Monday, October 10, 2011

Breadfruit Tamales

My plans for future food sustainability definitely include at least one breadfruit tree. Breadfruit is the carbohydrate meal staple that grows on a tree! It just makes more - year after year - without much effort from me! Plus, a tree can provide fruit nine months out of the year.

When mature but not completely ripe, breadfruit can be used like potato, like wheat products, like kalo (as poi), and like corn masa flour (as you will see below). I've heard that prepared some ways it is like freshly baked bread, but I'm still looking for that recipe. Ripe breadfruit is sweet and can be used for dessert recipes. Like many high starch foods, breadfruit can be a blank canvas taking on other flavors depending on how it is prepared. In my - very limited - experience, I've noticed that it can have an artichoke-like smell and flavor.

a 2.5 lb breadfruit steamed for 1.5 hours
Not only does breadfruit hold these mad culinary chameleon powers and not only is it easy to grow and prepare, it is as or more nutritious than other starchy foods. Check out the info at the Breadfruit Institute, located on Kauai. (I truly am convinced that growing and using breadfruit is a big part of the secret to food sustainability in Hawai'i. I will confess here to a secret fantasy of placing a breadfruit tree keiki on the doorsteps of homes in Hilo which have big, open lawn-yards. Just to fill in some details, I picture the little gift trees with impressive red bows around them.)

All this coming from a girl who had barely heard of breadfruit a year ago. Recently, I've been inspired to try my hand at preparing breadfruit. The Breadfruit Festival  gave me courage me to tackle some breadfruit recipes. Since our beautiful, keiki Ma'afala tree won't be giving fruit for 2-3 years, we have some time to develop some favorite preparations.

Sonia Martinez has posted recipes from the Breadfruit Festival's cooking contest on her blog. Of the recipes she posted, the breadfruit tamales caught my attention. In this recipe, which won culinary students of Kua O Ka La New Century Public Charter School and their kumu Mariposa Blanco first prize, breadfruit completely replaces corn. The outside of the tamale contains only breadfruit and oil. Since the options for the filling are limitless, this could be a fantastic meal that needs to be in every sustainability-seeking tropical gardener's recipe box! If it actually is yummy, that is. We attempted to find out.

We loosely followed the recipe, putting a small amount of steamed breadfruit (about 1/3 of 1 2.5 lb fruit) in the mostly-green-with-dark-lines-between-the-plates state of ripeness into the blender. Blending it really did not work. We moved the mixture of crumbles and chunks to a hand-crank food processor, which did much better. After it became ground and crumbly, we added some olive oil until it seemed that it could be formed into and hold together as a tamale shape.

We cut some banana leaves and used them to mold the breadfruit shell. We filled the tamales with cheese, red bell pepper, and tomatillo, and molded more breadfruit crumbs to finish the shape. It took a bit of experimentation to get the wrapping to work, but soon we had pretty packages.

breadfruit-shelled tamales wrapped in banana leaves and ready to be steamed
 We steamed these for about 20 minutes in a steam canner. A little nervously, we looked inside.

unrapping breadfruit tamales
Looked great! Added homemade guacamole from our avocados and veg chili from a can (Amy's) to get this feast:

breadfruit shelled tamale dinner

 The result? Ono! It really was amazing! I could not at all tell that this was breadfruit and not corn flour. Truly a success! And so filling.

This is our third success (out of three tries) with breadfruit dinners. Breadfruit already rocked us in soup, where it was like a cross between a potato and a dumpling, and a stir fry, where - fried in oil and soy sauce - it was like delicious nuggets of fatty, salty baked tofu.

More breadfruit experiments are scheduled for next week.

This post was dded to Attainable Sustainable's Blogging Bee. Click to see more blog posts about living simply and sustainably.


  1. Yummy! I cook a lot with breadfruit (had it today). One of my favourites is roasted in a fire, peeled and eaten warm with avocado and salt! Thanks for checking out my breadfruit pizza recipe too!

  2. I'm so glad Kris shared a link to this post in the Blogging Bee....I need to sign up to get notices of your blog posts. Mahalo for the mention of the festival and link to recipes in my blog!

  3. I was just coming over to say thanks for sharing this - and that I've chosen this post as one of my "favorites" from last week (but I see Sonia beat me to it!). Thanks for joining the Blogging Bee.