There has been a lot of talk about New Zealand food stories recently. About the connective power of food and its potential to foster a deeper sense of place and identity. But how do we tell these stories and who gets to tell them? And what of the ‘doing’ part of food – the sharing, growing, eating, transporting – and its immediate role in our lived experience?
What a time to be a beer lover in New Zealand. We’ve never had it better. One day we might even look back on these times as halcyon days, with the range, availability and quality of craft beer at an all-time high. There is a growing number of new breweries eager to put their own stamp on one of the world’s oldest beverages, and a strong set of maturing craft breweries bringing depth and experience to the industry.
It would be fair to say that I enjoy a good cocktail and, of course, I love food – so I jumped at the chance to create some racione-style dishes to pair with the exciting cocktails created by Peter Lowry and Laura Walker of Wellington’s Forresters Lane. I have only been to Spain once, about a million years ago at the tender age of 17, so these dishes are my interpretation of some classic flavours. Go ahead, round up a few mates, break out the cocktails and raise a glass to the start of spring.
Nothing Signal Spring more than the bright pink stalks of rhubarb. For me it wasn’t love at first sight, though; as a kid I didn’t like the boiled- to-death way my mum prepared those stalks from the garden that were more green than pink. It wasn’t until much later in life that I came to love rhubarb.
As soon as I started to think about spring salads the ideas were flowing, mostly fed by my attraction to varied textures and strong flavours. I was pretty pleased with my ideas, then a couple of days later I revisited them and thought, “Actually, are these technically ‘salads’?”
In Greece, skordalia is often served with octopus. It is something I’m extremely fond of, however it involves a borderline-sickening amount of raw garlic. In this take I've stayed true to the flavours of skordalia, but varied the texture with potato chunks and I've taken the sting out of the raw garlic by treating it to some time in hot butter. If you can’t get your hands on nettle, any green leaf will do the trick.
The thought behind this was a sour-cream-and-chives-type vibe. I hope that is what you get – smoky, succulent leeks, crispy little chippies and wee pops of sweet and sour with the currants.
This vibrant crunchy salsa can be eaten after a couple of hours, but is even nicer if left in the fridge overnight where it turns the most beautiful shade of pink. I’ve served these with vegan mayonnaise to keep things plant-based, but use regular mayonnaise if you aren’t fussed.
These vanilla coconut creams are my go-to vegan panna cotta, and these are topped with tart rhubarb jelly. They’re slightly firmer in texture than a traditional gelatine-set dessert due to the use of the plant-based setting agent agar-agar, which is made from algae. Popular throughout South-East Asia, you’ll find it (sometimes referred to simply as ‘agar’) at your local health food or Asian supermarket, though if buying from the latter, make sure you buy plain unflavoured agar as there’s often flavoured agar on offer as well. I recommend always using good-quality coconut milk containing only coconut and water, and free from additives and thickeners (Chantal Organics and Aroy-D both do great ones). If you find your rhubarb stalks are more on the green side of pink, you can add a couple of frozen raspberries to the puree for a natural colour boost.