Feed by Various artists


World of Food 1: Afghanistan

by Amberleigh Jack

It's funny how sometimes meaningless conversations or moments can turn into inspiring ideas down the track. It was a little more than a year ago that a random conversation with my trainer spurred an idea that has now finally become this project. We were talking food ideas and he suggested looking into some global recipes, adapting them to suit my tastes and hopefully finding new foods and flavours along the way.

Being somewhat an all or nothing kind of girl, I figured: why not try them all?

So that's the plan. Travel the world alphabetically, cooking a dish from each country. I'll generally be adapting recipes to suit a paleo/primal blueprint - but it won't be a strict rule.

First, a bit of background. My own relationship with food was pretty destructive for a large part of my life. Since making the attempt to recover from an eating disorder a few years back I, to my surprise, learned to find food, flavour and the creation of meals exciting. Dishes became more than fuel or calories, time in the kitchen became relaxing and I found real joy in searching recipes and meal ideas.

Still, it's easy to get stuck in a rut of easy and safe foods. There are countless flavours to try and battles to be won. There's still a long way to go. So I'm sending myself on a culinary journey of self-exploration.

The only rules I'm making for myself are that I'll travel the world in alphabetical order, cooking a dish from all 196 countries (yep, I'm counting Taiwan). The dishes don't have to be the national dish or even a full main meal. They just have to be something. I'll be tackling a new country at least once a week.

What am I expecting?

I'm hoping to continue to find joy in discovering food and flavours, to force myself out of various comfort zones and to develop and understand my own relationship with food, while learning more about global relationships with food, flavours and tradition around meals.

As an added bonus, maybe my plating skills may improve somewhat, too. It's just one of many reasons I never became an award winning chef. When it comes to putting food on a plate – let's just say my natural talent isn't immediately apparent. So until I've mastered the art – just trust me. The food probably tastes a whole lot better than it often looks.

I'll be spending a lot of time in my kitchen, but I'm hoping that along the way I can spend time in others' as well. Learning techniques and traditions passed through generations and cultures. While I'll make an effort to adhere to a lot of traditional ingredients and methods, at times recipes will be heavily adapted.

I'm definitely down for organising a pig roasting get-together among friends when Serbia arrives, though I imagine I'll pass on frying up a guinea pig when Peru rolls around.

However it pans out, though, I'm imagining an exciting,and sometimes confronting, journey of self-dicovery though food. One dish at a time.

I'd love to receive tips, ideas or simply your own food memories - wherever it is that you're from. 


Dish 1: Afghanistan (Sabzi e Goshte)

When it comes to food, I learned a lot from my mum. From a love of fresh seafood to comforting memories of fish and chips on a Friday evening after an afternoon tackling the waves at Pukehina beach. One thing that was passed down and stuck with me from a child is a dislike of overly-cooked vegetables. She grew up being presented with boiled-beyond-recognition greens and never cooked that way as an adult. In turn, I grew up with a love of fresh and crunchy, and have been lucky to have grown up in a place where fresh and crunchy is widely and easily available.

So the idea of a spinach-based qorma (stew) was a challenge in itself. In fact, Afghanistan as a whole proved a challenging first meal for a few reasons.

Being a hot, dry, landlocked area, Afghanistan has a cuisine based primarily on rice, barley and wheat dishes, with root vegetables and legumes often making up the difference. Meat, from what I've read, is generally preserved for special occasions. If you're looking to adapt to a primal diet, wheat, rice and legumes seem, from the outset, a bit of a logistical nightmare to navigate. The country's national dish is Kabuli palaw - a pilaf made with rice, lentils, lamb, carrots and raisins, flavoured with plenty of earthy spices.

And then, while searching through recipes, something clicked - Our western obsession with restriction or paleo and primal living has become almost necessary - not because it's best, but because we have such a tendency to drown our food in sugar, highly processed carbs and comfort through convenience. A bit of time in the kitchen, eating out of markets rather than boxes isn't a concept lost by those that don't have cheap food on demand with a quick dial of a phone. That's my theory, anyway. I'm only one country down, there's plenty of time to put that hypothesis to the test.

