Ahi tuna poke bowls – fresh tuna marinated in a sweet soy ginger dressing, and served with a spicy grilled corn slaw, mango, edamame beans and avocado. Jump to Recipe
Out of the average of 45,000 different products in an American supermarket, including non-food items, there is one ingredient utilised in over a third. What is it?
Not just the simple cob of corn as we generally think of it, clearly. Corn is fed to the majority of animals – steer, chicken, salmon, lamb, pigs – (at least in the US – I know in New Zealand most beef and dairy is still grass-fed), and thus most supermarket meat and dairy energy contains corn. Corn flour, corn oil, corn starch, and most of those tricky ingredients on processed food labels: lecithin, mono, di and tri glycerides, food colourings, citric acid, maltodextrin, dextrose, crystalline fructose, ascorbic acid, lysine, maltose, MSG, polyols and xanthan gum. The big one, and the one often blamed in part on the rise of obesity around the globe – high fructose corn syrup. It’s in the vegetable wax used to make fruit and veg shiny, in pesticides, batteries, toothpaste, cosmetics, and matches. Adhesives, crayons, dyes and cardboard. Anyone know why?
I would never have guessed until I read Michael Pollans’ The Omnivore’s Dilemma recently. Fascinating, terrifying and mind-blowing all in one. The leap would almost be beyond belief, if it wasn’t our reality. The corn harvest, you see, used to be a twice every 5 year deal. Outputs were limited by the amount of organic nitrogen in soil, and the ability of corn to stand up straight – they need a fair bit of space to grow, so a yield of 20 bushels per acre in the 1920s was the norm. A few events changed the corn landscape forever: the rise of hybrid corn seeds (and now new GMO corn) developed for thicker stalks and roots which enabling planting much closer together (like high density housing, in a way) and World War 2. That’s right. World War 2 left the US with huge supplies of ammonium nitrate, used for explosives (also, FYI – WW2 poison gases = the advent of pesticides). Someone bright realised this stock of chemical nitrogen could be used as a fertiliser to artificially replenish nitrogen stocks in the soil, allowing corn harvests year on year on year. And what do we now use to make these artificial fertilisers and pesticides? Fossil fuels. Every bushel of industrial corn consumes at least 1/3 of a gallon of oil in its life cycle. 180 bushels per acre is the current standard – fuelled by oil.
And you know what? It just gets worse. Because corn is no longer a profitable crop. In fact, if it wasn’t for the US government subsidising corn farmers to the tune of over $5 billion dollars a year, they’d all go bankrupt. There is so much corn produced, whole industries have developed around it. It’s why steer are fed corn in feedlots (resulting in much fattier meat, and meat that increases health risks like heart disease), and why over a third of supermarket products contain corn byproducts. The consequences of the corn industry are too many to explain here – nitrogen run off into the ocean which suffocates marine ecosystems, contribution to global warming, food born diseases, antibiotic resistance and increased non-communicable diseases (heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes.).
It comes back to corn, capitalism, and the industrialisation of our food chain. The book also explores two other alternative food chains – the organic market and industrial organics (think farmers markets all the way to Wholefoods) and self-sourcing all local food. It’s changed the way I think about where my food comes from, who benefits from it, and what the consequences are of the ingredients I buy. And no, it’s not necessarily trying to persuade you towards vegetarianism – though reducing meat intake would be no bad thing for the planet. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for your next read.
But back to these ahi tuna poke bowls! Corn features here too, but in a much truer sense – corn cobs husked, brushed with olive oil and grilled until juicy, bright yellow and charred in spots. It’s tossed in a spicy cabbage slaw, flavoured with a light coating of japanese mayonnaise, sriracha and roasted sesame sauce. Fresh cubes of tuna marinate in a shoyu ginger sauce. Just add a bed of rice, chunks of juicy mango, edamame beans, creamy avocado and and a sesame furikake for the best poke bowl I’ve ever eaten.
They came about by happy accident – the shoyu tuna adapted from Fix Feast Flair, the corn slaw a late addition, inspired by Ottolenghi’s technique of soaking the cabbage in vinegar to slightly soften the flavour and crunch, and take the harshness away from red onion. Perfect for the muggy summer evenings hanging over Auckland at the moment.
Ahi tuna poke bowls - fresh tuna marinated in a sweet soy ginger dressing, and served with a spicy grilled corn slaw, mango, edamame beans and avocado.
- 400-500 g very fresh ahi (yellowfin) tuna - sashimi grade
- 3 tablespoons shoyu sauce (soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic , crushed
- 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
- 1 large ripe avocado
- 300-400 g green cabbage , thinly sliced
- 1/2 small red onion (~80g), sliced
- 1/3 cup white vinegar (combined with 2/3 cup water)
- 2 fresh cobs corn , husked
- 1/3 cup chopped coriander
- 30 g Japanese mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame sauce (Kewpie, usually)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1-2 teaspoons sriracha sauce , to taste
- 200 g edamame beans (defrosted if frozen)
- 1 large mango , chopped into chunks
- 1 lebanese cucumber , sliced
- furikake seasoning (sub toasted sesame seeds if you don’t have any)
- white, brown or black rice, cooked
Combine the shoyu sauce, kecap manis, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and red chilli flakes in a bowl. Chop the tuna into cubes and add to the sauce, stirring to thoroughly coat. Refrigerate for at least at an hour.
Put your rice on to cook.
Combine the green cabbage and red onion in a large bowl. Bring the white vinegar and water to a simmer in a small pot, and then pour over the green cabbage mix. Leave for 15-20 minutes while you prep the other ingredients.
Brush the corn with olive oil. On a barbecue grill plate or grill pan, cook the corn for 8-10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until browned and starting to char in spots. Leave to cool slightly and then cut the corn kernels off the cobs. (If you don’t have a grill, an alternative is to cut the raw corn off the cobs and sauté in a hot pan with olive oil).
Make the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, sesame sauce, lemon juice and sriracha.
Transfer the cabbage mix to a colander and rinse under cold water. Shake as much water out as you can, then leave to drip dry for a few more minutes. Combine the cabbage with the corn, & coriander then toss the dressing through.
Prep the remaining ingredients: edamame beans defrosted, mango chopped, cucumber sliced.
Chop the avocado and stir through the shoyu tuna mix.
Serve up bowls with a base of rice, a heap of corn slaw, tuna, edamame, mango, cucumber and top with furikake seasoning.
- Find the freshest tuna you can. I know in other countries often it’s specifically labelled sashimi grade. In NZ just ask the fish monger if it would be suitable for sashimi - I got mine from Farro, where it was fresh that morning. You can also sub in sashimi grade salmon if that’s easier to find.
- Shoyu sauce is Japanese soy sauce - less salty and strong than other soy sauces.
- If you don’t have a grill pan or barbecue grill to cook the corn, an alternative is to cut the raw corn kernels off the cobs and sauté in a hot pan with olive oil until brown in places.
- Japanese mayonnaise, sriracha and kewpie roasted sesame dressing are available in most NZ supermarkets.
- Edamame beans are often found in the frozen section by the peas - just make sure to buy podded beans so you don’t have to pod them all!
- Furikake can be found in NZ at Asian markets or specialty food stores like Farro.