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The iconic Hawaiian dish "plate lunch" might include Kalua Pork or hamburger steak smothered in gravy and macaroni salad, but you might also find a small, colorful portion of the raw fish dish called poke (PO-kay). This simple, vibrant dish has swept the mainland, too, found in restaurants dedicated to bowls of raw fish in almost limitless ingredient and enhancement combinations.

Early Hawaiians simply tossed raw fish with Hawaiian salt, seaweed and kukui nuts, the shell of which are polished to make the beads in the lei you might don at a luau. Poke is usually raw ahi, or yellowfin, tuna with various marinades that might have that great toasted flavor from sesame oil, bright ginger hints and some salty notes from soy sauce. Simply slice it up — poke means "to slice" — and toss with your favorite ingredients. Variations abound including in the fish used, which branches out into swordfish, lobster, crab and snapper. At many of these newfangled "fast casual" poke spots and food trucks, you can peruse the selection of ingredients behind the counter and create your own flavor experience choosing vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits and spices.

Thanks to chef Sam Choy, the "Godfather of Poke" who started the Sam Choy Poke Festival in the early ’90s on the island of Hawaii, poke has grown in popularity and variety, and there’s been a resurgence in Pacific Rim cuisine in the past few years now that we’re all trying to eat more healthfully. It’s been touted as the "next big food trend" for a few years running.

To make poke at home, be sure to visit your local fish market to get the freshest fish available. If there isn’t any ahi, try something in that day. The key to great poke is very fresh fish. This recipe from Choy is as simple as can be, but it does call for kukui or candle nut, which is hard to find outside Hawaii.

Buy some online here or substitute another nut like macadamia or cashew, both found in tropical climates. The Hawaiian salt makes any poke dish pop. Here’s a great sampler with red Alea, bamboo jade and black lava salts. You can pick up ogo, the fresh seaweed, in your local Asian market or the dried version here. 

Sam Choy’s Award-Winning Poke Recipe

— 2 lbs. ahi tuna, cubed into ½- to ¾-inch squares

— 3 oz. chopped green onion

— 3 oz. diced onion

— 2 oz. chopped ogo or other fresh seaweed

— 1 t.. red chili flakes

— 2 T. soy sauce

— 2 T. sesame oil

— Hawaiian salt to taste

— Kukui nut or other nut like Macadamia

Combine all but salt and chili flakes in mixing bowl. Add salt and flakes and chill.

Salmon and Avocado Poke Bowl

For the poke:

— 1 lb. previously wild salmon, skinned and cut into ¾-inch cubes

— 1 medium ripe avocado, diced

— ½ c. thinly sliced yellow onion

— ½ c. thinly sliced scallion greens

— ½ c. chopped fresh cilantro

— ¼ c. tobiko (flying fish roe) or other caviar

— 3 T. reduced-sodium tamari

— 2 t. toasted (dark) sesame oil

— ½ t. sriracha

For the Brown Rice Salad

— 2 c. cooked short-grain brown rice, warmed

— 2 c. packed spicy greens, such as arugula, watercress or mizuna

— 2 T. rice vinegar

— 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

— 1 T. Chinese-style or Dijon mustard; a wasabi mayo is also good

Gently combine salmon, avocado, onion, scallion greens, cilantro, tobiko or caviar, tamari, sesame oil and sriracha in a medium bowl.

Combine rice and greens in a large bowl. Whisk vinegar, oil and mustard in a small bowl. Add to the rice salad and mix well. Serve the poke on the rice salad.

— EatingWell’s Martha Cheng

Your Shopping List

Get your poke supplies and cookbooks right here:

—Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salt Sampler with red Alea, bamboo jade and black lava salts

— Kukui nuts

— Macadamia nuts

— Cashew nuts

— Dried Hawaiian Ogo

— Poke, sushi and seafood seasoning

— Get a copy of "Poke" by Sam Choy, with more than 110 recipes. Also get his "Little Hawaiian Poke Cookbook," with dishes like Ahi Poke with Lemongrass.