Afghan meals seem to be an affair of love, with time and care spent in the kitchen. Sweetness, from what I gather, is created through fruits like raisins and prunes. Meal-times feature a number of dishes - often a rice dish flavoured with spices and fruit, a qorma or other "main" dish and often naan or other bread-based dish together with yoghurt,chutneys and other bits and pieces to add flavour and nourishment. Family-style dining in its truest form - not something saved just for special occasions.

Eggs and proteins don't come cheap so aren't the main components of meals. Wealthy families eat multiple rice dishes a day. Royalty and celebrational feasts will feature multiple rice dishes. Sweets and candy are treats, rather than the every day norm in most households. Dessert is often fruit - pomegranates and grapes being available in abundance.

Eating out isn't common. Where the western world has adopted the idea of having someone cooking and cleaning as perfect for celebratory meals, in Afghan homes it seems almost as if the preparation and cooking is part of the celebration in itself.

While looking into the cuisine of Afghanistan, I found a wonderful site - Afghan Culture Unveiled.

Within it, Humaira Ghilzai, co-founder of Afghan Friends Network and gender equality advocate,blogs about Afghan food and culture. Numerous times she recalls meals that would last for hours, after having been prepared for more than ten.

It got me thinking about my own food memories growing up. I have some great ones – my dad was a master of curry, and my mum could fillet and cook fresh fish like a pro. I don't recall many moments of spending time in the kitchen with my parents though. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just a thing of circumstance. My brother and I had our sports. Mum and dad had full time jobs. At some point food would be cooked and it would get eaten. We had some great family moments, but few of them took place in the kitchen. Birthdays and celebrations were definitely a restaurant affair though. And at some stage restaurants became a regularity rather than a treat. I think there's a lot to be said for culture and recipes being shared between generations within a kitchen.

One thing I realised pretty quickly was just how easily I'd got into a routine of speed and convenience when it came to my own cooking. I was excited about spending an hour or more in the kitchen actually creating again, but before I began it did dawn on me that throwing together a quick salad with a piece of chicken would be a lot quicker, with a lot less to clean up.

There's plenty of time for quick and easy though. The US perhaps. Even still, I felt like I was cheating myself a little. Like the first country of this project should be a feast of pretty mammoth proportions. That I should be spending hours making sauces and chutneys and amazing rice platters and filling the dining table with enough food to feed a large family with leftovers to pack away. Not today though. In fact, I decided to skip the rice component altogether.

I did, however, try a recipe for paleo "naan" that I'd seen a while ago in a recipe book by Rachael Devich - Eating Clean, Living Paleo. I've never really trusted paleo versions of these types of things. All too often they don't come close to resembling the original inspiration. A nice surprise then, that a simple mixture of arrowroot poweder, egg, baking powder and oil thrown in a frying pan tasted pretty much how I remember naan to taste.

That's one win.

The chosen dish itself? Sabzi e Goshte. Basically slow cooked spinach with lamb. Apparently a common dish in Afghani households, often without the meat (the vegetarian version being Qorma e Sabzi).

Having pretty much fallen for Humaira's tales of Afghanistan, I found the recipe on her site and got to work.

The spices were things I am used to and love – onions (onions are a big thing in Afghani kitchens – I'm yet to find a qorma recipe that doesn't use them as a base) and lamb are browned before being simmered away with water and turmeric, ground coriander and cumin – immediately giving the kitchen a real homely, comforting smell. A while later a LOT of frozen spinach with a bit of lemon juice is added before cooking down until everything is tender and well-stewed.

The end result? A kind of brownish green thick stew. The cooked spinach smell was pretty strong, and to be honest, a little off-putting at first. That whole slow-cooked vegetable adversion was tougher to tackle than I'd imagined.

