Could you survive on poke?

I think I could.

Poke (pronounced POH-kay) is a raw fish dish, popular in Hawaii and trending stateside.  When made properly, with super-fresh ahi tuna, it’s delectable, maybe even addictive.  I can think of worse things to be addicted to.  It’s a simple combination of chunked raw tuna, sesame oil, soy sauce and perhaps some finely minced seaweed and hot pepper flakes.  No fresh tuna?  You can also make it with octopus, salmon and other fish, not necessarily raw, but always simple.  Unlike ceviche, made with raw fish marinated in lime juice, poke does not have an acidic flavor.  It’s all about the fish and the sesame oil.  It has a rich deep flavor, and makes a really satisfying snack or meal.  You can eat poke straight As-Is, or have it stacked with rice, avocado and other vegetables, a sort of poke tower.

Poke itself is high protein, with moderate fat, and significant omega-3 content from the fish.  You could make it nutritionally more complete by adding rice and garnishing with the right vegetables, or fresh fruit on the side, to boost nutrients like vitamin C and A, potassium and so forth.  So you could make do with creatively balanced poke meals.  As long as you had access to really fresh fish and the money to pay for it.  Fresh tuna is not cheap.

It’s also not vegetarian or vegan.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean vegetarians and vegans can’t enjoy the poke experience.  There is tofu poke.  In fact it’s a rather brilliant alternative.  Tofu is ready to eat, so you don’t need to fuss with cooking or handling raw fish.  I recently experimented a bit and came up with a simple recipe you can adapt for your own tastes.

  • 1/2 block soft tofu cut into small cubes, roughly 1/3 to 1/2 inches.
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1-2 TB peanut or canola oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger root
  • 2 chopped scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated carrot

Combine everything but the tofu in a bowl and whisk together briefly.  Add the tofu cubes and mix gently to coat.  Some recipes I found use seaweed, another ingredient not widely available.  If you’re interested, I suggest finding dried seaweed, crumble a pinch and add to the poke.  Taste and add more if you like.  A tablespoon of very finely minced cilantro is another option.

As with most recipes like this, seasonings and garnishes are your choice, to your taste.  You might like more or less ginger or red pepper flakes, or more or less canola oil.  I do suggest that any vegetables you add are finely minced, not chunky.  Some people might like a bit of an acidic finish, so a brief squeeze of lime juice is a possibility.

Serve your tofu poke in traditional style, layered with cooked rice, avocado and perhaps chopped fresh vegetables.  Or use it in a wrap with chopped lettuce and cucumbers.  Or just eat it straight for a high protein and satisfying snack.  Could you live on it?  Well no, you’d need a number of other vitamins and minerals not available from tofu, but it’s a lot cheaper than fresh tuna.

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