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.
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 shares recipes across the spectrum of local food, as well as Simeon’s unpredictable concoctions (think beet mui with Funyuns), but we’re especially drawn to the Filipino dishes, which rarely make it into mainstream cookbooks. Simeon tells stories of his Filipino heritage (his paternal grandfather came from Ilocos Norte and his mother from Ilocos Sur) through recipes of charred fish sinigang and a pork belly adobo that’s a homecoming of sorts. Simeon told us: “The Filipino food that I grew up with was through the lens of Hawai‘i. [My family] was so young when they came to Hawai‘i. The recipes got switched up and changed through it all—you’re a teenager and 1,000 miles away from your home, cooking with the ingredients you have in front of you. My father would reminisce about grandma’s adobo—really fatty cuts of pork, really soy sauce forward, real black pepper forward.” When Simeon went to Ilocos Norte to film the PBS Hawai‘i show Family Ingredients, a chef there taught him to make adobo his way. “I brought that recipe back and got to cook it for my dad. His eyes lit up—this is the style of adobo that he remembered. So now the recipe in our family has come full circle.”
Adobo is a staple, but while most people associate Filipino food with pork and more pork, the cuisine includes plenty of vegetables, and Simeon does too, particularly the kinds that grow exceptionally well in Hawai‘i. There’s pinakbet, the one-pot vegetable stew of eggplant, bitter melon, long bean, kabocha and more, originally from the Ilocos region, and also Simeon’s modern Filipino okra salad, which lifts okra out of the deep-fryer and into a fresh, light and novel preparation. (Don’t skimp on the celery leaves and shrimp chips.) This is Cook Real Hawai‘i—grounded in what makes Hawai‘i Hawai‘i, with the courage and creativity to take it in new directions.
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.
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
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
Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai‘i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
- ¼ cup neutral oil
- 2 pounds pork belly, skin removed, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 10 cloves)
- ¼ cup shoyu
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- ¼ cup cane vinegar
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground
- 3 cups halved cherry tomatoes (about 1 pound), for serving
- cooked rice, for serving
In a large, deep skillet, wok, or Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering-hot. Pat the pork dry with paper towels. Sear it in the hot oil, turning, until evenly browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the shoyu, oyster sauce, both vinegars, the bay leaves, and pepper and toss to coat the pork belly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the pork has started to soften and most of the fat has rendered, 40 to 50 minutes. What you’re going for is not a melt-in-your-mouth bite, but rendered fat and meat with some texture to it, like spareribs almost.
Once the pork is cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside. If desired, skim off some of the rendered fat and discard (I usually keep it). Increase the heat to medium and reduce the sauce, stirring constantly, until a sticky glaze starts to form. Return the pork belly to the sauce and toss to coat.
Serve with tomatoes and cooked rice.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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. Also available at local bookstores including Da Shop: Books + Curiosities and online retailers.