Pesto seems to be enjoyed nearly universally. Whether that’s as a sandwich spread, a pasta sauce, a salad dressing, or baked into a frittata, pesto has held steady as one of the more versatile and beloved condiments of our time. And while it is rich and delicious, the components of pesto are balanced, which is what keeps us coming back for more.
Traditionally, it’s the heat of the raw garlic, the nuttiness of the toasted pine nuts, salty Parmesan cheese, the sweet fragrant basil, and ever-so-slightly bitter olive oil working in harmony that brings a good pesto to life. A traditional Italian pesto made well is a gastronomic showcase of how simple can be transcendent, but understanding the basic elements of a successful pesto will help empower you to create your own pesto (or pesto adjacent) sauce using just about anything. Here is what you need to consider to create your own original pesto recipe.
Understanding ratios is the key to most off-the-cuff cooking, and pesto is no exception. Although Pesto is much more forgiving than say a souffle, the ratio of your ingredients is key. As your pesto skills advance, it will become more of an intuitive experience, something you can “eyeball”. In general though, you want to shoot for 1 part nut/seed, 1 ½ to 2 parts oil, and 8 parts herbs or greens, with aromatics and seasoning to taste, and grated cheese (if using) added to your desired consistency.
The starting point to any good pesto is a fatty nut or seed, only high quality of course because as with any simple dish, there are very few places to hide bad ingredients. Toasting is imperative – it brings the flavorful natural oils within the nut or seed to the surface, which not only makes your pesto significantly more delicious, but adds a luscious body and texture that you don’t want to live without. For a pesto that really sings, I like to take a bit of the raw bite out of the garlic or whatever aromatic I’m using by blending them with the toasted nut or seed while they are still fairly hot. The heat from the toasted nuts or seeds will actually cook the garlic or aromatics ever so slightly, which helps eradicate some of the unpleasant sting that can linger.
Garlic is a critical counterpoint to all of the richness in pesto. It provides a spice and heat, almost acting as an acid where there is none, at least not in traditional pesto. And while I’m just as garlic goo goo as any self-respecting foodnatic, why limit yourself? If a cutting and savory heat is what you are after, explore the entire allium kingdom and beyond. Ginger, scallion, shallot, and hot chilis are all viable candidates, just to name a few.
While some pesto purists may disagree, any combination of herbs or greens is perfectly acceptable and highly encouraged. Pesto is also a great opportunity to use parts of plants you wouldn’t normally utilize such as carrot or radish tops or herb and kale stems. It’s also a great way to hide bruised or unsightly herbs or greens that are perfectly edible but otherwise heading for the compost or trash bin.
The oil in pesto is perhaps the most pervasive ingredient. It’s the lasting impression on your tongue after each bite. For this reason, it’s important to consider the characteristics of your oil choice and how it will play off the other ingredients to create harmony. This might be achieved with one oil or a combination of oils. Point in case, in our Island-Style Pesto we use a combination of rich coconut oil (to compensate for the lack of cheese, which typically adds a layer of nutty salty fat) and, more sparingly, fragrant sesame oil, which accentuates that nuttiness while also adding a distinctly Eastern flare. Whatever the choice, make sure the oil(s) used are neutral enough to allow the other ingredients to shine through, but have enough personality to leave a good impression.
Cheese, of course, is a multi-dimensional and fatty addition to any pesto, traditionally adding layers of salty nuttiness. It’s generally best to opt for a hard cheese such as parmesan, pecorino, or grana padano as the texture tends to hold up better when blended. And while it does hold an important piece to the pesto puzzle, I’d argue it’s not always necessary, depending on the direction you’d like to take your pesto. Instead, seek out ingredients that will hit on the same notes the cheese would have: umami, nutty, rich, and sweet. In the case of our Island-Style Pesto, rich buttery macadamia nuts, nutty coconut, sesame oil, umami fish sauce, and a little bit of sugar leave us totally satisfied.
