Recipe, Travel

Aloha Thanksgiving: 5 Recipes to Put a Hawaiian Twist on Your Feast

**This post was written in 2019. While many of us may be saying “aloha” online this year, we still hope these recipes provide some comforting cooking inspiration for all your celebrations — over Zoom or in your living room.**

In Hawaiian,“aloha” means more than “hello” or “goodbye.” It communicates love, compassion, and kindness. So “aloha” is the perfect warmhearted greeting for dear ones who join your Thanksgiving celebration on a chilly autumn day.

Want to truly make your guests grin? Turn your feast into a luau, complete with traditional Hawaiian recipes that put a tropical twist on T-Day. Afterall, these people are members of your extended family, or ohana — a word derived from “oha,” for the sacred taro plant, signifying that we all share a common root. 

Now that we are feeling all fuzzy, let’s break out a recipe for a conversation-starting cocktail ...   



Pining for a Drink: Pineapple Rickey

Pay tribute to Hawaii’s pineapple history with this potent punch, served in the tropical fruit itself. (Hint: You might want to “test” this recipe first and then pop it in the fridge to chill, just in case it’s called for later when you’re juggling pots.)

In 1901, James Dole opened the Hawaii Pineapple Company, beginning a juicy relationship between the spiky fruit and the 50th state. By the 1960s, labor costs led companies to relocate to Thailand and the Philippines, with the last major factory, Del Monte, exiting the islands in 2008. Still, Hawaii remains the only U.S. state that produces pineapples. Family-owned company Hawaiian Crown will FedEx you a locally produced “Sweet Gold” from Oahu.

For the cocktail recipe, pick up some adorable dwarf or mini pineapples, each about 3/4 lbs. (Sniff out the ripe ones by making sure they have a yellow exterior, are slightly soft, and smell sweet at the base.) You’ll scoop out and save the pulp, then freeze the vessel for your vodka- or gin-spiked potion.

If you decide to use regular-sized pineapples instead as your “cups,” be prepared to “hang loose” and watch your in-laws to do the hula! 

🍍🍹 Recipe for Pineapple Rickey fromCoastal Living  



Gift from the Sea: Poke

Join a Hawaiian family for Thanksgiving, and you may find three to four different kinds of poke passed around at mealtime. Meaning “cut crosswise into pieces,” poke (“pok-key”) is simply chunks of raw, marinated fish, from tuna to octopus. 

And it’s so addictively delicious that it’s hopped over to the mainland, igniting the poke bowl trend. Just don’t mistake these mainstream incarnations — sometimes served Chipotle-style with toppings such as corn or cilantro piled on as you go — for the real thing. 

“The term [‘poke’] is Hawaiian, but the traditions behind it [have] far more of Japanese influence,” Kealalokahi Losch, a professor of Hawaiian studies at Kapi’olani Community College in Honolulu told The Washington Post. “It’s part of the fabric of what we would refer to as local culture, which is a conglomeration of all the different cultures that are here.”

Native Hawaiians have long munched on raw marine life, but it wasn’t until Japanese workers arrived in the late 1800s that poke primarily became ahi tuna. In the past three decades, according to Losch, Hawaiian restaurants have combined Hawaiian flavors and Japanese donburi to create poke bowls with rice. With few toppings and flavors, traditional Hawaiian poke is all about the taste of fresh fish.

It’s easy to make your own poke. The main ingredient: sashimi-grade ahi tuna steaks. You’ll add soy sauce, green onions, ginger, sesame seeds, and a few other simple seasonings, and — the hardest part — wait while it marinates for at least two hours before eating.  


🐟🍣 Recipe for ahi shoyu poke fromHawaii Magazine



You’ve Got Some Sweet Buns: King’s Hawaiian Bread Stuffing

The sweet, fluffy, flaky rolls made by King’s Hawaiian first popped out of the oven in the 1950s in Hilo, Hawaii, in a bakery started by Robert R. Taira. The Hawaiian-born son of Japanese immigrants, Taira perfected a recipe for Portuguese sweet bread that was already popular in the island state. (Make the buns yourself, and you’ll see that pineapple juice is the not-so-secret ingredient.)

