Aloha, loco moco fans! 🌈
To tell you the truth, I haven’t eaten authentic loco moco in Hawaii for years and years. Since I started to cut out carbs and eat healthier, the generous scoops of rice drenched in gravy, topped with an American-sized meat patty, with a side scoop of mayonnaise macaroni salad, (ugh) even thinking about loco moco makes me feel bloated and heavy. Since I’ve always been attracted by the Japan-influenced concept, its goofy name, and all things Hawaii, I decided to create a healthy version of loco moco to share with you. Poof!–out of my imagination, an entirely different monster of a meal was born!
Jump to the recipe
What is Loco Moco?
Before I even did the research on this signature Hawaiian dish, I could only assume that the original loco moco had roots from Japan. Even with the Spanish sounding name, and what at first glance looks like mashed potatoes and gravy, everything else about loco moco says “I’m from Japan.”
The story goes, kids from a sports club were eating at the Lincoln Grill in Hilo, Hawaii. They wanted to eat something inexpensive that wasn’t a sandwich, so they asked Nancy, one of the proprietors, if she could put a hamburger patty over a bowl of rice with some gravy. Apparently, the egg on top came later.
The teenagers named the dish “Loco Moco” after one of their members, George Okimoto, whose nickname was “Crazy”. George Takahashi, who was studying Spanish at Hilo High School, suggested using “loco”, which is Spanish for crazy. They tacked on “moco” which rhymed with loco and sounded good at the time…
(If you’re Spanish-speaking, you’re probably wondering if “moco” refers to the runny egg yolk or the the gravy. 😉 )
A new healthy Loco Moco
Originally, I wanted to make it 100% vegetarian.
When I first came up with the idea, I imagined it with a veggie burger patty, like my favorite black bean and beet burger lettuce wraps at Down to Earth Supermarket in Honolulu.
The one problem– I went to the Aeon supermarket where I usually buy organic beets…
Ahh!– Where were the beets?
Of course, it’s the first week of September– they’re not in season.
Beets are not that easy to find in Japan to begin with, neither are store-bought veggie burgers. And just for your information, my pun also got lost in translation. (;
As an alternative to going veggie, I used my favorite minced jidori free-range chicken, which I stuffed with diced renkon lotus root. This reduced the amount of meat I used to make the patty and added some crunchy texture.
My friend, Luke, posted on Facebook how he’s keeping track of his meat consumption to reduce the overall amount of red meat, chicken, and fish he’s eating for environmental reasons. I liked that idea.
A blueprint (above): drawing a sketch made it much easier to figure out how I wanted my loco moco to look on the plate. Visualizing each vertical layer, I decided which ingredients should go where based on their shape, texture, taste, and temperature.
“Redesign” of a classic Hawaiian Dish
I wanted this dish to be a multiple-sensory experience, a journey from top to bottom. I envisioned each bite being a new combination or contrast for your senses: crispy with soft, warm with crunchy, salty on creamy. To truly enjoy its rewards, you would have to slow down, like dancing the hula with your spoon, and learn to experience your meal mindfully.
Ingredients for Healthy Loco Moco
Starting at the Base–
After creating my last recipe for cauliflower fried rice, I still wanted to experiment more with cauliflower rice.
This time, I made the cauliflower rice with coconut oil rather than grass-fed butter so I would feel more like I was on a tropical island vacation.
Another inspiration I had from Hawaii, I wanted to build up the layers of ingredients vertically like a volcano, you know, with melting yolk lava on top (see pictures towards the end of this post.)
I used orange cauliflower for the base, because that’s what was on sale. Sprinkled with a bit dried nori seaweed flakes, I built two crisscrossed stacks of pickled daikon radish, like if you were making a beach hut or a log cabin.
For one more crispy vegetable layer and some color, I made a platform of thin cucumber slices for the renkon-chicken burger patty to sit on.
Grilled onions on top of the patty, half an avocado, all smothered in extra virgin olive oil– and finally, the lava-spewing crater, I topped the summit with a fried egg, diced tomato, and green onion.
Stack up those Veggies to the Sky
We love eating foods that come in multi-layers: layered cake, high-end chocolate pastries, parfaits, ice cream sundaes, double cheeseburgers, lasagna…
The layers represent luxury, indulgence, and “special treat” in our brains.
You can dig down through the eight-layers of this loco moco, mixing the different textures and flavors on your spoon: warm, caramelized onion, refreshing cucumber, and avocado drizzled in olive oil. Indulge! The one difference is, it’s all healthy.
I hope you try it and then invent some layers of your own! It’s easier to make than you might think.
The best part is you can make yourself a giant loco moco like this, as high as you can without it toppling over, and you’ll still be sticking to your healthy diet, guilt-free!
Loco Moco? Where’s the gravy?
Towards the top–
I smothered my healthy loco moco in olive oil as my gravy.
Yes, I know it’s a cop-out. Olive oil is so easy and makes everything it touches taste good.
Midway through creating this recipe, I considered making a low-carb gravy out of chickpeas. It was a good idea, but I didn’t have enough time… or chickpeas.
When I can’t find an ingredient and I know looking further will only waste time, I make do with what I can find and whatever is fresh and in season.
I have no doubt that even a smear of store-bought hummus under your meat or veggie patty would be amazing.
Another idea: I’d also recommend grilling mushrooms with the onions– that could even be turned into gravy. Your secret sauce!
How to make healthy, low-carb Loco Moco
Loco Moco with Cauliflower Rice
Cauliflower Rice Ingredients
- 1/2 head cauliflower medium-sized
- 1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
- 2-4 pinches dried nori seaweed flakes
Loco Moco Ingredients
- 1/4 daikon radish cut into 8-10 thin sticks
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 10-12 slices Japanese cucumber thinly sliced
- 3 slices renkon lotus root, diced
- 100 grams minced chicken = 3.5 oz (about 1/4 lb)
- 1/2 sweet onion medium size
- 1-2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 avocado medium to large size, thinly sliced
- 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 dashes matcha-flavored salt regular sea salt ok too!
- 1 free-range egg
- 2-3 cherry tomatoes, diced
- green onion, diced as garnish
- ground pepper
- leafy green lettuce or mixed greens on the side
Pickled Daikon Radish Prep
Chop a small section of daikon radish (approx. 4 in / 10 cm long).
Cut daikon into thin sticks (approx. 4 in / 10 cm long).
Put daikon sticks into a small bowl.
Add rice vinegar and salt.
Cover and let sit 30 minutes (or the time you are prepping and cooking).
Cauliflower Rice Prep and Cooking
Finely chop cauliflower with a knife, box shredder, or food processor.
Add cauliflower to a small saucepan.
Add coconut oil and mix.
Cover saucepan with lid and cook on low heat for approx. 10 min. Stir occasionally. *
When cauliflower becomes tender, turn off heat and let sit with the cover on.
Hamburger Prep and Cooking
Dice renkon lotus root.
Cook renkon on low heat until it begins to brown.
Place renkon in a small bowl. Add minced chicken.
Using your hands, mix renkon and minced chicken to form a patty.
Slice onion into medium size chunks and set aside.
In a frypan, cook hamburger patty on low to medium-low heat.
Add onion chunks and 1 tbsp of butter around the circumference of burger patty.
Stir onions and flip burger when bottom side begins to brown.