Trust your palate and don’t be afraid to add some finishing touches if need be. Whether that’s an extra pinch of salt or fresh ground black pepper, a squeeze of lemon or a cap full of vinegar, a shake of shoyu, or a bit of your favorite spice. Those last second improvised adjustments are often what take a dish from good to great. Just don’t overdo it.
While traditional Italian pesto is protected amongst purists (and rightfully so; done well, it is perfection), I always encourage everyone to keep one simple rule on the top of their mind when cooking at home: your kitchen = your rules. So have fun and don’t be afraid to mess up and explore the outer most reaches of your creativity.
Entertaining in a pre-pandemic world was intimidating enough. It’s more tempting than ever now to peel open a package of pre-sliced meats and cheeses, cut up an apple, fan out some crackers, and call it a day. But if you do get the chance to gather safely with friends and family, don’t take it for granted. Know that a thoughtful and exemplary spread for your guests is well within reach with the right approach. A grazing board can be a creative and satisfying team activity from conception to consumption, and there’s no occasion required! Here’s how to get started…
Like a cheese or charcuterie board, a grazing board is loaded with small bites designed to stimulate the eyes and appetite. They differ in that they tend to be more visually elaborate and feature a wider variety of complementary foods. In short, a grazing board should be a bold and beautiful display of variety and abundance; the cheese board 2.0.
The majority of us are not eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables recommended for a healthy lifestyle. While delicate slices of salty prosciutto and rich hunks of gooey brie have historically (and deliciously) taken center stage on a spread, we’re asking you to flip the script and highlight a healthy abundance of fruit and vegetables that will help satiate your guests’ hunger without leaving them full and bloated before the real meal begins. Allow for crisp spears of romaine and mini-cucumbers, sweet bursting cherry tomatoes, peppery arugula, and a slew of colorful and vibrant fruits to populate the majority of your board. It’s not only more delicious, but more dynamic and aesthetically striking. Everyone wins!
While various cured meats will never go out of style, I strongly encourage you to diversify your protein portfolio. Try regional specialties, fresh seafood, or plant-based meat alternatives for a deliciously eclectic experience. For our Hawaiian-inspired grazing board, we feature fresh salmon poke, high-quality tinned fish, and sliced Spam musubi, which offer a personality upgrade both in flavor and overall presentation. All of this alongside more traditional charcuterie!
They say variety is the spice of life and cheese is no exception. Often times specialty grocery stores will have a discount cheese section featuring miscellaneous samples. This is always my first stop as I can often find a wide range of different styles of cheese in more affordable quantities. Opt for a variety in texture, color, and maturity level for a diverse and eye catching selection that keeps the palate stimulated.
Snacks are an easy way to introduce a playful variety of textures and flavors and visually enhance your board. This is also a great opportunity to unload the various odds and ends of your pantry that would otherwise be discarded. Thankfully, this process was made easy with the help of Foodland’s extensively delicious Maika’i line. Their trail mix, various crackers and kachi mochi, wasabi peas, and coconut and plantain chips helped our board really pop with minimal effort. And no Hawaiian-inspired grazing board would be complete without some hurricane popcorn and spicy boiled peanuts.
A unique variety of condiments and pickles is the best way to encourage your guests to explore their creativity and build unique flavor combinations. Our current favorites include sardines and pickled ginger, musubi and cucumber kimchi, and herbed goat cheese with lilikoi jam. Thoughtful accompaniments can make each bite a culinary adventure and provide acidity and balance, which will help prevent Boursin burnout.
It sounds simple, but this is probably the most common oversight when constructing a community spread. Make sure any item that would require a serving utensil is accounted for and that plates, napkins, and cutlery are positioned strategically for a worry-free flow. A trash can nearby will encourage guests to clean as they go and allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Grazing boards are a great icebreaker and centerpiece, a generous way to instantly make your guests feel appreciated and welcome. It’s a surefire way to bring a bit of festive joy to your next gathering. We encourage to use our fundamentals as a loose guide, but ultimately make your own rules as your grazing board should be just as fun to prepare as it is to eat!
At the peak of summer when the sweltering sun borders on oppressive, hydration can be a bit of a challenge. Especially when we are all making up for lost time and doing our best to enjoy ourselves in a safe and responsible manner. Enter your new best friend: the summer Shandy.
