The Food Safari Cookbook
Maeve O'Meara talks to SBS Food about her new book Food Safari - Glorious Adventures through a World of Cuisines.
How long has it taken to put the book together?
I started writing it at this desk and my feet were bare as the weather was warm and here I am typing away with bare feet again. In a sense it has taken a long time, as the people whose recipes appear have been my friends for many years. From the start of writing to holding the book in my hands, about the same time as a baby - and the feeling is just as good!
Most of the recipes were already there from the lovely Food Safari series but there was a lot to gather to give each chapter a texture and a unique feeling. I wanted to write introductions to each to open up each world and give a sense of how people eat as well as what they eat in each cuisine.
It’s important to list key ingredients and implements and I also wanted to have a sense of those voices in the kitchen that people loved from Food Safari - the voices of the aunties and the grandmothers and their kitchen wisdom… some of it’s funny too!
What was the best part of putting the book together?
Wonderful meals shared with great friends. What a tough life I have to go from one incredible meal to the next! I hope the life and care that everyone has put into their recipes shines out of this book and that people will love it and cook from it and read it and baptize its pages with spices and sauces and spills so it becomes fat with use. I hope the book leads people to many happy times around the table - that's what life is all about and if you're eating delicious food from around the world, you're blessed.
There is obviously a strong focus in Food Safari on exploring the cooking traditions of different cultures. Why do you think it's important for people to learn about this?
Well for a start you get to eat some great food. Then you get a sense of other lives lived and a bit of a window into the many cultures on our doorstep.
Food is such a marvellous way into a culture – it’s a bit like learning a language. As a cook you want to have success from the start in order to gain confidence, which is why the recipes are simple and easy to follow. The people who have shared their cuisines, I reckon they see it as an honour that the rest of us want to know and learn more and, like a language, are prepared to give it a go.
What can you learn about a person from the way they prepare their food?
That's an interesting question. In some people you can almost see their grandmother's hands as they cook and prepare food. The spanokopita recipe in the Greek chapter for instance, there's a tip of sprinkling cold water on the filo just before it goes into the oven so it gets extra crispy and golden. You can hear the yia yia's voice there for sure... and do you know my 12 year old daughter has truly nailed that recipe right down to the sprinkling. Her spanokopita is a triumph!
Other cooks add a few touches of their own. Some of the younger cooks from Italian, Turkish and Spanish backgrounds say they use a lot less oil than their mothers. You can tell a lot about people from their preparation and I have to say I'm so honoured that people open up their kitchens to us.
There's no shortcuts in Food Safari recipes. Do you think it's important that people learn to prepare ingredients from scratch rather than getting a pre-mixed paste from a tube?
You're wrong – the great thing is that everybody uses shortcuts. Check out the fabulous tandoori chicken recipe in the Pakistani chapter: Mrs Hussan, who is the doyenne of Pakistani home cooking, uses a prepared paste and adds ginger and garlic and a couple of spices to give it her special touch, and her fresh mint sauce to go with it is sensational. The Cheat's laksa in the Malaysian chapter is also a winner, its quick and tastes sooo good.
That said, my Thai friend Sujet always makes his own red curry paste and it’s both easy and incredibly delicious. But I think when you get a shortcut from someone who you know still cares that things taste authentic, that's a bit of a green light.
How important is it to use really great ingredients in your cooking?
The pillars of wisdom are:
- use great, fresh, seasonal produce
- have a couple of good knives and look after them and keep them sharp
- be adventurous and try something you've never made before
- have fun - heavens its not brain surgery and these recipes are easy as!
What is your take on the sustainable food movement?
It’s the way the world is going and should be going. We are becoming very aware very quickly, and the bonus is that local tastes better and is better for the planet - you've gotta love that!
Can you pick a favourite recipe from the book:
The Pakistani goat biryani with its pyramid of beautiful rice, curry, accompaniments and fresh herbs is a stunner, while the Lebanese whole salmon tarator from Greg Malouf is our Christmas favourite and dinner party wow dish.
My family all love aroz con leche, the Spanish rice pudding. Also, the clear, golden "Jewish penicillin" – the ultimate chicken soup – touches your heart and makes the sun shine.
A easy weeknight dinner...
Moroccan mechoui (lamb backstrap) with a few spices whacked on the barbie and served with minted yoghurt. It takes 10 minutes tops and tastes so good. Serve it with the Syrian fattoush salad.
The Food Safari cookbook introduces the reader to 34 diverse and fascinating cuisines by exploring the basic ingredients of each cuisine and making the exotic familiar. Offering simple foolproof recipes that anyone can cook at home it is a delicious journey into new worlds, making delicious discoveries. The book is released in hardcover through Hardie Grant Books and is available from Dymocks and in the SBS Shop.
SBS FOOD SAFARI SHOP
Maeve O’Meara explores flavours new to Australia - Peruvian, Cypriot, Filipino, South African, Lao, Polish, Afghan, Danish plus creole fare in Broome and Darwin.
Take a Food Safari to the SBS shop to find all your favourite products.