Jenny Engle shares a delicious recipe that she cooks up with fresh, homegrown ingredients.
Images by Samantha Hook
When Jenny Engle was a kid, she didn’t like to eat seaweed. She didn’t like it at all. “It would be at a big family party or a baby lū‘au—limu salad or pickled ogo,” she recalls.
“Especially when it’s pickled, it has that vinegary and saltiness of the ocean.” Because her mom didn’t like seafood, Engle’s palate was more accustomed to flavors of land-born ingredients. Her grandmothers, from Maui and Moloka‘i, were adept at whipping up traditional Okinawan food and contemporary fare, but nothing that required her to grow fond of crisp weeds from the sea.
This taste of the ocean, the crunch of limu’s briny, slender limbs, was an addition to many ancient Hawaiian spreads, contributing nutrients, flavor, and texture to meals of taro, sweet potato, seafood, or breadfruit.
It’s estimated that ancient Hawaiians recognized roughly 100 different types of limu (ogo is a popular type of limu, the Hawaiian name for all plants growing underwater, now used as the default local word for seaweed.) and harvested them in a variety of ways.
Occasionally, fishponds were even repurposed as outlets to grow more cultivated forms of the algae. Today, limu is frequently found in pokē, or as Engle remembers it, as a salty salad.
In 2007, when Engle was pregnant with her second child, she left her job at Honolulu Museum of Art (where she works again today). She wanted to make sure her children knew how things grew, so in 2009, she contracted edible landscapers Foodscapes to help install garden beds at the family’s ‘Āina Haina home.
Two years later, she began working part-time for the company. Through this, Engle developed a new relationship with seaweed, harvesting invasive gorilla ogo at low tide to use as soil amendment for clients’ gardens. At the same time, her enjoyment of cooking, especially with homegrown ingredients, grew greatly.
Now, she whips up diverse recipes based on what she receives in community supported boxes from M‘AO Organic Farms and Local ‘Ia fishery, both of which provide subscribers with weekly deliveries of fresh, local ingredients. And the mom has an extra challenge: satisfying the quirky palates of 10-year-old Lily and 8-year-old Calder.
To create the recipe featured here, Engle used her standard method of cooking by association—tomato pairs with salt, hence with ogo—and whipped up a kid- and grownup-approved dish with tomato water, strawberry, shiso, and, of course, ogo.
Says Engle, “My favorite thing to make is something that everyone will enjoy.”
Get more of Engle’s recipes at her food52.com profile, gingerroot.
PASTA WITH TOMATO, OGO, STRAWBERRY, AND SHISO Serves 4
Ingredients: 3 ripe Wow Farms tomatoes (Waimea red or a combination of orange and heirloom) 3/4 c. Hawaiian ogo* 5 large green shiso leaves 5 large ripe but firm strawberries 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for pasta 1/4 c. minced shallot 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter 2 tsp. sherry vinegar 1 lb. fettuccine or spaghetti
*Find Hawaiian ogo Tuesday and Friday at Tamashiro Market in Kalihi.
Core, halve, and slice tomatoes into wedges. Chop wedges crosswise into roughly 1/2-inch pieces. Collect tomato water by placing tomatoes in a sieve over a bowl, including any juice on the cutting board.
Rinse ogo with cool water. Squeeze it dry in a clean dishtowel and roughly chop into 1/4-inch lengths. Add ogo to sieve with tomatoes.
Stack and roll shiso leaves tightly. Slice crosswise into long, thin strips. Add to sieve. Sprinkle mixture with salt and lightly fold together to combine. Let mixture sit for 20 minutes, folding occasionally.
Hull and mince strawberries. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Add olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking. If tomato mixture has been sitting for 20 minutes, fold one last time before adding to pasta. Then add strawberries.
Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until fragrant and beginning to soften.
Pour tomato water into sauté pan and bring mixture to a simmer, stirring to combine. Add butter, continuing to stir until melted.
Pour sauce over pasta, gently tossing to evenly combine. Sprinkle with sherry vinegar, toss, and serve immediately.
BONUS RECIPE: The Kawela Sunset Cocktail
After a trip to Hawaiian Shochu Company on O‘ahu’s North Shore with her husband, Ryan, Engle was inspired to make a shochu-based cocktail featuring tomato and ogo juice and a splash of ginger liquor. It’s like a Bloody Mary, but more refreshing and made with all local ingredients.