Whether it’s called a Radler in Germany, a Panaché in France, a Clara in Spain, or perhaps most popularly a Shandy in the U.S. and U.K., by any name this delightfully refreshing beer cocktail is beloved around the world come the summertime as it contains half the alcohol and twice the hydration of a normal beer.
The Shandy as we have come to know it is suspected to have originated in 19th century England from the then popular drink known as the rich man’s Shandygaff; a combination of ale and champagne or ale and ginger beer for those who couldn’t afford it. The Shandygaff was later shortened to Shandy for brevity and other variations of the drink soon followed. Perhaps most famously was the German Radler which came to be when a Bavarian bar owner by the name of Franz Kugler cut his diminishing beer supply with lemonade to prevent his customers from growing ornery, much to their delight.
Today it isn’t uncommon to see bartenders use lemon-lime soda (such as Sprite or 7-11), various citrus or fruit juices, or even cider as a mixer, depending on local customs and preference. And while what to call this popular beer cocktail is highly contested among purists, everyone agrees it’s delicious. Here are some basic principles to bring your Shandy to the next level.
While it may seem obvious, a great Shandy starts with a great beer — but not just any great beer. A lighter bodied beer such as a hefeweizen, a light lager, or pilsner works best as they won’t overpower or weigh down the final mix. We were fortunate enough to partner with one of our favorite local breweries, Maui Brewing Co., to craft our ideal summer Shandy. Their Pineapple Mana Wheat Beer proved to be the perfect candidate as it has a light and smooth body, a sweet and fruity aroma, and a mellow tartness that makes for a well-rounded and easy summer sipper.
Popular variations often feature citrus flavored sodas, but fresh citrus juice really makes all the difference. While lemon, lime, grapefruit, and oranges are all great options, we are quite partial to the Hawaiian calamansi which tastes somewhere between a sour orange and sweet lime. It’s distinct flavor makes this particular Shandy uniquely delightful.
Typically pre-sweetened soda or lemonade will provide all of if not more than the sweetness your Shandy requires, which after 2 or 3 pints can begin to add up quickly. You can regulate the amount and type of sweetener by building your Shandy from the “ground up” as we did here using our Basil Stem and Ginger Simple Syrup which imparts a deliciously spicy and herbal sweetness. The sweetener of your choice (honey, agave, sugar, etc.) will work just fine but a simple syrup is a quick and effective way to incorporate new and exciting flavors. Simply combine your citrus juice, simple syrup, water, and muddled aromatics in a cocktail shaker or a pint glass for an instant citrus-ade that’s made to taste.
In addition to our herbaceous and lively simple syrup, fresh herbs and aromatics offer another vibrant layer of crispness that will make your Shandy extraordinarily refreshing. Briefly muddle your herbs and aromatics with your fresh citrus juice of choice in a cocktail shaker or pint glass to unlock all of the flavor potential.
Above all else a Shandy should refresh so keep things cold every step of the way. Shake your instant-ade with ice before serving in a nice frosty mug for peak satisfaction.
If your household is anything like mine, fresh herbs are always in abundance. Especially basil, which come the summertime I put on just about everything. Unfortunately basil and herb stems are often overlooked and discarded but are just as flavorful as the leaves and arguably even more versatile as they tend to be heartier. Here are some creative ways to use your leftover basil and herbs stems to reduce waste and maximize flavor.
An infused oil, butter, vinegar, or marinade is an easy and effective vehicle for herb stems. Simply add your stems and whatever other additional aromatics you may have on hand (chilis, ginger, garlic, etc.), bring to a boil, and remove from the heat to steep. Use the infusion as desired.
An easy and versatile way to extract the remaining flavor from your herb stems is to make a simple syrup, which as its name suggests, could not be simpler. Just combine equal parts water and the sweetener of your choice (sugar, agave, honey, etc.). Add your basil stems, some aromatics (ginger and lemon work especially well here), simmer briefly until the sweetener has dissolved, then allow to cool and strain. Use as desired to sweeten your tea or coffee, lemonade, oatmeal, smoothies, and beyond.
