There’s certainly a plus to fertile soil, constant rain and amped-up grow seasons. Within fifty yards of my front door, for example, I can scrounge up avos, papayas, grapefruits, lemons, limes, coconuts, guavas, mac nuts and ginger. A lil’ walk around the ‘hood adds noni, mangos, aloe, apple bananas, mountain apples, tangerines, breadfruit, ‘shrooms (yeah, da kine), Hawaiian peppers, lemongrass, taro, sugarcane and pineapples. For a longer hike, I grab the backpack for coffee beans, cacao pods, sapote, soursop, jackfruit, dragonfruit, warabi, lychee, rambutan, starfruit… And that’s not even mentioning what’s planted in the garden or the amazing array of tropical flowers available to decorate a feast.
One machete, telescoping saw, fruit picker, spear and a dash of ingenuity (plus a little trespassing) and you can certainly survive off the land. The ability to climb a coconut tree doesn’t hurt either.
A locale with such a variety of fruits ripening at different times makes for fun foraging for cocktail beverage ingredients. A huge plus if corn syrup, artificial flavors and sodium benzoate make you wanna hurl (and let’s face it, most margarita mixes are disgusting).
Now for the tequila. Foraging on the cheap in Hawai’i stores can be difficult, so I opt for Costco’s Kirkland Añejo. Though most connoisseurs will say añejo and extra añejo are best sipped as they’re too expensive for mixing and don’t mix well with citrus, this one is different. It’s inexpensive and comes in a nice huge bottle, is decently smooth and masks well in large quantities. And I think the fact that it’s not as good as most quality añejos actually works to its advantage in this case. Other agave tequilas in this price range just don’t compete (and I don’t like clear tequila). Plus if the mixers are mostly free, and the alcohol is relatively inexpensive, you can afford to invite more friends over to share.
Right now, it’s lilikoi (aka passionfruit) season. Typically, lilikoi is sweet and sour with some grounding bitterness in the seeds. It’s quite refreshing but the most common varieties can be a little too tart. Then there are Jamaican lilikois – a whole other ball game. A perfectly well-rounded blend of all those flavors without the sharp edges. They grow on vines and cover certain landscapes, usually hanging just out of reach on trees. This is where a fruit picker comes in handy. Often, you will find pinhole bug pricks but unlike guava, the skin is thick and the fruit acidic, so the insides are typically clean – but definitely keep your eye on soft fruit.
The amounts I’m giving aren’t precise. I’m leaving room for people to feel it out and create to taste. You may want less alcohol on a full moon, more alcohol after a stressful day ;P. Depending on the mood, I make it different every time and usually serve it on the rocks. If you like your margaritas blended, you should pre-freeze some lime juice.
One shaker’s worth of The Lilikoi Margarita:
- 3 Jamaican lilikoi. Cut and squeeze out contents: juice and seeds. You can also in a cheese cloth to get the most juice out of it but I don’t bother. I like to freeze these in ice cube trays for the off-season; also works well for the blended version.
- 3-4 Key limes, depending on size and juiciness; best if you can pick fresh and let them sit a few days. Those cheap mesh bags full of key limes at the grocery store, usually from Mexico, picked too green, coated in carnauba wax, that you can barely squeeze a drop of juice out of? Yeah, skip those.
- 1 orange (optional)
- 1 tbsp coconut syrup or 1-3 tbsp simple syrup* made with raw coconut sugar (optional; if you add the orange you probably don’t need any; note that raw coconut sweeteners are less glycemic than agave syrup)
- 3 shots tequila (Kirkland’s Agave or a nice reposado)
- 1/2-1 shot Cointreau
- Ice cubes
- Alaea salt (pink Hawaiian) or Li Hing Mui (ume/dried plum; OnoPops makes a natural variety as most are chock full o’ red dye and aspartame.)
* Simple sugar: On a stove top, low heat, equal parts sugar and water. Stir. No need to overdo it; only heat just enough for the sugar to dissolve.
Add ingredients and ice to shaker; shake well; strain over ice. I allow some lilikoi seeds and lime pulp to pour into my drinks. If you like salted rims, rub lime on the rim and dip in the finely ground Hawai’i Alaea or Li Hing Mui. If starfruit is in season, cut a star-shaped slice and use as garnish.
P.S. If you are visiting Kauai and would rather snorkel than forage, the best margaritas on the North Shore can be found at the St. Regis (they make a nice one with ginger) and The Tavern (get the Lychee-Rita; if you don’t like yours too tart, ask for a little extra lychee puree). By the way, I often add ginger to my margaritas, but I prefer them with grapefruit and lychee. I’ll do that recipe when I’m drunk during lychee season.