were then baked for three minutes in an oven heated to between 385 and 400 degrees. They were accompanied by pico de gallo of lettuce, tomatoes, onion, lime, cilantro and a touch of agave; add minced jalapeño if you crave a little heat.
In place of fatty guacamole, they opted for reduced-fat avocado cream, made by splitting an avocado in half and spooning it out of its shell, adding juice of a half lime to prevent browning, then breaking it down and mixing with Greek yogurt.
After tasting the finished dish, I don't think anyone missed meat.
Ying Ye Luo and Adela Mearig drew from their respective Chinese and Mexican cultures to come up with their dish of fish taco accompanied by a variation of jook, a rice soup with the additional nutrition benefits of kabocha.
As a traitor to my heritage, nothing drives me crazier than the thought of eating rice gruel for breakfast every morning. I knew intuitively, even as a child, that white rice has zero health benefits, but I would make allowances for the added vitamin content of kabocha.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.