Add your remaining basil stems to boiling water for a minute or so, then quickly shock in an ice bath to help soften and retain their beautiful green color. Blanched herb stems are a great way to pad a pesto or sauce and can also be blended into soups to add subtle flavor and color. If your basil is on its way out, blanch it whole (stem and all), puree it, and freeze it into ice cubes which you can use to quickly finish a soup or sauce with.
A really fun and delicious way to utilize a bunch of herb stems is to tie them up in a tight little bundle with some kitchen twine and use them to baste grilled meat, fish, vegetables, or tofu with an infused butter, oil, or marinade. It’s an excellent way to continue to impart flavor and you’ll feel like a proper chef doing it.
A properly cooked breast, steak, or chop has been properly rested. Resting gives the flavorful juices within the time to reabsorb into the fibers of the meat. A general rule of thumb is to rest your meat 1 minute for every 4 ounces (e.g., rest a one-pound chicken breast for 4 minutes). But instead of allowing your meat to rest passively on a cutting board, build a flavorful bed of herb stems and aromatics to impart a final touch of freshness.
It may sound ambitious, but an easy Thai-style curry paste is very much within your reach as a home cook and an exciting way to utilize accumulated herb stems. Simply combine your herb stems (stick to basil, cilantro, and scallion) with whole cloves of garlic, sliced ginger or galangal root, sliced shallot or red onion, lemongrass if available, green or red chilis, and some ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric if desired. Dry roast at 375°F until deeply caramelized (about 25 to 30 minutes) and blend into a paste in your food processor.
Raw basil stems can be sliced thin and easily added to a fresh salad or vinaigrette for an herbaceous pop of flavor. They are also great incorporated into a rustic condiment such as a Thai Nouc Cham, an Italian Salsa Verde, or stirred into a fresh poke or ceviche.
And if all else fails, rest assured knowing your composted stems will be recycled into the Earth to help encourage and foster new growth and healthy soil.
Memorial Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the promise of pool days and evenings on the patio taking in the intoxicating aroma of smoky grills and festive fire pits. As a chef, I’ve found there’s no better way to welcome the unofficial start of summer than with recipes best suited for a grill. Get ready to welcome friends and neighbors to your Memorial Day celebration with a waft of smoky flavor destined to make almost anything irresistible. For this reason, I’d say opt for a wood or charcoal burning grill if you can. No matter your budget, there’s a grill out there waiting to impart a lot of flavor.
Grill masters using gas can impart flavor with their favorite variety of wood chips. Oftentimes gas grills will come equipped with a small “smoker box” that enables the user to add a small amount of chips. You can also improvise and make a chip-filled D.I.Y. foil-purse to help impart some smoky flavor. For distinguished restaurant-style char grill marks make sure your grill is super-hot before adding any product, which can instantly lower the temperature.
Smoldering wood and coals can easily lend their smoky essence to hearty fruits and vegetables in ways you may have never imagined. And who doesn’t want more of that? Here are my favorite ways to prepare and grill fruits and vegetables in ways that are sure to please a small get together or a crowd.
Let’s Talk Mushrooms
Few ingredients lend themselves better to the smoky heat of a grill better than fungi. Meatier varieties, prepared from fresh and kept whole maximize chargrilled surface area and time spent absorbing all of that smoky goodness. Try Maitake (Hen of the Woods), King Oyster, or Portobello and treat these mushrooms just as you would a chicken breast or a thick cut steak. Experiment with different herbs, seasonings, and marinades to encourage flavor development without overpowering their natural taste.