I surprised myself though. The flavours and spices definitely had that earthy ethnic comfort aspect. The "naan" was fun having not eaten one in a long time and I have a mountain of leftovers (which, if I'm totally honest, will be adding more lemon juice and a few crisp,fresh vegetables to - simply to cut through the richness). The dish is usually served with yoghurt which, in hindsight, would have gone a long way in cutting through some of the heaviness of the meal. I'd have loved to have seen how it would have turned out had someone that had grown up making it had created it instead.

The verdict? Far less of a failure than I half-expected my creation to be. It wouldn't be a first choice for a last meal, and from what I've learned, I think I'd get incredibly homesick for light and fresh if I spent a lot of time immersed in Afghan culture. But I've officially started, which is the main thing. And I'm looking forward to returning to the Middle East as this project continues to see just how much more adventurous I've become.

One dish down. Just 195 to go. 



by Gareth Renowden

For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept.

Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

Christmas in the little village outside Llanelli where my mother was born would -- when I first remember experiencing it in the 1960s -- have made Dylan Thomas feel at home. A turkey so big that it wouldn't fit into the small oven in the kitchen would be taken to the bakehouse (run by a cousin) at the end of the row of tiny terraced houses, where it would sit surrounded by the birds of others, roasting slowly. A flock of Christmas dinners, to be accompanied by a field of roast potatoes, and a mire of salty gravy.

After being attacked by the assembled family, our turkey would be picked over for days, the carcass admired by the parade of Uncles and Aunts who would visit and pat the small boy's head, speaking a rapid lilting Welsh that I understood more by osmosis than by learning. And on Boxing Day there would be rugby; London Welsh versus Llanelli at Stradey Park, an Uncle giving me a nip of fiery spirit from a little bottle in his pocket "to ward off the cold".

It was an important bird that turkey. In those days, and in that working man's world of steel mills and tinplate factories, dank mines and stern chapel, it formed the centrepiece of the most significant family occasion of the year. It's not that no expense was spared, because expense was always something to be managed carefully, but financial prudence would not be allowed to stand in the way of a button-loosening Christmas dinner, even if in January there had to be a return to plainer fare.

That was where my mother learned how to make her Christmas puddings -- rich puddings that have to be made a year in advance and aged to arrive at a moist perfection -- where she started out on a lifetime of making mince pies that are now widely acknowledged as the finest in the world, even if the recipe has been refined over the years, and the latest version of her melt-in-the-mouth pastry derives from a 70's Josceline Dimblebyrecipe. It took Mum a couple of years after arriving in New Zealand to get back to peak pastry performance. It was the flour. Different. And making them in summer?

We celebrate a traditional Christmas. It is the one time of every year when our extended family gathers to sit around a big table and share a meal. And we eat turkey. But because Christmas is a season, and people come from around the country and from over the Tasman and don't retire to their own homes for Boxing Day, the bird is not the only meal. Over the last couple of decades we have evolved a sequence of meals that have become embedded in our own version of a summer Christmas.

So there's turkey on Christmas Days. Most years I will bone the bird and stitch it around a cylinder of souped-up sausage meat (add dried porcini, parmesan, a little Kaitaia Fire, perhaps juniper berries soaked in gin), cushioned from the flesh by a moist layer of mushroom and onion stuffing. It roasts without much fuss, and carving's easy. Each transverse slice delivers twin white crescents of breast cradling mushrooms and stuffing, and looks most impressive on the plate.

There will be leftovers. Some will be eaten cold with pickles, but the primary purpose of the bits of leg that nobody wants is to supply protein for a nasi goreng. The inspiration came from Rick Stein, to whom I have warmed in recent years. He did a "Christmas" nasi goreng on TV a few years ago, made with a Balinese spice paste and leftover turkey. (There's a non-turkey version in his Far Eastern Odyssey). I offered it to the family, it was eaten and enjoyed, and now I am told it has to happen every year.

The same thing happened when we put a pizza oven in the kitchen garden ten years ago. I had to make pizzas for everyone, for nieces and nephews and cousins and Uncles and Aunts, and now I have to do it every year. And then there is the pig.