After expanding his business to another shop on King Street in Honolulu, Taira discovered that tourists shipped his rolls as souvenirs to the mainland, where they were a novelty. So in 1977, he built an enormous bakery in Torrance, California, eventually, ahem, raising his rolls to national fame.

This recipe for stuffing made with King’s Hawaiian bread ties back to the rolls’ Portuguese origin with Portuguese sausage, or linguiça, made with paprika and garlic. Another iconic Hawaiian culinary item, Portuguese sausage rolled its way into Hawaiian culture beginning in the late 1800s, when immigrants from the southern European country came to work the sugar plantations. (By the way, if you are lucky enough to visit Hawaii, don’t miss this other Portuguese carryover: malasadas, deep-fried, holeless doughnuts dusted with sugar.)

For extra crunch and island flair, top your stuffing with some chopped macadamia nuts, which are indigenous to Australia but primarily produced in Hawaii.Onolicious!

👑🍞 Recipe for King’s Hawaiian Bread Stuffing from King’s Hawaiian



A Slice of Paradise: Haupia Pumpkin Pie

Haupia (“how-p-ahh”) adds a layer of paradise to the classic pumpkin pie. A familiar dessert at luaus, haupia is similar to coconut pudding, but with a more Jello-like texture. Made with coconut milk, cornstarch, sugar, and water, haupia on its own can serve as a palate cleanser or meal-ender, but it’s also commonly combined with other sweets to make such treats as haupia-topped brownies, haupia cake, and chocolate-haupia pie.

Pumpkin pie topped with haupia adds a light, sweet Hawaiian kiss to a Thanksgiving staple. You can make your own haupia or, as the recipe calls for, buy Noh’s coconut pudding (haupia) mix online

🍨 Recipe for haupia pumpkin pie from Cooking Hawaiian Style



You’ll Dig This Main Dish: Kalua Turkey 

If you really want to make this succulent turkey the Hawaiian way, you’ll need to dig a huge hole in your backyard! That’s because for hundreds of years, Hawaiians have steamed whole pigs, chickens, taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, etc. to delectable tenderness using an underground oven called an imu (EE-moo).

First, they prepare the food by seasoning and wrapping it in large green ti leaves. Then, they lower it into the oven, where it cooks on hot lava rocks and fiery mesquite wood. A layer of burlap sacks and packed dirt seal the deal.

On Thanksgiving, it’s still an island tradition to dig an imu for the big bird. (If you’re extra gung-ho, here’s how to prepare an imu yourself.)

But don’t get your giblets in a bunch. Though the word “kalua” (kah-LOO-ah) means “made in the earth,” you can still make kalua turkey in a regular kitchen oven using lots of sea salt and liquid smoke. The result: a main dish delicious enough to transport eaters to a beachside luau. 

Recipe for Kalua Turkey🦃🌴

Servings: 16, with leftovers


  • 1 ½  cups coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 16-pound fresh free-range turkey; giblets, neck, and any other packets removed
  • ½  cup liquid smoke seasoning, or more as needed
  • Water (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have at hand a roasting pan with rack that fits inside.

Use all of the salt to rub the exterior of the bird, its cavity, and gently under the skin as much as possible. Then pour all of the liquid smoke seasoning outside and inside the bird, rubbing it into the skin to spread it evenly. Place the turkey on the rack in the roasting pan; cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Roast for 4 ½  to 5 hours, until much of the skin is lightly browned and a thermometer inserted into the thigh (but not touching the bone) registers 165 degrees. The turkey should be falling off the bone. Uncover, and let the turkey rest for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, strain the pan juices into a small saucepan. Add water (to dilute) or a little liquid smoke seasoning (to intensify the flavor) as needed. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for about 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm; its consistency will be thin.

Discard all the skin and remove the bones from the turkey, reserving the bones for another use, if desired. Transfer the meat to a separate large pan or casserole dish or platter. Use two forks or your clean hands to shred the turkey to the consistency of pulled pork.

Before serving, pour the heated pan juices over the turkey and toss lightly to coat. Serve warm.

Recipe for Kalua Turkey courtesy ofThe Washington Post

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