March 16, 2010

Kalua Pork – An Interpretation

I am a big fan of a luau and one of the most well-known dishes served at these celebrations is the famed Kalua pork.  You just can’t have a luau without one – it’s almost as important as hula dancing.  Almost.

The word kalua literally means “cooked in an underground oven” and this is how the pork is traditionally prepared.  Hot lava rocks lined with large banana leaves are used to form the underground oven, called an “imu.”  Then, a salted pig is placed inside, covered with more banana leaves, a burlap sack, and dirt, and left to steam all day.  Chances are, though, this method of cooking is beyond most of us mainlanders.  So today, many people choose to slow-cook the salted pork butt, wrapped in ti leaves, in the oven to imitate the flavor.

I decided to go one step further and use the traditional preparation as mere inspiration for a quick and easy, Island-flavored entree: Kalua pork lettuce wraps.  There is little to none kalua, or underground cooking, involved in this recipe.  And while it would be easy to make a traditional, slow-roasted pork butt (sans salt, of course) I wanted a faster solution.  I wanted to create a dish that could be cooked and eaten within a Rachel Ray 30 minutes.

So I used my creative license to swap the slow-cooker for the frying pan and the pork butt for some ground meat. I also took the liberty to add coconut, hot sauce, ginger, green onions, and garlic for a deeper flavor and more texture.  Then, going back to the original recipe for more ideas, I decided to used cabbage leaves, not for steaming, but for wrapping the minced pork.

Clearly, this is a loose take on an Island classic, but it is a dish that you can easily recreate, any time of day, any time of the year.  And if you don’t eat pork, go ahead and completely diverge from the original recipe, and use some rock shrimp instead. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination.  Classics are like coloring books.  They provide the lines and you fill in the colors.

But enough chatting for today.  Let’s wrap this up.  Get cooking and chow on.


  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 cup of shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup green onions, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped water chestnut (10mg of sodium per serving)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon red chili pepper
  • A dash of hot sauce
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 lb of ground pork or substitute with rock shrimp or ground chicken (48mg of sodium for 3 oz)


1. Heat sesame oil in pan over medium-high heat.

2. When ready add garlic, green onion, & ginger and saute until light brown and crisp, 5 minutes.

3. Add water chestnut, chili pepper, and pork and saute for another 15-20 minutes until pork is cooked through.

4. To serve, place in (washed) cabagge leaves and drizzle hot sauce, or even honey, on top as desired.  Fold and eat.  Watch out for dripping juices, you don’t want to waste one bit of this dish

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