The pig dates from a meal with friends in London before we left for New Zealand. It was cooked by a fastidious Islington foodie and served in the presence of an opera singer of ample appetite, and we who were about to depart for the other side of the world were left to consider if we were doing the right thing.

Forward a year: I cannot be doing with gas barbecues. One of the first purchases I made after arriving at our little farm in Waipara was a charcoal kettle barbecue, for that is what you need for the pig. That, and a boned, rolled, skin-on shoulder of pork. A whole shoulder will feed a lot of people, so I usually cut it in two and freeze a bit for future use.

What we eat is a version of southern barbecue pork. The Islington foodie obtained the recipe from a book by Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme, but there are many, many versions of "pork butt" in the southern US. Michael Pollan devotes a large part of his Cooked: A Natural History of Transformationto the subject, and I have no doubt that the version I cook is a bastardisation of the real thing. But it is delicious.

The key is the dry rub. This is a mix of paprika, sugar, cumin, chillies and cayenne pepper, mustard powder, salt and black pepper that should be rubbed into every surface of the shoulder, and then left for at least 12 hours. To cook, fire up your kettle, put the pork over a drip tray, add some wood chips for smoke, and then cook for at least 4 or 5 hours -- the longer the better. You want the pork to be pull apart tender.

To genuflect in the general direction of a New Zealand summer, the pork is accompanied by kumara baked around the meat for the last hour. There's a sauce too, from eastern North Carolina: white wine vinegar sweetened with brown sugar, simmered with thickly sliced cloves of garlic. Spoon this hot over the pork. There will be little in the way of leftovers.

The last meal in our seasonal sequence is ham on New Years Day. This was my parents' contribution, and until my father became too frail to manage the lifting, they always cooked their own ham - boiled in a brew that involved cider. But the signature element remains the same - my mother's version of a tangy, sweet and citrusy Cumberland Sauce that is the perfect accompaniment to fine ham.

Every family that feasts together will have some sort of tradition of favourite foods that must be eaten in order for the ties that bind to be refreshed. Food in this context has real emotional power and significance. We pay our respects to each other by bringing good food to the table, and honour the ingredients and the suppliers and the beasts that died by cooking with love and care. And then we do penance for the over-indulgence. This year, as last, it's a dry January. My liver will be pleased.


Food Show 2014: Not Bad

by Russell Brown

There are a number of things you can count on at The Food Show in Auckland. Among them: the stall immediately to the left of the entry to the hall is always a busy one. It's most people's first stop, and that was particularly the case this year with celebrity chef Simon Gault in attendance.

Gault got a good spot to tout his personally-branded stocks and rubs, but unfortunately really muffed the design of his stand. It was hard to see the products or tell what was in the tureens next to them, so Gault kept having to tell people, but it was hard to hear him if you weren't at the front of the crowd. I think there might have been a show special, but there was no signage about that either. As anyone will tell you, I'm always up for a nice rub, but I moved on in this case.

The flow wasn't particularly good in that corner in general. The nation of Korea was back again this year, with a bigger stand, but it didn't seem to work as well and they weren't getting many takers for what seemed to be a sushi-rolling competition. But the $2 bulgogi marinades were a bargain and, as ever, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The first new thing I found that really impressed me was from a familiar source. The Pic's peanut butter people now sell a high-quality cold-pressed peanut oil for use in stir-fries and the like. It smelled and tasted very good indeed.

I like to taste interesting products I have no intention of really eating, and I'm glad I stopped at the Angel Food stand. They make "dairy free cheese alternatives", I tried their mozzarella (mock-zarella?) and parmesan products and while they were distinguishable from the real thing, they really were pretty good and I would happily recommend them to my vegan and lactose-intolerant friends. Also, the gentleman running the stand was rocking quite a classy mohawk.

Also of interest: the Be Nourished pickled products, most notably the red sauerkraut juice, which apparently you're supposed to have a shot of first thing in the morning.

Maybe I'd had too much chilli sauce already, but the curry-and-poppadums flavour from the Schoc chocolate folks didn't really do it for me. Their "chocolate salami" (nb: not actually salami) though? Amazing. The Food Show is the only time between now and Christmas they'll be selling them. I bought one.

