10 spring dinners
It’s time to “lighten up”, a phrase I couldn’t find in the dictionary because I suspect it is a modern Americanism, but a phrase most of us are familiar with.
Though your hairdresser may use it to inspire a new look or your shrink might tell you everyone would be better-adjusted if they permanently lightened up, I am talking about food here.
Spring is on the way. It is officially that time of year. The weather is giving me hints but then cruelly punishing me just when I think there are blue skies ahead. The produce displays in the supermarket won’t necessarily reflect a change in season unless you look carefully for seasonal Kiwi produce among the imported offerings. (Do I want tasteless imported plums in the middle of winter? The hell I do!) Check prices as seasonal is usually cheaper. Better to head to your local market if you want a handle on the seasonal produce available.
Not the cherry tomatoes; tomatoes transcend seasonality — they all seem to come from hothouses anyway. If you grow your own that is a different matter as growing things does tend to put you in touch with nature, not to mention great flavour.
I am getting ready to leave warming soups and big slow-cooked casseroles behind for another year, and the thought fills me with a certain degree of excitement (but then anything to do with food fills me with excitement — I should get out more). If you are feeling like me, it’s time to try some of the following lighter options (or is that “lite”? Also not in the dictionary).
Season some pieces of salmon fillet with salt and grill or panfry until just cooked. Serve these on a hot steamed jasmine rice salad which contains plenty of finely chopped ginger, dill, mint, coriander, thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, long-strand coconut fried in a little oil, a finely chopped clove of garlic, lots of chopped roasted unsalted peanuts and a dressing of equal parts fish sauce and fresh lime juice, finely chopped fresh pineapple, sliced red chilli, a little sesame oil and grated dark palm sugar to sweeten.
Buy some of the very thick New York cut sirloin steaks. Rub with lots of garlic, freshly ground black pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Barbecue or panfry the steak until done the way you like it then rest and slice thinly across the grain of the meat (you don’t need one each). Serve with a small bowl of sour cream mixed with plenty of chopped dill and grated horseradish (I use Delmaine traditional grated horseradish), a bowl of bought sauerkraut (love that stuff), steamed asparagus and lots of agria potatoes, peeled, cut into wedges, tossed with a little extra virgin olive oil and roasted at 220C for about an hour until crisp and brown, Nordic steak and chips!
Panfry or grill some chorizos and serve sliced, with sliced avocado, paper thin slices of radish, sliced red onion, baby cos leaves and steamed rice. Put lots of chopped semi-dried tomatoes, sliced red chilli, sliced chargrilled red capsicums, pitted kalamata olives and parsley sprigs into a bowl and add some red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Taste, season and serve spooned over everything.
Dunk some free range, skinned and boned chicken thighs in a mix of Japanese soy sauce, crushed garlic, a little vegetable oil and sugar. Barbecue until cooked through and serve on lots of cold cellophane noodles, with a mix of diced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped roasted peanuts, Thai sweet chilli sauce, coriander sprigs and lime juice.
Cut pork ribs into individual ribs and place in a roasting dish with a bottle of tomato passata, a splash of soy sauce, sugar, dried wild oregano, chilli flakes, red wine vinegar, a little chicken stock and lots of chopped garlic. Spread the ribs out and slow roast for 1-1½ hours or until the meat is almost falling off the bones and the cooking liquid reduced. Serve with a big stack of warm flour tortillas, sliced spring onions, tomatoes and cucumbers, sour cream and hot sauce (Kaitaia Fire is my pick).
Make a Kiwi version of duck banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Take the meat off half a bought Chinese roast duck or panfry a couple of duck breasts and slice thinly. Slice a couple of proper French baguettes in half horizontally (I would go straight to La Voie Francaise in Auckland’s Dominion Rd for these) and stuff with the duck, grated carrot, thin sliced gherkins, blanched mung bean sprouts, cucumber, coriander, mint and sweet chilli sauce. If you want a richer version, spread the bread with pate first. Cut each baguette into thirds and serve.
Boil some Italian dried spaghetti until al dente, drain and place in a warm serving bowl. Toss with extra virgin olive oil, chopped parsley, garlic, hot boiled sliced green beans and plenty of coarsely crumbled canned tuna, drained of its olive oil. Serve each portion with a soft poached egg on top and a drizzle of your best balsamic vinegar.
My go-to light meal when travelling is always a hotel club sandwich. So pretend you’re room service and make a deluxe version with four layers of toast filled with prosciutto, sliced barbecued garlicky chicken thighs, crisply fried pancetta, sliced provolone cheese, baby cos leaves, rocket leaves, sliced tomato and mayonnaise.
Puree a couple of cans of white beans with lemon juice, garlic, tahini and extra virgin olive oil. Spread on a warm serving platter. Barbecue or fry lots of French lamb cutlets, rubbed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano, for a few minutes over high heat and serve on the puree with rocket leaves, parsley and lemon wedges for squeezing. Serve with a side of well seasoned Turkish-style salad made by mixing diced peeled, seeded cucumber with thick plain unsweetened yoghurt, chopped garlic, dill and mint.
Season boned, skinned kingfish fillets, dust in flour and fry in extra virgin olive oil until browned but just cooked through. Remove from the pan and wipe out any burnt flour with a paper towel. Add a little more oil, finely chopped red onion, raisins that have been soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and drained well, and roasted pinenuts. Fry gently until the onion is soft then add baby spinach leaves and a big splash of balsamic vinegar. Boil and let the spinach wilt and serve over the kingfish with steamed sweet stem broccoli and rice on the side.