Global flavours at home
Around the seventies, we rejected the traditional food of England and Scotland that had arrived with the early settlers and embraced world cuisines. We have never looked back. This was possibly a combo of Kiwis travelling everywhere, lots of immigrants whose food we liked and television that brought exotic cooking into our homes.
We don’t have a list of dishes that denote our cuisine as places like France or China do, but there is no need to whine about not having a national cuisine. That we don’t may be our national cuisine, or we may simply have an ingredient-based cuisine. Who cares. Trying to define it in rigid terms takes the enjoyment out of the food. I see food eclecticism as an advantage to be enjoyed, Thai one night, Spanish the next. Just make sure you know how to cook the traditional dish, then do what all Kiwi cooks do, play around with it using our ingredients.
The following ideas may make purists shudder but having eaten the originals and enjoyed re-tasting when visiting the appropriate country, they are my versions of some favourites.
One of our family’s most popular meals is what we called “Vietnamese barbecue”, an idea that came from watching the women cook over fire on the streets of Hanoi when I first went to Vietnam. It was based on a small bowl of the universal Vietnamese sauce made with equal parts lime juice and fish sauce, a dash of water, sugar to sweeten, sliced garlic and chilli. This is served with steamed jasmine rice, barbecued, fried or grilled chicken, beef or pork which is then sliced, (fish or prawns are also good) with sliced cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce and fresh herbs such as dill, basil, coriander and mint. Everyone helps themselves.
As it is quite hard to get real veal here, I make the classic Roman “saltimbocca” with pork schnitzel. Use toothpicks to pin a couple of sage leaves and a slice of prosciutto to slices of pork schnitzel, dust with flour and pan-fry until golden. Remove, add some white wine and butter to the pan, boil to reduce a little and serve over the pork — Kiwi/Italian. Good with mashed agrias and broccolini.
Make a tasty, hot/sour, vaguely Thai-style salad with pan-fried sirloin steak barbecued medium rare, sliced on the diagonal into thin slices, a dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, chilli flakes, coriander and thin sliced shallots and served on halved cherry tomatoes, blanched green beans and a sprinkling of crushed roasted peanuts.
For my Kiwi spin on coq au vin, or chicken in wine, fry lots of button mushrooms, baby onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and bacon in a little butter and add this to flour-dusted, browned chicken pieces in a big casserole. Cover with red wine and a little chicken stock, cover and bake for an hour at 190C.
I love being able to buy all sorts of Indian and Middle Eastern flatbreads and I particularly like wrapping warm flatbread around a dry potato curry with a dollop of yoghurt and some spicy Indian mango chutney. The curry is just a flavour base of fried onions, cumin seeds, kalonji seeds, fennel seeds, finely chopped ginger and garlic slow-fried for about 10 minutes before adding ground turmeric and 3cm chunks of raw potatoes. Add water to almost cover, bring the mix to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are tender and the water evaporated. Taste, season and serve.
6. Pacific Islands
My go-to Pasifika dish is my Fijian/Indian version of kokoda, or raw marinated fish. Marinate 2cm pieces of white fish in lime juice until white, drain, then add coconut cream, finely diced red capsicum, chopped spring onions, toasted cumin seeds, chopped coriander and chilli. Serve with poppadoms.
They give slices away when you buy a drink in Spain but anyone can make tortilla espanola, the thick potato and onion frittata loved by the Spanish. Slow fry lots of sliced onions and thin-sliced potatoes in olive oil until just tender. Remove, clean the pan and cool the potato mixture. Add lots of beaten eggs to the mixture and pour into hot olive oil in the frying pan. Fry on low heat very gently for 20 minutes or so then invert on to a dinner plate and slide back into the pan, uncooked side down (or place in a 200C oven like a frittata and let it cook through). Cool and serve warm or cold as a snack, with drinks, or with salad for a meal. Dead versatile!
All that precision cutting and general perfection involved in making Japanese food can be off-putting. But a Kiwi chirashi sushi (or “scattered sushi”, native to Tokyo) is no trouble. Make some sushi rice, (I always use Shizuo Tsuji’s recipe in Japanese Food a Simple Art) fanning it to cool it quickly so it soaks up the rice vinegar dressing. Place this in your best bowls, place thinly sliced super-fresh raw fish on top. Artistically scatter the following on top: The thinnest egg, egg yolk and soy sauce-seasoned omelette, thinly sliced, rehydrated dried mushrooms that have been simmered in soy sauce and mirin for 10 minutes, cooled and sliced, halved prawns that have been lightly poached in salted water, blanched snow peas, pickled pink ginger, wasabi and Japanese soy sauce in a small jug for pouring.
My nod to Chinese cooking is a big bowl of well-flavoured chicken stock with ginger and garlic, lots of thick egg noodles, prawns and sliced chicken breast that was cooked in the stock, wilted baby bok choy and sliced spring onions. Serve with soy sauce and chilli bean sauce on the side. Lunch in Hong Kong.