It is not often that one gets to be witness to the evolution of a cuisine, so I feel lucky to have watched Australian Cuisine evolve over the years. I have been associated with Australia and New Zealand, for more than 20 years.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. One day a free spirit wandered into her life, and opened up a whole new world for her. That girl was me and the free spirit was Garry Craft. Rifling through my diary after a trip to Nepal at about 16, I found an address in my diary for a Garry Craft. I never actually figured out how it appeared in my book, but it was there! So I wrote to ask him if he remembered meeting me. He replied saying he didn’t either. But that first letter set of a correspondence that lasted a long time.
We developed a great friendship scripted through long, long letters that travelled oceans and forged bonds that lasted years. Garry was as Aussie as they could get and his lopsided scrawl and little suprises; a little Koala I could clip on my desk, books on Australia and a book of poems by an Australian poet called Nanushka, brought this great land down under, that I had only read about in The Thorn Birds alive for me. And then we finally met at my 18th birthday – his gift to me. By which time I was a card carrying (if there ever was one) Australia obsessed person. He came bringing with him all sorts of Australian things including an Akubra hat made to measure (the kind that the Sheep shearers wear) for me, that I still have and the offer to come and study in Australia. Studying there never happened for me, there were no scholarships and Dad was not willing to let me go so far.
Garry, died of cancer when I was 21 just 11 days after my dad passed away. And like our quiet friendship, that the world would not have understood (because he was 65 and I was 16) his death was a quiet loss I mourned along with my Dad’s. I continued to be associated with Australia, first as Aus and NZ specialist in my tenure with Beacon Holidays, my mom’s company and later as a food writer (Melbourne was the first place I travelled to as a food writer and it was a tough act to beat for other places I travelled to afterwards!)
And I remember at first trying to describe Australian cuisine as being very difficult to define. But my trip to Melbourne was one of wondrous discovery! You will never eat so well in your life as you will In Australia- I guarantee it! And if you have been watching Masterchef Australia, you will know what I mean! A recent episode of culinary competition Masterchef Australia, had the contestants cook up a “Modern Australian” meal. Modern Australian is the latest culinary trend to come out of Australia.
Prior to being so Christened Australian cooking was called international, fusion or contemporary, none of which did the vibrant cuisine of Australia justice. A blending of a variety of cuisines from around the world Modern Australian cuisine has no single identity to draw from, instead it has had to forge its identity from a recent colonial past and a rapidly evolving present. And Mod Oz as Modern Australian Cuisine is referred to affectionately, offers a unique food culture for Australia to call its own.
Rooted in influences from Native Australian bush tucker that sustained Aboriginals - the indigenous inhabitants of Australia - for thousands of years and the British Culinary traditions that the first settlers brought with them over 200 years ago. Many flavours from the immigrant communities that made it home, have been stirred in over the years beginning with the Chinese that the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century brought, taking the traditionally British palettes on a tour of the Orient as Chinese restaurants mushroomed in almost every Australian town. Then came the massive European influx post WWII bringing with them European and Middle Eastern specialities such as spaghetti, youvetsi and baba ganouj. And the latest addition to the pot, I think, is Indian! With so many young Indians making Australia home, Indian cuisine is definitely spicing things up down under.
Innovation has flourished in Australian Kitchens, and Modern Australian cuisine is an eclectic menu of dishes such as pasta, seafood laksa, dimsum, curry, bangers and mash and crème caramel. While classics such as Sunday roast, Meat Pies and “meat with three veg” continue to be the mainstay of Australian food culture, they are happily laid on a bed of pasta or couscous, garnished with Asian herbs and scented with Indian spices!
Although perhaps best known throughout the world for its love for BBQ, Modern Australian cuisine optimises on what they have to produce a Modern Australian cuisine that melds fabulous local produce, multicultural influences and culinary traditions from around the world. I was proud to showcase a Modern Australian meal as envisioned by me at my Culinary demonstration at Nature’s Basket on Monday to launch the Taste Australia festival that will run at all their stores through October. Drop in and celebrate a young, vibrant cuisine, there is lots on offer, most importantly two fabulously foodie holidays to Australia to be won!
A Modern Australian Meal
Spicy Prawn Coctail - (Time, 20 minutes; serves 4)
2 pkts Jumbo Prawns (20-24) peeled, deveined, tails intact
1 c cucumbers, inner green bits discarded and diced fine
1 c lettuce shredded
1/3 cup green onions, chopped fine
2 fresh Thai chillies, minced
1/2 c Seafood Cocktail sauce
1 tbsp chilli oil
In a bowl combine chilli, seafood cocktail sauce and chilli oil. Mix well and add cooked prawns. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours if time permits, to allow flavours to develop. Reserve in refrigerator. Combine lettuce, cucumbers and spring onions. To serve, spread confetti salad on individual plates or glasses and arrange 4-5 prawns on each. Serve chilled.