Try marinating Maitake mushrooms in savory herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and sage, along with some fresh garlic and olive oil before briefly grilling them over cherry wood or charcoal. The flowery edges of the mushrooms get charred and crispy and the “meat” of the mushroom takes on a savory smokiness that completely steals the show. Treat de-“gilled” Portobello mushrooms like a good flank or hanger steak and marinate them in a splash of balsamic vinegar, red wine, and Worcestershire sauce (perhaps even a little Dijon and herbage) grill them well on both sides and slice on the bias. Finally, halve and score a big meaty King Oyster Mushroom and lacquer it in a sesame oil-infused teriyaki sauce for a real showstopper! If you are looking for a meat-alternative to grill, mushrooms are the answer. Just remember to incorporate a bit of healthy fat such as olive or avocado oil as the drippings are what cause the grill to “flare up” and impart the char flavor we all love in the summertime.
The Often-Contested Eggplant
Next on our list of summer grilling contenders is the often-contested eggplant. For most, you either love it or hate it. I personally fall into the former category and would argue that if you don’t like eggplant, it’s probably because you haven’t been preparing it correctly! Eggplant has a very high-water content, which is why if the eggplant is truly fresh little drops of water will bead on the surface after being sliced. It’s important to help the eggplant purge some of that moisture prior to grilling which will further enhance its inherently meaty texture. This can be easily accomplished by pre-salting the eggplant prior to cooking. Simply season liberally with salt then transfer to a colander to drain for ten to fifteen minutes or even up to an hour for you diehards. Briefly rinse your eggplant and pat dry and you are ready to get cooking. Again, at this point treat your eggplant just as you would an animal-based protein.
Some naysayers may make the “tofu argument” in that eggplant is just a vehicle for flavor. While I do agree it is versatile and can lend itself to many applications, fresh eggplant has a wonderful flavor all on its own. Highlight its delicate nature with a simple marinade of lemon, olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper, then lightly grill and layer the eggplant with juicy summer tomatoes and creamy buffalo mozzarella for a summer-centric Caprese salad. Or season your eggplant with tantalizing curry spice, Ras El Hanout, or Thai red curry paste, and grill turning often to ensure your spices don’t burn. Thinner Japanese eggplant lend themselves brilliantly to a quick cooking charcoal yakitori application with a sweet miso glaze. Similar summer vegetables such as summer squash or zucchini can also benefit from a pre-salt purge to a marinade or straight to the grill.
We Can Grill That!
And why stop there? Even vegetables with a high-water content are suitable for the grill. I bet you never thought to grill a cucumber. As long as your grill is super-hot, a grilled cucumber can be a wonderful thing. The key is to quickly char the outside (a little oil and salt helps) without actually cooking the cucumber. This way, you maintain the signature crunch of the cucumber but impart an unexpected, char-grilled flavor that will leave you questioning everything you ever knew about cucumbers. And tomatoes? Yes please! Brush with avocado oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little bit of grill time, and you have yourself a smoky summer sandwich sans the bacon (an L.T.?). Heck, you can even grill an avocado! I like to crust an avocado half in my favorite spice/seed blend such as Furikake or Za’atar and grill it flesh side down until charred and fragrant. Spoon that on some crusty bread (also grilled) and thank me later!
Heartier varieties of lettuce such as romaine, endive, or radicchio welcome the smoky kiss of a hot grill. Sub some fresh romaine lettuce for grilled romaine for a truly impressive Caesar salad, or top with a quintessential blue cheese-buttermilk dressing and gremolata breadcrumbs for an exquisitely satisfying smoky steakhouse side. Also, pro-tip, if you are ever nervous about your grilled veggies or otherwise falling through the grates to their demise, lay down a bit of foil, or cook in a well-seasoned cast iron pan on the grill and close the lid for a bit so the smoke has a chance to permeate your veggies.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There is (virtually) no fruit or vegetable that couldn’t benefit from smooth and sultry smoke of a summer grill. So, stay out of the hot kitchen this summer, and opt instead for a quick-cooking meal off the grill, surrounded by friends, in the cool summer breeze. That’s where I’ll be.
The modern-day consumer is instantly inundated with a cornucopia of choices as soon as they enter a grocery store. And while this abundance of variety is a modern luxury not to be taken for granted, it can make the process of creating a deliciously tantalizing salad somewhat intimidating and overwhelming. Here are some simple pointers to help streamline the salad building process for consistently better and more interesting results.
