Thursday, August 5, 2010

Alan Wong's Whole Tomato & Japanese Cucumber Salad with Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette for Local Foodie Mystery: "Captain Cooked"

Madison Merlot Dayne thought she was in for a week-long working vacation, shooting video and photographs for her celebrity chef father, Jeffery Dayne's, television show "Insatiable Delights." Hoping this gig would further her career and get her a job producing, while looking for some downtime on the beach--maybe topless, tropical drink in hand and with some island romance thrown in, she isn't expecting to find herself caught up in mystery and possible murder. Right after their arrival on the island, a beloved local singer dies, (possibly poisoned?) after consuming the welcome lunch meant for Madison and her father, putting them smack in the middle of a lot of excitement and hoping to make it through the week alive. "Captain Cooked" by S.P. Grogan is a "Hawaiian Mystery of Romance, Revenge...and Recipes!"

The book, set on the Big Island, is full of action with everything from local groups rioting over land rights, an earthquake, some dangerous lava flow, and more than a few "accidents" creating excitement as the crimes start piling up. Being foodies, Madison & Jeffrey take time to eat well all around the island as they go about solving the mysteries and getting material for the show. Madison even manages to work a little romance in with flirtations with three very different men--could any of them be involved? The book is more than a foodie mystery with descriptions of food--there are 25 recipes from some of the island's most popular chefs sprinkled throughout the book. The book is also the second "quest" adventure book from author S.P. Grogan, (the first being set in Las Vegas), with clues to a real "treasure" hidden somewhere on the Big Island. In this case, the treasure is a lei-'o-mani or a shark teeth war club, that if found using the clues and GBS coordinates in the book, can be turned in for a $5,000 cash prize. Mystery-thriller, romance, cookbook, Big Island travelogue, mini-Hawaiian history and culture lessons; there is a lot packed into this book! It was a fun read that kept me entertained, especially having spent time on the Big Island with many of the places visited so familiar.

Of course with so many recipes, I had to make one to go with this review and I picked the Blanched Tomato & Japanese Cucumber Salad with Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette by one of my favorite chefs, the legendary Alan Wong. This salad is a popular menu item at his Honolulu restaurant, in fact after seeing a picture of it in an airplane magazine my friend Rene', visiting a few months ago, insisted on trying it so we made a quest of our own to try it. (Actually the quest really just involved getting in the car, driving to the restaurant and sitting at the bar consuming the salad, other pupus and a few pineapple martinis, but "quest" just sounds so much more dramatic!)

Here's the restaurant's version of the salad on the left and my salad on the right. Of course the lighting at the restaurants bar was not good for pictures but I think my salad looks pretty darn good in comparison--although my cucumber ring needs to be tighter! ;-)

A whole tomato is blanched, sliced in three sections and placed on top of a circle of overlapping slices of Japanese cucumber and the tart and tangy vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is comprised of two island favorite ingredients that you may not have heard of--li hing mui, a powder (in the large collage above), made from ground salty ground plum, and umeboshi paste, made from a pickled tart, sour and salty fruit (usually called a plum but actually closer to an apricot) from Japan. The resulting dressing is sweet, salty and very tangy and pairs well with the sweet tomato. I used a fresh North Shore Farms tomato, local Japanese cucumbers and local fresh eggs in the dressing. I garnished the salad with some small opal basil and chives from my lanai herb garden.

The entire recipe is in the book, but I ended up using this recipe for the vinaigrette from the The Splendid Table. (Mainly because the measurements in the book seemed a little funny in the quantities of the li hing mui and ume paste.)

Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette
From Alan Wong's Restaurant, Honolulu

1 whole egg
2 tablespoons ume paste
2 tablespoons li hing mui powder
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 cup salad oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Place all the ingredients except the oil and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.

With hand-held immersion blender on medium speed, slowly add the oil in a steady stream to create an emulsion. Continue until all oil is incorporated.

Finish with lemon juice. Chill until ready to use.

To make the salad: Score the bottom of a large tomato with an "X" and drop in a saucepan of boiling water for 10 seconds. Transfer tomato to an ice bath and carefully peel when cool, keeping the flesh smooth. Cut the tomato into three horizontal slices, keeping them stacked together. Slice a cucumber into thin slices, arrange on a salad plate in a circular design. Place tomato in the middle of the circle and pour vinaigrette around the arrangement. Sprinkle salt on top of tomato and garnish with basil sprigs and chives.

Notes/Results: A great combination of flavors and a fun presentation, this salad is very quick and easy to throw together making it perfect for either a dinner party or a simple night at home. I would make this again and plan on using my leftover vinaigrette for another salad.

