Island Cooking

Eat Local, Think Exotic

• by Jenn Farmer •

I am a big supporter of eating locally produced foods when possible, but I enjoy exotic dishes prepared with exotic ingredients.  I also understand that locally grown food has better flavor, texture, and potentially more vitamins, and I want to support our local farms and food producers.  Living on Nantucket Island, it can be difficult to reconcile these two desires.

So I decided to re-write some of my favorite recipes to include more local produce, and fewer (or even no) exotic ingredients. I have been relatively pleased with the results. To be honest, there has been little I have truly missed as far as flavor, and there are only a few things that I have had difficulty replacing.  Fresh ginger was the only thing I really missed.  I have heard that ginger can be grown successfully in this climate, but I’ve yet to attempt it.  Citrus was another flavor I felt I was missing, however, vinegar worked pretty well in most applications, especially organic cider vinegar.

It helps to be a bit creative. Papaya is a tropical fruit, so I chose honeydew, cantaloupe, or local peaches as a substitutes—they are firm in texture, yet not overpoweringly sweet, a lot like ripe papaya. However, I have found in some recipes that summer squash or zucchini are actually more suitable green or cooked papaya substitutes.  They have similar textures and a mild sweetness that make it work.  Fresh herbs are very good for enhancing flavors, so I used lemon balm, basil, and other fresh herbs to help build depth of flavor.  I have even gone so far as to pickle developing seeds from nasturtium flower plants, curing them with salt and vinegar, to make a local caper.

Another great addition I have been using in many exotic recipes is sprouts. Radish sprouts are easy to grow and take very little time to germinate.  They are a great substitute for spicy ingredients like wasabi or daikon.  They are full of vitamins and minerals and brighten up a traditional salad.

Here are a few of my revised recipes…

It’s Like Thai Beef Salad

  • 1 pound rib eye, flank or strip steak
  • 2 small red or green cabbage (or a combination-about two cups)
  • 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 carrots, scrubbed and julienned
  • 2 bell peppers, peeled, seeded, and julienned
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned
  • 1 cup cilantro, chiffonade
  • One-half cup mint, chiffonade
  • One half cup local cantaloupe or honeydew melon, or peaches julienned (original recipe ripe raw papaya)
  • 1 sprig lemon thyme or lemon balm, leaves finely minced
  • (original recipe kaffir lime leaves)
  • One half cup chopped toasted hazelnuts or pumpkin seeds
  • (original recipe cashews)


  • One third cup organic cider vinegar (original recipe lemon juice)
  • 2 T toasted nut oil (I like hazelnut, but sesame is also good)
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 Tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 small green or red spicy chili, sliced into very thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (original recipe date paste)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook the steak on the grill or in a hot skillet, until about medium rare or preferred doneness (7-9 minutes per side is fairly accurate for an average size piece of steak), allowing steak to rest –it should rest for at least 15 minutes, or up to one hour, before slicing it.
  2. Mix the dressing ingredients together.  Then arrange the ingredients on a platter, or plate them up individually in an attractive manner, drizzling the dressing over the salad.  It is not quite as exotic as the original, but the local version is equally good, and tasty.4-6 servings

Hot and Sour Fish Soup

  •  12 ounces fish filets (originally fish and shrimp)
  • Fish heads or bodies (originally shrimp, just to boost the flavor)
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 ounces locally grown mushrooms (originally straw mushrooms)
  • 1 small bunch local radish, sliced (originally daikon radish)
  • One half cup honeydew or cantaloupe or green tomato, sliced (original was green papaya)
  • One half cup green beans, cut into thirds
  • One half cup cauliflower (purple or golden are very pretty and delicious) florets
  • One half cup cabbage finely shredded (originally bok choy)
  • 1 and a half tablespoons cranberry  or tomato juice ( originally tamarind)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons shallot , minced
  1. Simmer the fish bones and head in the water, then strain; and discard the fish carcass.  Use the strained liquid to cook the fish in; the stock infuses more intense flavors.  Poach the fish until it is nearly done, and break the fish into smaller pieces and all the vegetables to the soup for added texture and flavor.   Cook until done, then add all the remaining seasonings, Heat thoroughly and add salt and pepper if necessary.  Enjoy. Serves 4

One of my favorite Middle Eastern desserts is a apricot and pistachio ice cream.  Both items not being native to the island, I made some local switches—here is the tasty result.

 Peach and Pumpkin Seed Praline Ice Cream

  • 3 and one half ounces dehydrated local peaches
  • 2 Tablespoons 888 rum or vanilla vodka
  • 5 ounces plain strained, yogurt
  • 6 Tbl pumpkin seeds, toasted with a thin layer of  sugar & a sprinkle of salt
  • 4 egg whites (pasteurized)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  1. Soak the peaches in the alcohol and enough water to cover, overnight (or until they are soft and pliable).  Drain the water and using a blender puree the yogurt and peaches together.  Crush the pumpkin seed “pralines”.  In a separate container, whip the egg whites  and brown sugar until they reach peak stage.  Gently fold all the ingredients together and pour into a covered container and freeze.  Stir the mixture every 40 minutes for the first 3 hours, to prevent ice crystals. Or follow your ice cream maker’s instructions.  The ice cream must be allowed to become a bit soft prior to serving.  If it seems too hard to scoop, then allow the mixture to warm a bit prior to serving. Yields 4 servings

Articles by Date from 2012