BBQ Asparagus, Macadamia and sun dried tomato salad Corn thins (Time: 20-30 mins, Serves 4)
500g fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 c Sundried tomatoes sliced
1/3 c macadamia nuts sliced
1-2 tbsp Sun dried tomato pesto
1 pkt Crackers
Salt to taste
Preheat barbecue, grill pan or pan to high. Place trimmed asparagus spears in a bowl and add olive oil. Toss to lightly coat the asparagus spears. Cook over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or as long as you like till you spears are cooked to desired tenderness. While still warm cut asparagus into tiny pieces. Place in a bowl, add the sundried tomato, macadamia nuts and 1 tbsp of tomato pesto. Toss well and taste. Add salt and taste again. Add remaining pesto, if you feel it is required. When ready to serve, spoon onto crackers and serve.
Aussie Mini Risoles with Native Mountain Pepper Dressing served with Baby Potato Salad and Baby Caramelised Onions, (Time 30-40 minutes, Serves 4)
400g chicken or spring lamb mince
5 Waterthins Baglettes, powdered
125g can corn kernels, drained
125g rindless bacon, finely chopped
1 bottle bush tomato sauce
2 tbsp Fointains barbecue sauce
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
Goldyna's Native Mountain Pepper Dressing to serve
Combine mince, corn, breadcrumbs, egg, bush tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, chives, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Using clean hands, mix well and shape mixture into little balls the size of baby potatoes, placing on a plate as you go. Cook rissoles, in a large frying pan sprayed with oil, over medium-high heat, for 3 to 5 minutes each side or until cooked through. Or bake in an oven till done. Serve on a platter with potato salad, onion, chives and Mointain pepper sauce.
Caramelized Baby Onions (Time 20 minutes, serves 4)
3 tablespoons butter
400 gms Madras onions or shallots - peeled
1/2 tsp sugar
4 Massells 7s chicken stock cubes dissolved in 1 cup hot water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a medium-size pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring over medium heat, until they just begin to turn golden, and the butter is almost nut brown. This step could take up to 10 minutes. It is very important to watch the butter carefully so it will not burn. Sprinkle the onions with sugar and pour in the stock. Cook over high heat until the onions are tender and the stock is evaporated, 6 to 7 minutes. Continue to cook, tossing or stirring, until the onions are coated with the golden butter glaze. Season very well with salt and pepper.
Curried Mayonnaise Potato Salad (Time 30 mins, Serves 4-6 as a side dish)
400g small potatoes, washed well
16 quail eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
2-3 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 c curried Mayonaise (Or Mayonaise with curry powder or Kitchen King stirred in)
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Place unpeeled potatoes in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover potatoes. Cover saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a medium boil and cook until potatoes are just tender (you should be able to pierce the potatoes with a knife and meet no resistance). Drain and cool. Halve potatoes. Heat oil in a pan and add halved potatoes, toss to coat and cook for a few minute to crisp up skins. Place in a bowl. Add halved quail eggs, green onions, mayonnaise and salt to taste. Toss well, and serve.
Lettuce ‘slaw’ with fresh herbs and seasonal fruit (Time 20 mins, Serves 4)
A modern take on the classic slaw using lettuce, grapes and seasonal fruit
1 small head lettuce
1 carrot finely julienned
1 small bulb Fennel or 1 pear
1 c grapes sliced
1/3 c Lime and Chilli Mayonnaise (or Mayonnaise with 1 tbsp minced chilli, and juice and zest of 1 lime squeezed in)
A few sprigs Coriander
In a large bowl, combine everything except mayonnaise and chill. When ready to serve add mayonnaise and toss gently. Serve into individual platters and garnish with coriander and red pepper. Serve immediately.
Anzac Fruit freckle Sandwiches and Pizzas – (Time overnight plus 15 mins, Makes 4 sandwiches or 8 Pizzas)
8 Country Gold GoAnzac Biscuits
1 c hung yoghurt/ricotta cheese
4 tbsp Greens Maple Syrup
1 c sliced Kiwi
1 c Blue Berries
1 c 100s and 1000s or other sprinkles
For the hung yoghurt: Line a sieve or small colander with a clean cloth and suspend over a bowl place yogurt in lined sieve, cover and refrigerate for at 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator, discard liquid and transfer to a small bowl. Stir in 1-1/2 Maple syrup, mix well and chill until required. Spread yogurt mixture evenly over cookies and arrange fruit attractively on top for pizzas, drizzle additional honey on top and sprinkle over the 100s and 1000s. For sandwiches, cover with another cookie and squeeze gently so that the yogurt comes to the edge of the cookie sandwiches. Then roll edge of sandwich in 100s and 1000s. Chill until ready to serve.
Mini pavlovas (Time: 1 hour, makes 25-30)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar
300ml thickened cream, whipped
2 bananas, sliced
1 punnet fresh Bluberries
2 kiwifruit, sliced
Preheat oven to 150°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Place egg whites in a clean bowl and beat with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually add caster sugar, beating well between each addition. Beat until mixture is thick and glossy (at least 5 minutes). Spoon teaspoonfuls of egg mixture onto prepared baking trays, gently shaping and flattening into a disc. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely in the oven with the door slightly open. Top meringue with whipped cream, decorate with fruit and serve immediately.