--- Join Nadia Sawalha to enjoy favourite recipes from around the world in Nadia’s Family Feasts, weekdays 1.30pm 14-25 March on SBS Food, with episodes available for 4 weeks after they air at SBS On Demand ---
A dish can bring back wonderful memories – in Nadia’s Sawalha’s case, the parties of her childhood, where her father turned the family sitting room into a colourful, silk-swathed Arabic tent and there was feasting on the floor.
The dish at the heart of this memory is musakhan: tender chicken cooked with onions and sumac.
“This was the dish that we would have, like, when all the family came round. It’s a dish of roasted chicken, lots of onion, all soaked into this gorgeous, thin bread,” says Sawalha.
“But also, it can be for feasts… a big party dish, where you pile it high. When we were children, my Dad’s an actor, and whenever my Dad did a movie, he would have what we called the wrap party, and we would turn our sitting room into an Arabic tent. So, we’d get into the middle, and we’d sit on the floor, yeah, and we’d have big plates of this, piled high.”
It’s one of many dishes that the keen cook, author and mother of two shares in Nadia’s Family Feasts. Taking inspiration from cuisines from around the world, she and a series of guest chefs share the recipes their families love, from chef Zoe Adjonyoh’s peanut butter stew to Mandy Lim’s pandan pancakes. Other guests include Israeli chef Eran Tibi, Jeremy Pang of London's School of Wok and Nisha Katona, author of Mowgli Street Food.
“Growing up, dinner was always a family affair. With my Arabic father and my Mum’s obsession with all things French, mealtimes were tasty and exciting,” says London-based Sawalha, who loves to cook, and does so with plenty of laughter (you can see some of her cooking adventures on her Instagram page).
Her father Nadim joins her in the show, too, to share how he makes coffee – and a little bit of dancing!
Inspired by the focus on favourite family recipes, we decided to ask some of the SBS Food television ‘family’ about their favourite family recipes.
“I think the thing about family is that you can cook the same thing over and over and we all just fall more in love with it,” says our Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans. “One thing we often do is dumplings in apple sauce, because the most important thing is family, not food. Those dumplings tick all the boxes. We can make them at the last minute. They are quick and easy. Kids can easily knock them up. And everybody loves them.
“When our family gathers, which is rarely because Sadie and I moved from interstate, it's all about sharing stories, building culture, all those things that humans do around the table. The food should have impact, but be accessible. So, we might slow cook some pork shoulder for a few hours with fennel, garlic and rosemary. We chargrill whatever vegetables are in season. Asparagus and whole young broad beans in spring. Zucchini and eggplant in late summer. I might make a garlic and goat's cheese tart because it can be made ahead and if there's any leftover, it makes a cracking lunch the next day.
“A family feast is about laughter. It's about conviviality. Yes, we'll pour some cracking cool-climate pinot noir, like Chatto from our neighbouring vineyard. Yes, we'll tip raw cream on to icing sugar-dusted raspberries in January. Yes, we'll bake focaccia or pizza in the wood oven. But most importantly, we'll have time to sit and enjoy each other's company, no matter what the season.” (Catch up on seasons on the farm with Gourmet Farmer at SBS On Demand.)
Company is what matters for Silvia Colloca, too.
“Family feasts are most and foremost about being with family, creating opportunities for conversations and togetherness. And so the recipes I tend to turn to are always simple, to allow more time spent with the people I love and less slaving at the stove!” says the host of Cook Like An Italian and Made In Italy.
“In summer I love big seafood platters, with salmon or kingfish ceviche or carpaccio, prawns and oysters with a simple dressing and maybe a big pot of steaming vongole and mussels cooked in white wine and cherry tomatoes. And lots of chilli!
When we ask Jimmy Shu, the smiling host of Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory, about the family recipes he loves, he says there are two that stand out.
