We Tried It: 9 Recipes from Sheldon Simeon’s New Cookbook

Pork belly adobo, nori chicken, chocolate birthday cake butter mochi: Sheldon Simeon is proudest of the people, places and poke of his home—and we found all of these in “Cook Real Hawai‘i.”

 

Nori Chicken Sheldon Simeon Photo Katrina Valcourt

Nori chicken from the Cook Real Hawai‘i cookbook. Photo: Katrina Valcourt

 

There’s kakimochi on the cover, a quote by Frank De Lima and a section called Fry Action. It’s plain as poi: Cook Real Hawaiʻi is dripping with local flair and flavor. Every recipe, every photo, every thoughtful word represents Sheldon Simeon’s mix-plate community and lively backyard. “Peek into a garage or house party on the weekend and count the number of cultures spread out on the table. Oxtail soup nestled next to kim chee dip with a side of fried wontons and fish cakes,” he says in the book’s introduction. “I’m not Korean, but I love to make kalbi. I’m not Chinese, but I love to make chow fun. Breaking bread together expanded our palates and created new combinations of flavors and ingredients. All those traditions running into each other is what makes our food so special.”

 

Cook Real Hawai‘i is a nod to local and Filipino-style cooking from the three-time James Beard Award nominee and two-time Top Chef finalist and fan favorite. We found familiar-yet-elevated recipes for sardines, pork adobo and nori chicken that inspired, not intimidated, us.

 

So seven of us each selected a dish or two that we were hungry for from plates of nostalgia, grinds we love from okazuya, new takes on potluck picks and veggies blasted with umami flavor. Everything came out ‘ono. We have the photos to prove it.

 


SEE ALSO: 2019 Hale ‘Aina Award Winners: Sheldon Simeon’s Lineage on Maui Wins Gold for Hawai‘i’s Best New Restaurant


 

Just as exciting were the conversations our experiment sparked. We shared our pictures with each other, chewed the fat about surprising ingredients and relayed praises from friends and family members lucky enough to be taste testers. “I meant to only cook a couple of dishes, but I loved the journey and how the chef’s notes that accompany the recipes make it feel like we’re sitting down to eat and talking story with him,” says Robbie Dingeman, HONOLULU’s editor at large. Senior art director Christine Labrador simply says, “My family ate ’em fast.” And managing editor Katrina Valcourt gushed over her winner, winner chicken dinner: “It was my first time frying chicken and I kept eating and eating until I was stuffed. It was sooo good!” Here are our experiences.

 

Pork Belly Adobo Sheldon Simeon Photo Robbie Dingeman

Photo: Robbie Dingeman

 

Pork Belly Adobo

Serves 4 to 6

This was the first time I’d made adobo with pork belly. It turned out so tasty for dinner with friends that I made it again a few days later with pork butt. I appreciated the backstory to the dish almost as much as the tangy, savory pork. It’s a great dish to make on a weekend because it does take a couple of hours. We finished the leftovers with eggs over easy for breakfast. —Robbie Dingeman, editor at large

 


 

Cauliflower Katsu Sheldon Simeon Photo Christine Labrador

Photo: Christine Labrador

 

Cauliflower Katsu Curry

Serves 4 to 6

 

Cauliflower katsu, you’ve got my attention. In my little kitchen, this three-part recipe took me over two hours to make! The family was so hangry that when it hit the dining table, they ate it all up with some oohs and aahs in just under 10 minutes. The cooking time doesn’t mean it’s difficult, frying took up most of the time, and in a small space I had to prepare the curry and katsu sauce after. So ‘ono I’d make it again (in a bigger kitchen). —Christine Labrador, senior art director

 


 

Okra Salad Sheldon Simeon Photo Martha Cheng

Photo: Martha Cheng

 

Filipino Okra Salad

Serves 4 to 6

 

Most people associate Filipino food with pork and more pork, but one of my favorite aspects of the cuisine is its abundant use of veggies and, in particular, those that grow exceptionally well in Hawai‘i. So I was excited to see the Filipino okra salad, which lifts okra out of the deep-fryer and into a fresh, light and novel preparation. The recipe is super easy to put together—I had it on the table in about 10 minutes. I loved all the textures, especially the use of shrimp chips (I ended up adding shrimp chips to all my salads later in the week), and the celery leaves along with fish sauce and ginger add such a lovely brightness. I didn’t have lemon olive oil, but a drizzle of grassy, peppery extra virgin olive oil did just fine. —Martha Cheng, food and dining editor

 


 

Nori Chicken (photo at top)

Serves 6 to 8

 

