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Family of four plays at the beach with coastline in background

Island flavors bring flare to mealtimes

June 20, 2024 | Valerie Elwell
Hawaiian grilled pineapple with whipped coconut yogurt displayed on white plate with whole pineapple and gray fence in background.
Hawaiian grilled pineapple with whipped coconut yogurt blends two tropical flavors in one nutrient-filled dessert. All photos by Jessica VanRoo.

When the longer days of summer have you hankering for a new culinary adventure, consider these delectable recipes inspired by the cuisines of Bali, Jamaica and Hawaii.

“These dishes feel like a vacation from everyday life,” says Katie Rankell, a registered dietitian and program director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. “The fresh ingredients offer great nutritional benefits, too.”

Our bodies naturally crave lighter fare during these warmer months. It's also a time to take advantage of the season's plentiful produce, especially leafy greens and fresh fruits.

Bring a tropical flare to your summer table with these flavorful recipes created by Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health.

Balinese lumpia with tamarind peanut dipping sauce

A batch of Balinese lumpia on a white plate with tamarind peanut dipping sauce and romaine lettuce on the side.Bali is a tropical paradise known as the “Island of the Gods.” Prized for its stunning landscapes and vibrant culture, this Indonesian island also offers a peaceful hospitality that includes delicious food.

The classic Balinese dish, lumpia, or spring rolls, originated in China but migrated throughout Southeast Asia. It can be made with meat, seafood or just vegetables and is the perfect appetizer.

Traditionally deep fried, this healthier version of lumpia uses an air fryer to give a crispy texture without the fat.

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Bamboo shoots in these rolls are a staple in Asian cooking for good reason. They are especially high in copper — a mineral important for skin health and brain function — and a great source of vitamin B6, which is needed for more than 140 biochemical reactions within our cells. Research also shows that bamboo shoots function as a prebiotic, fueling beneficial gut bacteria as well as providing soluble fiber that may lower cholesterol levels and aid in weight loss.

The dipping sauce is made from a dark, sticky fruit that grows in bean-like pods on tamarind trees. Tamarind’s paste-like pulp is very sour with notes of citrus, smoke and caramel, and the consistency of molasses. The polyphenols in tamarind seeds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also rich in magnesium and potassium, which are vital to heart strength and function.

Once you get the hang of wrapping these protein-rich rolls, you can make a large quantity in a short amount of time. They freeze well so you may even want to double the recipe.

As they say in Bali, enak sekali — very tasty!

Jamaican braised oxtail stew with greens

A large black pot of Jamaican oxtail stew with callaloo sits next to plated version served with wild rice.Jamaica's best known export may be reggae and iconic entertainer Bob Marley, but the food found on this Caribbean island is another treasure, especially one of its most famous dishes — oxtail stew.

Oxtail is rich in collagen, a protein needed for our body's growth and repair. It’s also a plentiful source of bone marrow, which is useful in healing and preventing cardiovascular disease. It may also help protect the joints and reduce inflammation. These important nutrients are infused in the rich broth as the meat slowly simmers.

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Callaloo — the leaves of the amaranth plant — is another popular and versatile Jamaican dish. The leaves contain substantial amounts of vitamins A, B and C, and are high in fiber, iron and calcium. Callaloo is often combined with saltfish or other meats, but it can be served as a side dish paired with roasted breadfruit, boiled green bananas, dumplings and bread.

Scotch bonnet peppers, also known as Caribbean red peppers, punch up the spiciness. They are an excellent source of capsaicin, which is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients. In many parts of the world, these peppers are used to relieve pain from headaches, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic neuropathy. They are even thought to help with weight loss.

Although wild rice is not traditional to this dish, it adds a healthy layer of fiber and nutrients, not to mention a slightly nutty flavor that complements this succulent stew.

This meal may well have you saying, irie — all is well!

Hawaiian grilled pineapple with whipped coconut yogurt

Hawaiian grilled pineapple with whipped coconut yogurt basked in sunlight on a white plate.The phrase “Hawaii is a rainbow” is often used to express the diversity of people found in the islands. But it also applies to the wide variety of plentiful foods the islanders have adopted from around the world!

This recipe blends two local favorites — pineapple and coconut — into one refreshing dessert.

Pineapple, a fruit native to Central and South America, has been prized for centuries for its medicinal properties. Its wide variety of minerals and vitamins improve immune function and reduce inflammation.

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Pineapple also contains bromelain, an enzyme thought to help digest proteins, which makes it a wonderful partner for Greek yogurt. Grilling the pineapple lightly caramelizes the fruit’s natural sugars, adding a more intense, complex flavor profile to the dish.

Greek yogurt is not only full of protein, it is made with strains of probiotics such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which help keep the gut microbiome healthy.

Coconut provides protein as well as healthy carbohydrates. It also contains essential minerals, including copper and iron to help form red blood cells, the powerful antioxidant selenium as well as manganese, which is vital for bone health and metabolizing carbs, proteins and cholesterol.

Try this guilt-free, low-cal treat when you get that ice cream craving.

Ono — that’s Hawaiian for delicious!

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