Buy Quality Ingredients
Life gets hectic but with the abundance of better options out there, you needn’t settle for seemingly convenient but totally substandard produce. So skip those ethylene ripened tomatoes that look good but lack taste, translucent heads of lettuce, or another disappointing salad kit of wilting greens and stale wonton crisps. With some simple planning and prep, you can bring better to life. Opt for visually appealing, nutrient rich and colorful leaves (Pro Tip – the simpler the salad, the harder it is to hide lack luster ingredients so choose a base that brings distinction). Skip the sad and head straight for the happy—try our tender living butter lettuce, juicy-sweet vine ripened tomatoes, crisp and crunchy mini-cucumbers. The list goes on. The bottom line? A better salad starts with better ingredients.
The best bites are balanced. Sweet and salty, creamy and crisp, fatty and acidic; it’s the harmony of sensation that truly stimulates the tastebuds and why peanut butter and jelly will forever withstand the test of time. A great salad is no different in that it too is the sum of its parts.
Consider our Fattoush Salad. Brimming with crisp fresh veggies and herbs, sweet pomegranate and tart citrus, it’s a perfectly pleasant experience packed with a variety of texture and fresh flavors. And when you top high quality ingredients with the creamy richness of tangy yogurt dressing and oven-fried crispy pita, you’ve effectively offset acidity (and, in our opinion, taken a salad from good to really, really great). So, the next time you go to build your salad, first pause and consider the harmony of the whole. One easy step and you’re already off to a better start.
Play With Temperature
Salads don’t always need to be cool, crisp, and refreshing. In fact, salads don’t need to be anything. We challenge you to toss out any preconceived notions you may have on what a salad should or shouldn’t be and embrace the unknown. Point in case: our Wilted Butter Lettuce Salad with a Warm Bacon Vinaigrette.
Typically, wilted salad greens are a sign of neglect or maybe a heavy-handed pantry cook. However, in this lesser known but beloved southern salad, our tender butter lettuce is delightfully immersed in a sweet and smoky onion-spiked bacon vinaigrette, the results of which satisfy beyond any preconceived salad limitations we may have held. Of course, as with anything, balance is key and in this case is easily discovered with a healthy smattering of crisp raw onion and crunchy radish. TL;DR: Cook your salads!
Use Greens as a Garnish
This needs to be said: sometimes a big bowl of greens just doesn’t cut it. The good news is it doesn’t have to. Your salad base is your oyster (quite literally if you want, its your salad). It’s not limited to a mountain of spring mix, though we’d never knock it. For a more substantial salad, consider heartier options for your such as roasted or grilled vegetables, whole grains, beans, pasta, poached seafood, or even bread.
In our Farro Salad with Parmesan, Cherry Tomatoes, and Arugula, we let the hearty grain take center stage and use our peppery arugula in a supporting role to help provide some needed freshness. Shaved parmesan and toasted sunflower seeds help accentuate the farro’s natural nuttiness. Warm garlic and rosemary infused olive oil and a runny fried egg make for a truly substantial and satisfying salad situation.
Salads For Any Occasion
Look beyond thoughts of a power-lunch or diet-dinner and start to see our salads for what they truly are: an exciting and satisfying anytime addition to busy workdays and the go-to for worry-free weekends. Sublimely simple or creative and complex, cool and crisp or warm and smoky, these versatile menu stars can be as hearty or light as the occasion calls for.
Ultimately, a salad is a blank palette to incorporate healthy and vibrant foods and flavors into your life, so why not start with what many have dubbed the most important meal of the day? With just a few small adjustments a classic cobb salad can glide effortlessly become a Breakfast Cobb Salad. Jammy soft-boiled eggs, crispy golden potatoes, and bacon’s arguably more flavorful Italian counterpart make this salad wholly satisfying and substantial enough to fuel your entire morning and beyond!
There are countless ways to bring a new salad favorite to life to take a lead or supporting role at your next meal. Use our tips to creatively embrace your health by incorporating high quality and colorful foods throughout your day with versatile and flavorful salad solutions. Healthy should be fresh, fast, and above all else, delicious.