In the things-that-actually-are-meat category, Taranaki's Green Meadows Beef was back this year. Your fancy, pricey wagyu is all very well, but it's not often I taste beef as savoury and delicious as Green Meadows'. I served my boy Jim burgers made with their patties last night and he was actually quite taken aback by the flavour. I also like that they're a genuine family business. You may detect a resemblance between father and son Michael and Nick Carey:

What kind of maniac lugs five different craft beers to a Food Show and runs the whole thing on his own? Stephen "Ben" Middlemiss of Ben Middemiss Brewing, apparently.

He's nothing if not an ambitious brewer and I was particularly taken with this beer, in which he'd conjured a background taste of something like cardamom solely out of the hop characters.

In a considerably more delicate vein, I also thought the Flora Tea products -- green tea leaves hand-tied with dried flowers into a "tea ball" -- were quite delightful. The tea is not cheap but it is perfectly delicate and beautifully packaged for sale and presented on the stand in large wine glasses (the visual appeal of the rehydrated, unfolding flower is a big part of the experience). The tea originally comes from Britain, where it has featured on BBC Dragon's Den and won a number of awards. The local people seem nice ...

There were some less appealing things at the Food Show this year, most of them in the third hall, which was host to not only various over-branded "miracle" foods and the shiny-faced, vaguely annoying people selling them, but an actual chiropractor and this, the saddest and most befuddling thing I saw all day ...

A whole lot of people huddled over Nespresso machines having a "Nespresso Moment" under instruction? No, me neither.

Anyway, it was eventually time to go (pesky day job) and I wasn't going to make the mistake I did last year of forgetting to go back to West Indies Spice Traders of Nelson. They're doing a good show special this year -- all five of their spicy sauces for $20 -- and were more than happy to convert that for me to a jar of their jerk seasoning plus three sauces for the same price. If you hang about and chat, Dave Phillips will essentially insist that you sample every sauce, twice if need be:

But I don't think I ate anything more delicious all day than my lucky lungua beef tongue taco from The Lucky Taco. And I'm not just saying that because they're lovely people. If you haven't tried their food before, you really should build it into your Food Show day.


Fulminating and fermenting

by Russell Brown

Longtime readers of this site may be aware of my occasional bursts of fulmination about overhopped stunt beers -- and my calls for New Zealand craft brewers to produce more sessionable brews in the classic best bitter style I think suits life in New Zealand. I might as well have been shouting into an empty fermenter for all the difference that made. Until now ...

I was approached a little while ago with an invitation to conceive of and oversee my own own "Media Brew", to be brewed and presented at this year's Beervana in Wellington. So I said, yes, I would very much like to make a delicious best bitter with a malty base and sweet heathery tops, much like, say Fuller's London Pride, Emerson's Bookbinder or Galbraith's Bellringer.

I was paired up with the North Shore's Deep Creek Brewing, who make beers for their own bars from a facility in Silverdale. Last week, I went up to meet my personal brewer, Hamish Ward, and oversee the brew.

Hamish, I discovered, is a Public Address reader, and thus a very nice chap. He is also a scientist, and when his biotech research project for Fonterra lost its funding a while ago, he accepted an offer to bring his considerable home brewing expertise to Deep Creek. He also brought along his home brewing kit, which was what we used to make our 100 litres of bitter.

Before you ask (and because people already have), the two tanks on the left are hot water cylinders, and the smaller of them supplied the mash tun, where the grains and malt were heated.

During that process, a fine mesh gravity filter separated the grain from the liquid, which ran into this little steel box.

When Hamish deemed that process to have run its course, the liquid was redirected into the kettle, where it boiled for a couple of hours, to ready it for the fermenter.

I had never realised that hops can be added to the kettle at various times in the process -- from the beginning of the boil to the very end -- depending on what role the brewer wants them to play, and whether they're there for flavour or aroma.

