Ask Peter: Matariki
With Matariki almost upon us I thought it might be good to offer some tips on how to bring your cooking in-line with what should be a national celebration.
After all, if we celebrate Guy Fawkes, which marks an attempted terrorist attack on the British Houses of Parliament in 1605, then why not celebrate the start of a new lunar year here in New Zealand which with it brings thanks for the previous 12 months, and high hopes for the year ahead. The planting of many of our vegetables happens around this time, and my ancestors certainly hoped for an abundance of kai in the months ahead. What’s not to celebrate?
On a TV show I headed, Native Kitchen, which aired on Maori Television, so I expect you all to tune in and watch it, one of the really interesting dishes cooked on the show was created by Tash Kopae, a Kaitaia-based chef who makes the most delicious fry-bread, which she sells in her local market stuffed with thinly sliced steak and salad, rather like a pita sandwich.
Fry bread differs from rewena bread (for which Geoff Scott shared a recipe last June) in many ways. Rewena is made by firstly creating a potato-based starter as you would a sourdough. Fry-bread is made much easier by mixing flour and baking powder with a little salt and sugar then mixing in water — in many ways it’s like a very thick batter. Rewena bread needs a good eight minutes kneading to give it strength to rise and stay put, whereas fry-bread benefits from barely any mixing — which would otherwise make it tough.
What Tash did, and I’d never seen it before, was to make small discs of her dough (some of which we coloured and flavoured with pandan extract) and then stuff them with abanana and sugar mixture, before deep frying them. This produced doughnut like balls that were deliciously fabulous, especially when taken out of the fryer and rolled in sugar.
I’ve also made mayonnaise with fresh kawakawa leaves blitzed into the mixture. Though not everyone will be able to get them fresh, you can use slightly less dried kawakawa instead. If you have a bush growing nearby, chose 3-4 of the smaller leaves, ideally those with a few insect bites taken out of them, as this shows they are ready. Remove the stem and thicker veins, shred the leaves thinly then add to the egg yolks and mustard at the start of your mixing (if using a food processor) and before you start drizzling in the oil. This goes really well with battered fish, grilled steak, pork chops and a chicken sandwich.
Karengo seaweed, usually sold dried, is another delicious indigenous ingredient. It’s fantastic added to roast veges. Roughly chop or pound it to large flakes with a mortar and pestle, and toss in with roast spuds, carrots and kumara when they’re about half-cooked. The crisper karengo is the better it tastes, so keep cooking it. You can toast it on its own, in an oven set to 160C, on a tray with barely a drizzle of oil on it, until golden and crispy. This is great sprinkled on seafood risotto, grilled salmon steaks, mashed spuds and tossed through spaghetti marinara.
Horopito is known as bush pepper and it’s another leaf that can be found fresh in New Zealand, but more often you’ll find it dried. I like to mix it with salt crystals in a salt grinder and use it to season my food once cooked, or in the last minutes on the barbecue. It can also be used instead of black pepper in other dishes, but it’s especially great in a beef casserole, using miso paste and soy sauce instead of salt, as the flavour is incredibly earthy. Go easy on it though, you can always add more if the dish needs it. I recently roasted Maori potatoes with cauliflower, and it was completely delicious. Boil the scrubbed potatoes in heavily salted water for 5 minutes, then drain and slice them into large chunks. Mix them with an equal amount of cauliflower florets, heaps of sliced garlic (and I’m talking at least half a head) and a few tablespoons of sesame seeds. Toss with olive oil, be generous, and roast at 200C untilthe potatoes are cooked and the cauliflower golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then toss with ½ cup plain yoghurt mixed with the juice of half a lemon, 3 tablespoons tahini (or peanut butter!) and a handful of shredded parsley.
Peter has written on Matariki before, check out his article Kai time.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.