It is easy to forage for food in Hawaii. There are wild mountain apples that grow on the side of the road on the way to Hana and guava trees dotting the ranch land that many of the hiking trails cut through. There used to be wild tomatoes growing at Makena beach. In Hawaii, food will grow, with or without tending, wherever it’s seeds are dropped by man or bird. Growing up on Maui, I did not think twice about picking and eating whatever I came across. As a grown up, I am more inclined to ask myself questions like, “Hmmm, I wonder who owns this property and how they feel about hikers eating all their delicious lumpy lemons?” Or “If I tromp off the trail to pick that delicious lilikoi, will I be treading all over some rare and delicate flora or fauna like a destructive clod?”
I did not forage from the side of the road or on hiking trails during my recent visit, but I was happy to discover that experienced foragers are cleverly making some delicious and unusual treats available for purchase. We made a delicious salad from Pohole ferns, watercress and poha berries that we purchased at Mana foods in Paia.
Pohole Ferns grow wild in the rainforest on the east side of Maui. The fronds have a nice forest taste. They are crisp and tender and have a bit of a pleasant slime on the inside.
Poha berries are also known as pok pok, goldenberries, cape cod gooseberries and ground cherries (to name just a few). These berries are originally from South America but they seem to grow well everywhere. They have a husk like a tomatillo and a sweet and tart flavour. I would have happily foraged for these myself, but the ones on the property where my mum lives were not ripe yet. I know that watercress is not that exotic, but the bunch we got was the most spicy and beautiful watercress I have ever eaten. It bore no resemblance to the squished, tiny leafed bunches that are sold on packed ice in NYC.
We ate this salad with a simple sesame salad dressing and some toasted cashews, although toasted coconut might have tasted even better. I had a Pohole fern salad at Star Noodle, which is an AMAZING restaurant in Lahaina. They added saki ika, a sweet and salty dried cuttlefish that we used to eat as a snack like potato chips when I was a kid. You can get it on the mainland in Chinatown. It is quite fishy, but I LOVE it, and it was really good in the fern salad.
MAUI FORAGER’S SALAD
- Pohole Ferns, rinsed and dried
- Watercress, rinsed and dried
- Poha Berries, husked and rinsed
- Rice Vinegar
- Sesame oil
- Soy Sauce or tamari
- cayenne pepper
- Toasted Cashews or Coconut OR saki ika
- Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, snap the tough bottoms of the ferns off as you would with asparagus. Drop the ferns into the boiling water for 30 seconds then drain and run under cold water to preserve their bright green color. We chopped them into fronds and stems.
- Chop the watercress into pieces of whatever size you prefer.
- Whisk together salad dressing from rice vinegar and sesame oil and season it to taste with, sugar, soy sauce and cayenne pepper. I used about 1/4 cup each of oil and vinegar with 1 TBS each of sugar and tamari and about 1/2 tsp cayenne.
- Toss the watercress, fern stems and nuts or saki ika with the dressing.
- Slice the poha berries in half and arrange them on top of the salad along with the beautiful fern fronds.