While this was going on, we progressed to a very important duty: a preliminary tasting for our special ingredient. The Media Brew rules dictate that a uniquely New Zealand ingredient must be used. We agreed on manuka, but rather than try and incorporate manuka in the actual brewing process -- which would deliver a nasty result if it didn't go well -- Hamish recommended we use a manuka flower tincture made by Justin from Zeffer Cider, who share a building with Deep Creek.

This is Justin, who takes his work seriously.

The tincture was fascinating. Straight out of the bottle it smelled like nothing so much as aniseed, but added to our test beers, it came up strikingly differently in each concentration we tried (1ml, 2ml and 2.5ml per litre), and reacted differently with each of the two beers. Hamish and I agreed that at 2.5ml there was too much of the medicinal scent of manuka -- too much of the stunt beer I didn't want to make. But at 2ml, the flowery esters came up in a nice balance with the malt -- the manuka was less a flavour than a potentiator of other flavours.

At that point, I had to head back for town but in a week or two I'll return for the final, crucial tasting, where we will make the call on how muchmanuka to finish with. I gather the fermentation is going well, although the cold temperatures have been a little bit of an issue. I have every confidence that we will be able to finish off a delicious beer suitable for enjoying in pints with yer mates, at a strength of 4%-4.5%. If you go to Beervana, please do try it and let me know what you think.


A scientist researches restaurants

by Bart Janssen

Last week, a friend put together a Venn diagram which collated the restaurant reviews for Auckland by the Cuisine good food guide, the Metro magazine Top 50  and the top 50 restaurants listed for Auckland by TripAdvisor.

Yeah, my friends are geeky scientist food lovers too.

Now let’s be clear: I am well aware that I’m very lucky to be at a stage of my life where I can afford to eat out at some of these restaurants more than once. Most of these establishments will cost upwards of $100 per person for a night out. Add to that some wine from their extensive lists and, well, let’s just say it’s a serious spend-up and you better be having a good time.

For me it’s an easy call, because eating food with friends is one of my favourite things to do. My 50th birthday consisted of going to Melbourne and eating at top restaurants four nights in a row – by which time even I was starting to crave a simple meat-and-three-veg dinner with nothing remotely resembling a foam or smear.

So for me, Soon’s Venn diagram is useful. It reminds me of places I’ve wanted to get to sometime and some of those that I really want to visit again to try more of the menu. But it also made me think about how I choose places to eat.

A significant part of the fun of eating out for me is the anticipation. I like to read the reviews and try and figure out from the obscure coded language reviewers use whether I will actually enjoy the meal. I want to know if the restaurant will cater for the likes and dislikes of my dinner companions. I’m geeky enough to want to know about the chef’s philosophy: why they cook, what they cook, the way they cook it.

But sometimes I also just want to try that place I saw as we drove past last weekend. “Cazador has been revamped, so should we finally actually try it?” and “look, the place that used to be Bowman’s has changed hands again (now Bolaven, apparently the name of a plateau in Laos) -- should we check it out?”. And yes, sometimes the choice amounts to what is on the way home.

“Cheap and cheerful” is sometimes hard to find. Often the equation is half right, which to be fair, is better than the “expensive and great” being half right. There are cheap eats guides around: Metro cheap eats  and cafe guides are good and so is TripAdvisor with the appropriate filters .

But a problem with cheap and cheerful places is that they can change very quickly if a chef or front of house changes so perhaps the best way to find them is a recent recommendation from someone who has the same taste as you.

I admit to looking at food porn and sometime producing some myself. As a side note I’m in favour of taking photos of beautiful plates of food. I figure if the chef has made the effort to make it pretty, why wouldn’t I take a photo, just like I’ll take a photo of a canyon or a castle (no flashes though)?

On Twitter, I follow some foodies, a chef or two and the odd front of house person. I read blogs like Eat Here Now , Jesse Mulligan’s blog and these five sisters who make me feel very old.

All of which makes me feel like I might be a bit obsessed. That’s not a bad thing though, is it? So how do you folks choose where to eat when you want a night out?