If you want to learn more about "Captain Cooked" by S.P. Grogan, here is a link to the website. In addition to profiling the Big Island and featuring local artwork, local chefs and local food, for each book sold, a contribution is being given to The Food Basket--a Big Island Food Bank. Gotta love that!

A little disclosure notice: The publisher was kind enough to send me a copy of "Captain Cooked" but my review and my thoughts & feelings about the book are my own.

BTW--You have until midnight (HST) to enter my giveaway for a fabulous Novica electronic gift certificate for $75. Get the details here!


  1. Now that is an impressive salad! And the book sounds good too!

  2. I love that you went local even with the book you're reading. Very cute of you, Deb! I always love reading about places that I've been or know very well.

    I love the presentation of this salad!

  3. Amazing! Just like the restaurant version!

  4. I would say your salad looks even better! Wow, that thing is incredibly intriguing with the whole tomato sitting on top. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it before. I'm sure it is delicous as well!

  5. That salad sure has a beautiful presentation! It really makes you say "Wow". I'm glad you chose this recipe to share. It's so fun and unique. It would be great to make for a group of ladies (you know how we ladies love our cute and adorable food). Love it!!

  6. Great salad.. Presented well..

  7. This sounds like my kind of book, Deb!! I LOOOOOVE foodie mysteries! Even cooler that you scouted out the restaurant and had a cocktail there...your version looks amazing...maybe even better!! I will definitely be looking for this book!

  8. You've made that book sound like a lot of fun. I also love your salad and am curious to try it. I hope you have a great day and actually find the war club. Wouldn't that be fun? Blessings...Mary

  9. Looks really good.

    (It just took me ten minutes to figure out that it's "club" as in "axe", not as in "book club". :))

  10. I will definitely have to pick up the book! I always love to find books to give me my island fix (we love the islands... married there 18 years ago and have visited multiple times!) and if the book includes recipes, all the better. Looks like a wonderful salad too!

  11. I have made that vinaigrette and would definitely make it again :)

  12. I like yours better! The other almost looks fake - it's too perfect. The book sounds interesting! And I love that it's for a good cause.

  13. Hello,

    We bumped into your blog and we really liked it - great recipes YUM YUM.
    We would like to add it to the

    We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,
    enjoy your recipes.

    Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
    and benefit from their exposure on

    To add your site to the Petitchef family you can use or just go to and click on "Add your site"

    Best regards,


  14. Thanks everyone for the positive feedback! ;-) It makes me feel better about my plating skills lol!

    Stay tuned for another recipe from the book next week and the author is sending me two autographed books to give away. Too fun! ;-)

  15. I wasn't a big fan of lihingmui until I had this salad at Alan Wong's. Thanks for posting the recipe! And I want to read the book now!

  16. Looks delicious! Gorgeous presentation too!

  17. this is my favorite salad i get to see this salad everyday at work its now made at Alan Wong's Amasia on Maui 

  18. Hi, I haven't chatted with you in a while, but when I did a search for Alan Wong's whole tomato salad that we enjoyed at his new restaurant on Maui last week, your wonderful blog came up! I hope to try your recipe someday, but have no idea where I'll be able to find the Hawaiian/Asian ingredients to replicate the salad. It truly was delicious!

    Thanks for sharing and I hope that you're doing well!


    La Bella Vita Cucina

  19. Hey Roz,

    It's nice to hear from you--hope you are well. :-) Alan Wong and his restaurants are among my favorites. Regarding the ingredients, let me know if you need me to send you anything. I would be happy to. The li hing mui powder would probably be the hardest to find but a packet would easily go in an envelope. For the ume or umeboshi paste, check the Asian section of your local natural foods stores--it's a Japanese ingredient. The brand I buy is Eden and it's national so you may be able to find it.


  20. I live in Alabama so Umi paste and li Hing mui powder are a mystery to me. However I loved this salad when visiting. As I order these ingredients on line are there ones I should purchase or avoid?

    1. Hi Melissa,
      I have used both Jade brand and Enjoy li hing mui powders and they have been pretty comparable, but the one I like best is a natural one from Ono Pops and has no artifical ingredients. I think the flavor is better. ( For the ume (umeboshi) paste I buy Eden brand which is national and I find at Whole Foods in the Asian Foods section and I think you can get it on Amazon. I have not tried some of the jarred umeboshi paste so not sure of the flavor.

      It is a delicious salad! ;-)

    2. Thanks so much. I still am waiting on the Ono pops and tried another brand but it was way too sweet. Hopefully I can get the right ingredient in soon. I appreciate this so much!


Mahalo for visiting and for leaving a comment. I love reading them and they mean a lot!

All advertising, spam, inappropriate (or just plain rude) comments will be promptly deleted. I do appreciate your right to free speech and to your opinion but I'm not into mean, rude, or mean snarky (non-mean snarky is just fine!) ;-)