Chef and NuiKealoha owner Kealoha Domingo shares three recipes to get 2018 off to a traditional and ‘ono start.

Wai Niu Poached Fish Filet

Traditional lawalu is typically a whole fish, tightly wrapped in ti leaves and cooked on an open fire. It imparts a unique flavor due to the charring and direct contact of the ti leaves combined with the fish cooking in its own juices.

This method is a simpler adaptation, likely with some influence from my Chinese grandfather Yun Young Pang, who often steamed and poached fish when I was a child.


  • 2 pounds of fish fillet – opah, ono, mahimahi – cut into 4 ounce pieces
  • 4 ti leaves, cleaned and trimmed

Poaching liquid

      • 6 cups wai niu (coconut water)

Small handful of wāpine (lemongrass) stalks

  • 6-8 garlic cloves, whole crushed
  • 2-4 fingers of ginger, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tablespoons Hawaiian salt


  • 2 13.5 ounce cans of good coconut milk
  • 2-4 tablespoons Hawaiian salt

Garnish options

Green onions, chopped limu, inamona, finishing salt


To begin, I would take about 4 cleaned ti leaves and give them a good roasting in a hot baking pan. Line the pan with leaves. Also heat hand-crushed wāpine (lemongrass) stalks, ginger and garlic for a few minutes to extract flavors. Add 6 cups of wai niu and salt. After bringing to a slow boil, add pieces of fish. Liquid should cover fish about halfway, if more is needed, add more wai niu or water. It should take 15-20 minutes based on the size of the fish. Be sure not to overcook fish, as texture will become dry.

Make sauce by heating coconut milk seasoned with salt. Stir continuously to avoid scalding milk. Sauce and garnish fish. Garnish may be simple green onions, limu, inamona or you can get creative. The dish pictured uses a lup cheong stuffing, cubed ‘uala (sweet potato), microgreens and seasoned tobiko. Serves eight.

Kō‘ele Pālau

Kō‘ele pālau is a traditional Hawaiian dessert and can use any type of sweet potato, however I typically use the Okinawan variety because it is usually readily available and accessible. In a nutshell, it’s basically a sweet mashed potato. Some people use things such as butter, sweetened condensed milk or other sweeteners, however I prefer to keep it simple with honey to taste, as needed. Note that the potato also varies in starchiness, so you can use coconut according to your desired consistency.


  • 3 pounds Okinawan sweet potato, steamed and peeled
  • 2 cups good quality coconut milk
  • Honey to taste
  • Pinch of salt


Steam and peel potato. I use my Instant Pot or rice cooker with about an inch of water in the pot. It typically takes about 30 minutes to cook depending on size. Cook until fork tender. While peeled potatoes are still hot (you can reheat if needed), mash potato and incorporate coconut milk. Because ‘uala varies in sweetness, add honey to taste if needed. Serves 10.

Haupia Sauce

Once cooled, I put haupia sauce in squeeze bottles and use it on anything and everything. I also make sure to leave a bit in the bottom of the pot to be cleaned up with a little sweet bread for a quick snack.


    3 cups good quality coconut milk

  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon Hawaiian salt
  • 4 tablespoons organic cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons water


Heat coconut milk combined with all ingredients on medium heat and stir constantly to avoid scalding. Mix cornstarch and water to create a slurry. When milk begins to steam, slowly add cornstarch slurry and continue to stir until cornstarch is well incorporated, dissolved and haupia begins to cling to spoon. After cooling, put into squeeze bottles and use as desired.

BONUS: Watch a Culture Keepers video of Kealoha Domingo on preparing traditional foods.