Taking inspiration from abroad.
Next time you head overseas, don’t forget to pilfer a few things – ideas you can use to enliven your own cooking
MY PHONE isn’t just the most marvellous visual record to everywhere I have been and everything that I have eaten. It’s also my notebook, crammed with inspiration that’s hit me, and ideas that I’ve seen overseas and want to steal. These come from homes, street stalls, restaurants and even local junk foods.
Here are four ideas that made it off the phone and into a home-cook friendly form when I got back to Oz.
A WELSH CHEESE TOASTIE
Here’s an idea from London, where I grew up with an obsession with cheese and onion chips. Later, this became a love for a toasted cheese and onion sandwich for breakfast. Delicious, if a little harsh.
That all changed when a cafe owner showed me how to cook whole cleaned leeks in the microwave for three minutes, then cut off the root end, split and then lift out all the soft centres to spread on one side of your cheese toastie. The result is far sweeter both in flavour and for your breath.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Scandinavia over the last few years and it’s given me lots of inspiration.
In Stockholm, I learnt to poach yabbies with loads of dill, and make a salad of tomatoes and plum with ricotta.
In Copenhagen, chef Christian Puglisi taught me that risotto can be made with sunflower seeds rather than rice, and Noma’s way of pairing something brilliantly green and herby with something creamy gave me the idea for a dish of lemon-dressed zucchini ribbons served with a creamy burrata and verdant slurry of basil oil.
That use of dill, burning stuff (intentionally) and their love of pickles was the inspiration for a recipe from my last cookbook that tried to create the flavour and texture of dill pickles in a fresher way. So I grilled baby cucumbers on the barbecue until their texture broke down to resemble pickles and served them loaded with dill and old-school lumpy cottage cheese, which gives the milkiness that slight sourness you find with lactic fermentation. Yes, you can call me pretentious – I’ll own it!
Roast apples? Old hat! Kim chi? Too hipster. Red cabbage with butter, caraway and vinegar? Who are you, my grandmother? To give your roast pork new zip, whether it’s slow roasted shoulder or crunchy, wobbly pork belly, try this idea I discovered in a tiny garden restaurant in Hue, Vietnam. The perfect partner to pig is a fish sauce caramel.
Heat 250g grated palm sugar with 180ml water to make a golden caramel. When it’s got a lovely tanned colour, carefully stir in 40ml water to stop cooking. Then add about 40ml of the best fish sauce you can find. Do this gradually and stop when the funkiness of the fish sauce is just peeking through.
Serve with a crunchy cabbage slaw dressed with little more than lime juice and rice noodles or a nice crusty baguette and salted butter to carry on the French Indochine theme, depending on your political attitude.
Make this with the juice and flesh of cooked rhubarb rather than the water for something even funkier, where the rhubarb’s sourness helps cut against the sweetness of the caramel.
QUINCES & CLOTTED CREAM
There are lots of reasons to go to Istanbul. To see the Blue Mosque, to drift on the Bosphorus pretending to be James Bond, to watch Besiktas play. Personally, I go for the quinces in Beyoglu and the kaymak.
The quinces are slow-cooked to a deep, ruddy softness and set with their own jellied juices and the kaymak is a thick clotted cream that’s perfect for breakfast when drizzled with honey.
Back home, when the craving got too much, I combined them into one dish although I used creme fraiche as it softens the sweetness of the quinces a little. I also added halva for texture and sweetness to balance the creme fraiche, and mint for freshness.
It is one of my favourite desserts – for the recipe go to delicious.com.au.
If you want the jellied texture, make sure that you cook the quinces along with the skins, cores and seeds. Strain them out after cooking and before you reduce the syrup.