Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Kalo commonly referred to as Taro, is a staple in the Hawaiian culture. This plant is a starchy vegetable that is high in iron and calcium and can be used as a substitute for rice or potatoes or when combined with other ingredients, can be used to make bread. It is another perfect addition to a vegan diet or for a person trying to avoid the “bad” carbs like white flour and sugars. It can used at various textures making it a very versatile food that can really make your dish exotically beautiful and bursting with unique flavor.
The history of the taro plant in Hawaiian culture goes back to the creation story of Papa and Wakea who lost their first born son Haloa-Naka (long trembling stem) and buried him near their hale (house). The very next day, the very first taro plant emerged. Wakea named the plant Haloa, meaning long stem and then when their second son was born they also gave him the name long stem. Haloa-Naka is the older brother of Haloa and all the Hawaiian people.
With that kind of importance placed on a plant it is no wonder that during the monarchy age of Hawaii, only royalty could adorn the image of the kalo plant on garments or anything else. To this day one can visit the Iolani Palace and see the beautiful etching of kalo on the doors.
As different waves of people came through the island chain, kalo and its preparation evolved as varieties of kalo were lost.
These days, we as non monarchy commoners, have the opportunity to wear the kalo design but we are a far cry from the old days when you could scoop the poi (pounded kalo) from the calabash with a finger. One of my favorite dishes is squid lu’au. It is a tasty dish made with kalo leaves, coconut milk, salt and squid, which you can substitute with chicken if you are not a seafood fan.
There are many more ways to enjoy kalo but the first thing to know is kalo must be cooked before tasting. Yup, I said tasting. You do not want to make the mistake of making a smoothie with raw kalo. The calcium oxalate crystals visible on the stem and leaves can cause a toxic reaction affectionately referred to as “taro poisoning” of which symptoms are burning and/or itching sensation in mouth and throat as well as swelling, air restriction and pain. The calcium oxidate in the taro can irritate your hands while handing raw so perhaps you might prefer using gloves. Whatever you do just make sure you cook your kalo to neutralize the calcium oxalate.
Now, how do I cook kalo? I cut off the stem from the corm and boil it until soft. Since I was a kid, I was taught that kalo is a starch and a great substitute for rice and potatoes; with that in mind, I always prepare them the same way. Kalo is a delicious addition to any meal time and I would like to share my two most favorite ways to eat it… Squid Lu’au, as I mentioned earlier and Taro with coconut milk… I don’t know if there is a special name for the coconut milk one but that’s what it is and its soooooooo ono! (that means really really yummy!) I hope you try these and come back to tell me about it.
From top left, clockwise: tripe stew, rice, opihi poke, laulau, squid luau, pipikaula shortribs, kalua pig, and poi (purple pounded kalo) in the center.
Squid Luau (can substitute chicken if preferred) Serves 6
2 lbs luau (young taro leaf)
2 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon Hawaiian sea salt or Himalayan sea salt
1 1/2 lb cooked squid cut into thin lengthwise slices or rings
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Wash luau leaves throughly, remove stems and veins. Add salt and water to a large pot. Bring to a boil, add leaves and allow leaves to simmer for 1 hr, stirring frequently. (Remember the calcium oxalate) Drain leaves, rinse and set aside while you prepare the meat in the same pot. To prepare chicken/squid: cut meat into small slices lengthwise, sauté in butter. Cover and let simmer until fully cooked. Add the prepared meat, coconut milk, sugar and luau leaves. Heat but do not boil for 30 minutes and serve.
Fa’alifu Taro (serves 4)
1 lb taro corm (cooked and cubed)
1 14oz can coconut milk
1 medium onion
1/2 tsp salt
Combine onion, coconut milk and salt in medium pan and cook over medium heat until onion is tender. Add taro until heated through and serve.
Below are links to two more of my favorite kalo dishes. I know some of the more authentic Hawaiian cooking tools may not be quickly or easily attainable so these are not traditional preparation methods but hopefully when you try them, you’ll have the same yummy taste that we love.
Two Finger Poi – heleloa.com
Taro Chips – littleferrarokitchen.com
D Goosby of JD's Organic Productions is a wife and a mom to 8 beautiful kids including 2 sets of twins. At one point, she weighed close to 300 lbs and then lost half of it just to put most of it back on. D eventually got tired of the yo-yo. She learned some hidden truths about our food system and decided to get educated and make lasting changes. D studied to become a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and peristeam practitioner because she realized that she was not alone in wanting to make healthy lifestyle changes but lacking the knowledge to make anything permanent.
That is what D does today, she helps busy moms like herself, get back to where they feel good again, they look the way they want to look and they get to be a healthy role model for their families and friends.