I’d never fried chicken before, but this recipe was super approachable. Though it says to dredge and wrap your chicken with nori strips while the oil is heating, it’s much safer to get everything ready before you turn the stove on because once you start, everything happens so quickly. Make sure to keep some brine on the side to help the nori stick when wrapping. I made about 30 pieces to share with my family of five and there were no leftovers. I ate 10 pieces myself while drinking some of the same kind of junmai sake I’d used in the brine. The chicken came out perfectly crisp, just a little sweet, with the scallion and shoyu flavors quite pronounced. My family is already asking me to make this again. —Katrina Valcourt, managing editor

 


SEE ALSO: Maui-Raised Alana Kysar Shines a Spotlight on Local Hawai‘i Food in Her New Cookbook


 

Garden Poke Sheldon Simeon Photo Marisa Heung

Photo: Marisa Heung

 

Garden Poke

Serves 2 to 4

When I was putting this together, I thought: “No way is this going to taste like poke.” But it works—and this simple recipe was a hit with both my vegan and nonvegan friends! The secret is the optional ingredient—ogo—which, in my opinion, is necessary to give this recipe its poke-ness. I added nearly twice as much as the recipe calls for. Also, keep in mind that different root vegetables require different cooking times. I would advise baking your veggies for 20 minutes, then checking for doneness every 10 minutes. —Marisa Heung, special projects editor

 


 

Beets Mui Sheldon Simeon Photo Robbie Dingeman

Photo: Robbie Dingeman

 

Sweet-and-Sour Roasted Beet Mui

Serves 4 to 6

 

This dish pulls together earthy roasted beets, beet greens and even a quick pickle of the stems. It punches up the vinaigrette with li hing, a garlicky aioli counters the pucker and crushed Funyuns top this party on a plate. I’d make it again but taste your li hing powder. I ditched the first one I had because of a nasty aftertaste. This recipe has a lot of steps but they’re easy and worth it. —Robbie Dingeman, editor at large

 


 

Sardine Pupu Sheldon Simeon Photo James Nakamura

Photo: James Nakamura

 

Sardine Pūpū

Serves 2 to 4

I thought this would be easy but it took two days. In my case, the wait was almost as if the recipe had a step that said “allow for tides to burnish stone.” If you need to make the lemon-infused olive oil and chile pepper water, be aware: It takes a day for its flavors to meld. Half-moon onion slivers need to sit in an ice bath until the ice melts. And the sardines need to be sauteed gently with garlic, chile, soy and apple cider vinegar, keeping them intact. The whole thing is an exercise in patience and restraint. But the end result is worth it. —James Nakamura, creative director

 


 

Shishito Pepper Sheldon Simeon Photo Katrina Valcourt

Photo: Katrina Valcourt

 

Blistered Shishitos with Furikake Ranch and Crispy Quinoa

Serves 2 to 4

 

Since I served this as a dinner appetizer, I halved the recipe, which calls for 1 pound of shishitos to serve two to four. Half a pound served five people just fine. While crisping up the quinoa (that I had just made that afternoon), I was expecting it to take 10 minutes or so, but it was done in less than five. And I definitely smoked out the kitchen by cooking the peppers in macadamia oil set on medium high—next time I’ll use canola. I stirred constantly to keep everything from burning and it was done in a matter of minutes. Very simple and a crowd pleaser! The cooling furikake ranch is a must for those sneaky hot peppers, and now I’ll be adding crispy quinoa as a nutty topping to everything. —Katrina Valcourt, managing editor

 


 

Mochi Cake2 Sheldon Simeon Photo Stacey Makiya

Photo: Stacey Makiya

 

Chocolate Birthday Cake Butter Mochi

Serves 12 people

 

Chocolate. Cake. Butter. Mochi. Nuff said. I claimed this bad boy as soon as I read the irresistible title. I only had to shop for a few ingredients: coconut and evaporated milks, turbinado sugar and cocoa powder. It’s like making butter mochi with just a few more easy steps. It took me about 25 minutes to get it into the oven, but I move at sloth-speed when I’m in the kitchen. The frosting with the turbinado sugar crystals, that you put on the cake when it’s still warm, was crunchy and unexpected. Was the sugar supposed to melt down more? Sheldon, helllllp! I ditched the Pop Rocks, fearing it would be too sweet, but then showered the cake with sprinkles. It was pretty eye candy! Overall, the buggah was bomb. It had a pleasant cocoa taste, more mochi-y than cakelike, which I prefer. I might choose a different frosting but keep the joyful jimmies. —Stacey Makiya, senior style editor

 

Cook Real Hawai‘i, $35, Clarkson Potter, penguinrandomhouse.com