“Welcome to vegan kitchen!”
That was the happy greeting I got when I walked into the kitchen in the back of Kale’s Natural Foods in Hawaii Kai.
The cheerful hello came from Jennifer Meleana Hee who, along with her sister Christina, runs the deli and bakery there.
Jennifer is vegan, Christina is vegetarian — and I eat everything. So this was going to be interesting.
I was there to observe my chef pal Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, who was getting some tips from the Hee sisters on how to cook and bake vegan.
And let me tell you, I was blown away.
Jennifer (shown left) and Christina aren’t trained chefs or bakers, but they’ve built a reputation for serving up some super delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes at Kale’s that have garnered loyal followers who stop by every day to see what the pair is whipping up.
Dishes like a wild mushroom risotto or a healthy loco moco with a beet burger served over organic spinach, brown rice and quinoa with mushroom gravy.
“THere’s a misconception that vegan food doesn’t taste good or is bland,” Noguchi said.
And it’s true.
Until spending the afternoon in the Kale’s Deli kitchen, I didn’t realize just how varied and flavorful vegan food could be.
I watched Noguchi and Christina Hee prepare the deli’s popular polenta with kale and vegan sausage (shown above), a dish that I couldn’t stop eating. It’s made with pan-seared vegan polenta sautéed with vegan apple-beet sausage, red onions, red belly peppers, portobello mushrooms, organic apples, garlic roasted beets and locally grown kale — with a few other secret seasonings.
It was one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten, full of flavor and textures and surprises.
It really changed how I looked at vegan cooking. Not only was it clean and healthy, it offers a lot of options I never considered.
Like these vegan cupcakes.
Believe it or not, these chocolate cupcakes are made with beets, coconut oil, organic spelt and other vegan ingredients. It was simple and easy — and incredibly good. You couldn’t taste the beets or coconut oil, the chocolate was subtle but there, and the cake itself was super moist. Add some vegan beet frosting and you’re good to go.
Moral of the story: don’t judge a dish by its ingredients. (Well, unless you’re allergic to something.) Just try it, keep an open mind and let it be blown when you find out it’s something healthy.
Kale’s Natural Foods, Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, 377 Keahole St. Phone: (808) 396-6993