Comfort Food From The Soup Lady

For 10 years, Helen Lacono and her daughter Andrea Pisciotta Kaohi owned and operated the Hanapepe Cafe, which was known for soups and salads. After an emergency trip to Wilcox Hospital, Lacono closed the cafe, leased the ovens to Midnight Bear Breads and went to her home state of California to heal holistically. It’s been more than a year since she declined open-heart surgery and 12 prescription medications.

Today, she’s bursting with youthful energy, serving the ultimate comfort food and just released a cookbook.

Every Wednesday at The Shops at Kukuiula, Lacono sells freshly made soup at the Kaua’i Culinary Market. I go on a balmy, end-of-summer afternoon. Even though the market has just opened, there’s a cluster of people around her table. Some come every week and know they have four soups to choose from. They just don’t know which, because the soups are handcrafted with the bounty of the season. Others are here for the first time, and slurp samples into eager mouths.

Each container holds 16 ounces of soup (2 cups) and costs $10. Lacono always brings the sought-after Hungarian Mushroom Soup with cream, butter, Hungarian paprika, loads of dill and button mushrooms. It’s rich and creamy, and a touch of cayenne pepper gives it a little kick.

“Most of my soups are very healthy,” explains Lacono. “In the program I was in, they encourage you to eat something warm first thing in the morning.”

To heal, Lacono used functional medicine, which addresses underlying causes of disease through a patient-centered approach. Practitioners learn patient history through lengthy examinations of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, which influence long-term health and chronic disease.

“My chicken soup is very healing for the body, and I make the broth from scratch,” explains Lacono. “I try really hard to not use gluten, and I use as much organic produce from this farmers market as I can. I like to support our farmers, they’re wonderful people.”

Lacono’s creamy Lentil, Coconut and Kaffir Lime Soup is especially healthy. Tiny orange lentils are cooked until they disintegrate. Kaffir lime leaves are steeped in the puree, and soy sauce and coconut milk are blended into a nourishing soup.

Chunky bits of ground turkey add a pleasant chew to the Taco Soup spiced with cumin. Fat kidney beans and bright corn kernels float in a flavorful broth, making it a hearty soup.

Pineapple Avocado Gazpacho Soup is a Hawaiian twist on a Spanish classic. The refreshing soup is loaded with vegetables and served cold. Ripe tomatoes, juicy cucumber, sweet pineapple, silky avocado, garlic and crisp peppers are mixed with rice vinegar and tomato juice.

Since these soups are made fresh, Lacono says I can keep them in the refrigerator for about one week. That’s great, but I plan to eat mine for dinner. Leaving the market, I buy some freshly baked bread from the Living Foods Market table.

If you’d like to make her soup, visit Ada and Arie Keone at the culinary market. They sell copies of Lacono’s book, Kaua’i Farmers’ Market Soups ($15), for which Ada was the photographer. The cookbook features 16 of her most popular soups, including Hungarian Mushroom. There are three cold soups, including Pineapple-Avocado Gazpacho; seven vegetarian and vegan soups, including Lentil, Coconut and Kaffir Lime; three chicken soups and three seafood soups.

“Soup is universal and the ultimate comfort food,” says Lacono, “and God knows, in this day and age, we need comfort food!”

Kaua’i Farmers Market Soups are available at:

Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe, and Kaua’i Culinary Market Wednesdays, 4-6 p.m.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit