Lau Lau flavored Kale

Lau laus are a favorite island food.

Traditionally a pieces of pork and salted fish wrapped in layers of luau (taro) leaves, then ti leaves, and finally steamed in an underground pit (imu) for several hours. Today they are mostly cooked in steamers or even crockpots .

The luau leaves end up soft, smoky and savory– they’re my favorite part of the lau lau. In fact, I’d be happy just eating the luau leaves alone.


Kale and beet greens in bowl

Torn Kale and Beet Greens

Twenty years ago, it was hard to find taro leaves in California. Now I see them available in most of the Asian grocery stores.

In past years, I’ve used swiss chard successfully in making lau laus in my crockpot. Swiss chard seemed a much better substitution than the mostly recommended spinach, as it doesn’t have the slightly gritty feel in your mouth that cooked spinach often has.

Kale and beet greens, close up

Sometimes greens seem so mysterious…I look at them and wonder what secrets they hold, hidden in all their glistening bumps and crevices.

Generally, leafy greens are high in vitamins C and A, and also a good source of iron and calcium. With the several hours of cooking time for lau laus, the heat sensitive Vitamin C is pretty much obliterated, but the Vitamin A and minerals remain intact still making it very nutritious.

While taro (luau) leaves, like taro root, need to be well cooked (to destroy the naturally occurring oxalates that would cause your mouth and throat to itch), greens like kale and beet greens do not need to be cooked for a long period of time.

Kale especially has been very popular recent years, with a deluge of recipes for raw salads and dishes abounding. I like raw kale salads, but after eating a half cup, I’m done. Cooked kale, soft and flavored like lau lau leaves though– I could eat heaps and heaps of it!

Sea salt and liquid smoke

Just two simple ingredients required:  Sea salt and Liquid Smoke.

For the liquid smoke, try to get a brand like Wright’s in which there are only two ingredients–water and liquid hickory smoke concentrate. Other brands can contain sugar, coloring, preservatives and other additives which are undesirable.
Lau Lau flavored Kale, angled view

Simply add a touch of sea salt, a dash of liquid smoke, some water and cook until the leaves are just soft and tender.
In about 15 minutes, it’s lau lau greens heaven. Great served with grilled salmon or chicken, and even rice alone!

Makes for a nice green dish for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day too.


Lau Lau Flavored Kale
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A quick and easy way to cook greens to taste like taro leaves in Hawaiian lau lau.
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Island style
Serves: 5
  • 6 c. washed, de-stemmed kale leaves, cut or torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1-1/2 c. water
  • ⅛ tsp. sea salt or to taste
  • ⅛ tsp. liquid smoke
  1. Place water into a large pot. Add kale. Sprinkle with salt and liquid smoke. Turn heat on high. Cover pot and let cook for 5 minutes. Stir, turn heat down to low and cook covered another 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Add more water if needed to make sure there's always liquid at the bottom of the pot so the leaves don't dry and burn. When done, the kale should be tender yet still fairly bright in color.
  2. Note: Chopped beet green leaves may also be used.