Hiakai – Modern Māori Cuisine

In my line of work, the things you do are often invisible (and meant to be that way). It used to be that the worst thing you could do as a journalist was insert yourself into the story. Editing is a bit the same, because the trick is to make the work sound more like the person who wrote it than it did before.

Still, it’s always good to have tangible proof of a project… and this one is exceptionally beautiful!

It was an honour and a privilege to to work with Monique Fiso and Penguin Random House on this groundbreaking book. Take a little tour around any bookstore or library (even the venerable National Library, where I spent quite a lot of January 2020), and you’ll soon discover that books on Māori food are few and far between. Books like this one, that combine the history of Māori food gathering, cultivation and preparation with modern cooking methods are even rarer.

I know this isn’t about me, but I learned so much while working on this book – about much more than food. I really recommend reading it! (In the meantime, here’s a story I wrote about Monique last month.

Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora te manuhiri – with your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive.

Smashed peas on toast

Got smashed recently? Nah, me neither. It’s not so good for us in these already anxious times (and it is Dry July, after all). Personally, I got really tired of all the ‘wine mum’ memes on social media during lockdown. There’s nothing like being encouraged to join a tribe to make me want to run screaming in the other direction. I also interviewed a couple of experts who had some sobering things to say about using alcohol as a lockdown coping mechanism. It’s more common sense than rocket science, but both seem to be in short supply.

A much cheaper, healthier and family-friendly way to get smashed is to try these peas on toast. You can be fancy, and serve them on little crackers or crostini when you have a few people over for dinner, or you can turn them into dinner if you eat them with a poached or fried egg on top. As it is, this amount serves two generously – and makes a good working from home lunch. Cheers! 

Smashed peas on toast

I prefer baby peas (sweeter and cuter) to ordinary ones for this dish, because the big ones can be a bit mealy. But use whatever you have. 

  • 4 tsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  • Finely chopped red chilli, to taste (optional)
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • A handful of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 4 slices bread – preferably baguette, pita, or wholegrain toast

Melt half the butter or olive oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the garlic, followed by the peas and the water. Crush the peas with a potato masher or a fork as they cook, until you have a rough puree (this will take about three minutes). Stir in the chopped herbs. While the peas are cooking, toast the bread and spread with the remaining butter or olive oil. Arrange the toast on a plate and pile the crushed peas on top, allowing for a bit of artistic scattering. Season well with salt and pepper and serve.

Meet 2020’s Outstanding NZ Food Producers

I’m a terrible liar (I like to think this is a good thing) but I’m excellent at keeping secrets. Want proof? I’ve known for the last month who the winners of the 2020 Outstanding New Zealand Food Producers Awards are, but I’ve kept it quiet until now. Drumroll… here they are!

Bostock Brothers, the Hawke’s Bay organic chicken producers owned by Ben and George Bostock, is this year’s Supreme Champion. The Bostocks’ Organic Whole Chicken took the top award and was also named the Giesen Wines Paddock Champion. Their Chicken Thighs and Chicken Breasts also won gold medals.

Bostock Organic Chicken

I interviewed Ben and George (without letting on that they were winners – see, I told you I was good) for the upcoming e-edition of NZ Life & Leisure. What top blokes they are! The Bostocks run New Zealand’s only truly organic, free range chicken farm, where the birds get to roam free in a former organic apple orchard by day and snuggle into French-designed chalets by night. As it says on their website, ‘the key to success is nurturing, feeding and raising the chickens well’. The Bostocks’ chicken tastes like ‘real’ chicken should – congratulations to them for putting in the work.

This is my fourth year as a judge at these awards, which are run with extreme precision and absolute attention to detail. Founders Nic McConnell and Kathie Bartley put in endless amounts of effort behind the scenes, not least of which is corraling 25 judges and eight stewards on judging day.

This year I judged the Dairy section, which meant a day of eating ice creams, yoghurts and other miscellaneous milky products. I’m delighted to share the news that Pure NZ Ice Cream’s Boysenberry Ice Cream was named Emerson’s Dairy Champion. My fellow judge and I couldn’t stop eating this one – it has an incredible fruity flavour (thanks to the Nelson-grown boysenberries) and great mouthfeel.

AHIA Freshly Smoked Kahawai (Manuka Honey) from Gisborne’s Ngāti Porou Seafood was awarded Seafood NZ Water Champion. Judges described it as ‘beautifully moist…moreish…a good honest Kiwi fish celebrated and treated with love.’

Closer to home (for me), Wellington’s Fix & Fogg Everything Butter was named Farro Earth Champion. It’s the second big win at these awards for the ambitious nut buttery – their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter won the Earth category in 2017.

Forage & Ferment Wild Kefir (Ginger root) – a light, crisp drink with more probiotic properties than kombucha – is the Label & Litho Drink Champion. It’s the second Awards success for founder Kelli Walker – her carrot, ginger, turmeric and marigold Wild Kraut received a gold medal in 2018.

Sustainability plays a huge part in the awards – specialist judges assess each entrant on their sustainable practices and initiatives. This year Raglan Food Co. (owned by Mr and Mrs Coconut – Seb Walter and Tesh Randall) is the Outstanding Sustainability Champion. The company also won two silver medals for its Boysenberry Coconut Yoghurt and Organic Blackcurrant & Vanilla Gourmet Yoghurt.

