Friday, January 25, 2013

Australia (food) Day - January 26

According to Wikipedia (the source of information for the lazy curious), the antipodes of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth's surface which is diametrically opposite to it.  

Being diametrically opposite the ‘old world’’ has been a good thing for Australian food.  We have the opportunity to do our own thing unrestrained by convention and tradition.  So while our chefs and cooks may learn from the techniques and recipes developed by old world cuisines, experimentation is welcomed and our food is therefore, more worldly.  Being closer to Asia, we are also very much influenced by the techniques, fresh flavours and exotic ingredients of the region, which are as an added benefit, often locally grown and therefore readily available.  

The varied cultures of our immigrants have assisted this no doubt.   In the early days, immigrants were predominately from the British isles.  The first Asian immigrants were the Chinese who rushed to the goldfields in the 1850‘s.  Then, after the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans settled in this country.  Many of their children were tormented in the school yard for their ‘wog’ food (really sorry about that everyone!) but as a nation we have benefited from exposure to these varied food backgrounds and now celebrate this diversity in our strong epicurean culture.  The embarrassing White Australia Policy which excluded all non-European people from immigrating into Australia from the 1890s to the 1950’s, was an unofficial policy of mainstream Australian politics.  While it continued into the 1970’s, the Vietnam War and the settlement of almost 100,000 Indo-Chinese refugees in Australia  put an end to this ill advised and prejudice policy and saw the introduction of  multiculturalism, the acceptance or promotion of multiple ethnic.

This meant that for the good part of the 20th Century, Australia was a predominantly European nation on the edge of Asia, taught to fear being demographically overwhelmed by non-European cultures.  This has caused ongoing debate and controversy surrounding the issues of asylum seekers, mandatory detention and ‘boat people’.  As an island nation, close to many of the world’s political trouble spots, border protection and immigration are not surprisingly hot issues, as well as generally poor dinner table topics of conversation.

Hopefully, we will remember the central premise of multiculturalism:  the equitable status of  distinct ethnic and religious groups without promoting any specific ethnic, religious, and/or cultural community values.

Based on our past experiences, I believe food is the key to true multiculturalism and ethnic tolerance.    

The influence of indigenous food however, has been one of the more recent food phenomena in Australia  Prior to the 90’s at least, we ignored 50,000 years of indigenous food knowledge and tradition.  Thanks to small producers, indigenous chefs, and the exciting ingredients themselves, there is enormous potential in native ingredients such as quandong, finger limes, lemon myrtle, salt bush, wattleseed, Warrigal Greens, Illawarra Plums, mountain pepper, Akudjura and bush tomatoes.  

One of my favourite local ingredients is the finger lime (Citrus australasica) pictured above.  They come in a variety of skin and flesh colours (yellow, green, pink, red and clear) and freeze really well, which means their limited natural season can be extended in the kitchen.  I discovered their appeal when I bought a plant purely out of curiosity several years ago.  I was rewarded with 100’s of fruit in a couple of short years.  They are probably the thorniest citrus in the garden though, so it’s a painful experience harvesting them if you are not to careful!  Unlike most citrus, the little juice vesicles are rounded, and stay in one piece when you squeeze them out.  They burst in your mouth with a pure citrus flavour, like citrus caviar which makes them perfect with any seafood, particularly raw dishes like sashimi, as well as Asian dishes, salads, dressings, and desserts.  They are fabulous in cocktails and drinks.  I love them in an Australian gin and tonic.

Probably our most well known indigenous ingredient, is the macadamia. Here is one of my favourite macadamia recipes:

Sweet Potato Crumble

1½ kg sweet potatoes (kumara), peeled & sliced into 5 cm rounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 leeks, cut in half lengthways, washed then thinly sliced
50g (1 oz) butter
1/4 cup cream

Crumble topping

2 slices of day old bread, sourdough, Italian or other rustic bread
50g (1oz) butter
1 tablespoon chopped continental parsley
½ cup Macadamia nuts
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (360F) while you prep all the ingredients, and grease a suitable ovenproof serving dish.

Coat the sweet potatoes in oil, garlic thyme salt and pepper cook in the pre-heated oven until tender.  You can simply steam the potato if you are in a hurry.  Roughly mash the potato once cooked - remove the garlic if you wish -  then sauté the leek and garlic in butter in a small fry or saute pan.  Fold into the mashed potatoes with the cream, salt and pepper, and place into the greased serving dish.  

Place all the crumble ingredients into a food processor and blend (pulse) until just combined but still chunky.   Scatter the crumble over the top of potatoes the potatoes.  Bake about 30 minutes until golden.

This is a great accompaniment to roast meats, along with a green vegetable.  I often serve this at Easter or Christmas.

What will I be eating on Australia Day?  A simple meal of fresh school prawns,  local sourdough bread, real butter and a great bottle of Australian white wine like a Hunter Semillon or Clare Valley Riesling.

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