Poi is made from the popular hawaiian taro plant (Colocasia esculenta), the 14th most cultivated crop on earth. Taro is cultivated both in the dry uplands and in marshy land irrigated by streams. The planters of wetland taro built walls of earth reinforced with stone to enclose the taro patch, or lo`i.
Although taro is eaten around the world, only Hawaiians make poi. Traditionally they cooked the starchy, potato-like taro root, or corm, for hours in an underground oven called an imu. Then they pounded the taro corms on large flat boards called Papa ku`i`ai, using heavy stone poi pounders called pohaku ku`i `ai. The taro was pounded into a smooth, sticky paste called pa`i`ai, then stored air tight in ti leaf bundles and banana sheaths for storage or future trading. By slowly adding water to the pa`i`ai, which was then mixed and kneaded, the perfect poi consistency was created. Poi was traditionally enjoyed with fresh fish, seaweed, breadfruit and sweet potato, an incredibly tasty and nutritious meal. It was eaten with fingers. Some times it was left to ferment a bit, giving it a unique, slightly sour taste.
The bowl of poi was considered so important and sacred a part of daily Hawaiian life that whenever a bowl of poi was uncovered at the family dinner table, it was believed that the spirit of Haloa, the ancestor of the Hawaiian people, was present. Because of that, all conflict among family members had to come to an immediate halt.
The recipe: Hawaiian beef stew thickened with poi
Hawaiian beef stew thickened with poi is a classic local dish: a basic beef stew thickened with poi instead of the usual flour-water mixture.
•2 to 3 pounds of stew beer
•Vegetable oil, or bacon drippings
•Raw vegetables (carrots, onions, potatoes, other root vegetables)
•1 to 2 cups Tomatoes, peeled and seeded
•2 teaspoons Hawaiian salt (or kosher salt)
•1 cup poi
Dredge 2-3 pounds of stew beef lightly in a blend of flour, salt and pepper. Brown in vegetable oil or bacon drippings in deep, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Cover with water, bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for an hour. Add 2-3 cups of raw vegetables: chunks of carrot, onion, potato and other root vegetable (chunks of peeled, boiled taro are good, too). Add 1-2 cups of peeled, seeded tomatoes (may be frozen or canned) and 2 teaspoons Hawaiian salt (or kosher salt). More water may be added, if necessary. Simmer one hour. Just before serving, add 1 cup poi to thicken stew: stir and add more poi if needed. up to 2 cups. Serve hot over steamed Japanese-style rice. Pass Hawaiian chili pepper water (tiny red-hot chilies steeped in boiling water, then bottled) and trimmed green onions for those who like a little fire.