Speaking of yoghurt makes me think of breakfast – if you’re looking to start the day on a winning note then you should try a bowlful of Blue Frog’s Manuka Honey & Hemp Heart Probiotic Porridge. This ‘porridge with attitude’ is the FMCG Business New Product Champion.

If chocolate is more your thing, you’ll be pleased to know that Foundry Chocolate is the Freshco.nz New Business Champion. It’s the second big win for the Mahurangi bean-to-bar business, after it was named Supreme Winner at the NZ Chocolate Awards.

Lastly, Zaroa Pohutakawa Smoked & Sous Vide Cooked Angus Beef Brisket is the Outstanding Free-From Champion. Zaroa is a family-owned business launched last year by Wilhelm Zabern, an Austrian ‘Master of Meat’ who has lived in Aotearoa for 30 years.

While winning awards is nice, all these businesses – and the other medal-winners in this year’s awards (see here for a full list) – need our help to stay viable in these challenging times. If you’ve got the means, do support them in the coming months.

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Chocolate avocado butter (aka woke Nutella)

I’m not particularly proud of myself for this, but I developed a bit of a Nutella habit when we were in France. You know how it goes – warm, crusty baguette, cold, unsalted butter, a dollop of shiny, Wonka-esque Nutella – it’s pretty irresistible.

In my defence, the country basically runs on the stuff (which is why strikes at the factory are always taken so seriously). I know that’s no excuse – France runs on cigarettes too, but I managed to not start smoking – but no one’s perfect. I mean, at least I wasn’t eating foie gras for breakfast, right?

Now we’re back in New Zealand, I wouldn’t dream of buying Nutella, especially not when there are some very good local alternatives (such as the so-good-it-sold-out-in-a-day Kindness Spread from Good Bitches Baking and Fix & Fogg). But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss having chocolate for breakfast. Here’s a rather more woke version of the dreaded Nutella that you can whip up in seconds.

Chocolate avocado butter

Recently I lunched at Inca, Nic Watt’s new Peruvian-Japanese joint in the fancy new Westfield Newmarket. I’d go again for the sashimi, personally, but they also do a nice line in table theatre by making guacamole in front of you. You could always do the same with this chocolate avocado butter at home, perhaps as part of a Christmas breakfast?

  • 1 generous Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 generous Tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 perfectly ripe avocado
  • Finely grated orange or lemon zest
  • Optional extras: Finely grated dark chocolate, a pinch of cinnamon, a sprinkle of chilli flakes

Beat the cocoa, honey and salt together until well combined. Mash in the avocado and beat until smooth. Stir in the orange or lemon zest. Taste – it may need a touch more salt, or a drop of juice for acidity – and add the optional extras if you fancy. Slather over a piece of sourdough toast. Alternatively, eat from the bowl as if you’re eating Nutella from the jar. Cover any leftovers and store in the fridge for up to a day.

When aïoli dreams come true…

Do you know what happiness tastes like? I do. It’s a silky emulsion of crushed garlic, egg yolk and Provencal olive oil and it’s best tasted in a Mediterranean port town in the golden hours before dusk. At least, that’s my most recent experience.

Quite to my shock and delight, I’ve just won an aïoli-making contest. In Provence, home of aioli. This is akin to an Aucklander going to Westport and winning a prize for catching whitebait (or a Wellingtonian winning a baking prize at the Westport A&P show, but that’s another story).

When they called my name out as the winner I was so gobsmacked I could barely breathe. That might have been the result of 20 minutes of furiously pounding garlic in a wooden mortar and pestle, beneath the fierce scrutiny of women in traditional Provençal costumes who looked like extras from The Handmaid’s Tale, but I think it was the general surprise that did it.

When I told the compere that I was from New Zealand there was an audible gasp among the watching spectators. A local chef, who came second, was definitely not amused. But the old ladies, who had kept such a close eye on me during the making process, were thrilled. And when I went to thank the organisers (the mysterious Confrerie des Chevaliers de l’Aiet’ – a sort of secret society devoted to all things garlic), they asked me if I could come back for a conference in October. Oh, to be able to carve out a new life as a professional aioli-maker in Provence… please, President Macron, can’t I stay?

How to make aïoli
Now, all this hasn’t gone to my head. I know I’m not the aïoli oracle (and, given the debate going on between the bonneted women watching, I’m not sure anyone would be brave enough to claim to be). However, this is how I made it the other night. No recipe, just instinct. If only all life’s tests were this simple.

Peel two plump cloves of garlic. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic to a pulp with a pinch of salt. Don’t rush this step – the garlic must be smooth or you’ll end up with ‘bits’ in the finished aïoli. Add an egg yolk and mix well (keep using the pestle as your main tool here). Decant about 200-225ml of your very best extra virgin olive oil into a bottle where you can keep tight control on its flow. Add the oil, drop by drop, to the garlic and egg mixture, constantly stirring with the pestle. Doing it drop by drop is essential – you can’t rush this part or it won’t work. Once about half the oil is in, you can relax and add about a teaspoonful at a time, making sure it’s all emulsified before adding the next. This might sound painstaking, but it’s worth it. You’ll know it’s done when the aïoli has the texture of proper mayonnaise. It will hold its shape – and, when you tip the mortar upside down, it will stay put rather than sliding out.

If you’re being Provençal, you can now eat it with tiny new potatoes, or raw vegetables, or with grilled fish, or any other way you like. It’s not bad chased by a glass of thirst-quenching local rosé, especially in the soft sea air.