“One is the humble gyoza, your Chinese dumplings. That's a lot to do with my Dad's and Mum's heritage. They were born in China, and they always cooked it during our festivals, during the Chinese New Year, because we had to offer that to our grandparents, so we always cooked a fair bit and the first plate was given as an offering to our grandparents. And then after that, we were able to eat it. That's number one. Number two is, which is on Taste of the Territory, is the meen moilee, which is the fish poached in coconut infused with lemongrass.
“As a mid teenager, round about 15 years old, Dad used to drag me to the markets. And I don't think any 15-year-old would appreciate waking up at five o'clock in the morning! But when I went to the markets Dad used to feed me with that. And I loved it so much that the moment he wakes me, I am just focusing on that particular dish. And I've opened 13 restaurants so far. Every one of them had that dish except one, which was a vegetarian restaurant. And my two existing restaurants have it on the menu. So that conjures a lot of memories of my childhood days,” says Shu, whose lauded Darwin restaurant Hanuman also has a branch in Alice Springs.
But the dish he’s been cooking for gatherings lately is not from his own childhood. Shu doesn’t have immediate family in Darwin, “but I treat all my staff as my family and I will go to my restaurants and I will cook for them,” he says. And what does he cook? “Well, at the moment because my wife is Singaporean, it is their famous chicken rice.
"I was in Alice Springs two weeks ago and I cook for my staff chicken rice. ... And two weeks ago, I invited six of my friends to my warehouse. I was experimenting on a new barbecue charcoal barbecue setup. And there I did chicken rice for them as well.” It’s Singaporean chicken rice, with a tiny twist, he explains. "I was told by this friend of mine to use dried anchovies in the chicken stock. It's a little secret!”
Plat du Tour’s Guillaume Brahimi is another for whom food conjures memories of childhood.
“Roast chicken would be my favourite dish to serve at a family feast. There are two reasons for this. Firstly all my children love to eat it. It’s one of those dishes that you clean the plate entirely of the chicken, the sauce, the Paris mash and in my household you usually accomplish this with a piece of bread.
“The second reason is because it is so reminiscent of my own childhood and one the favourite things to eat with my parents, my brothers and my sister. The dish would make you feel warm just by seeing it served on the table. The smell of it through the house while it is cooking for me was and still is comforting. A feeling of togetherness which is so important at family gatherings.”
For SBS Food’s Managing Editor Farah Celjo, home tastes like her mother’s cooking. “There really isn't a difference between gatherings and regular family dinners at my house. Anything that can be shared and eaten straight out of the pan was always the most memorable at our family gatherings. Burek and zeljanica [a cheese and heavy-on-the-spinach pie] were a must and satisfied our urge to pull pastry with our hands directly from the pan.
“Cabbage and spinach rolls stuffed with beef and lamb, as well as mama's baked stock rice, are still a regular feature at gatherings today and with a jar of ajvar, this is what home will always taste like for me. “ (Read about another favourite her family love to eat from the pan in this ode to Celjo’s mother’s baklava or try some Bosnian baking with Celjo’s recipe for another family favourite, kiflice - sweet jam-filled pastries).
Helen Tzouganatos, the host of SBS’s Loving Gluten Free, has been creating gluten-free versions of favourite Greek dishes for over a decade. What does she love to serve at a family meal?
“Youvetsi is always popular with kids because it is quite a playful dish with small pasta shapes, braised pork and tomato. Traditionally youvetsi is made with risoni but in my gluten-free version I have swapped it out for baby elbow pasta. The kids love scooping out the baby pasta shells from the bottom of their warm bowls with a large soup spoon. This is a very versatile dish because you can swap the pork out for beef, chicken or lamb so it works well as a mid-week one-pot wonder.
“For a Sunday family feast two favourite dishes are slow-cooked lamb shoulder and moussaka, they are both quintessential Hellenic dishes. Both feed a large crowd and can be prepared in advance so all you need to do is pop them in the oven before guests arrive giving you plenty of time to wash up.” (Read more about Tzouganatos’ tips for a delicious moussaka in her recipe here; and look for the slow-cooked lamb shoulder in her new book, Easy Gluten Free.)
Gathering to eat together – whether it’s a mid-week meal, or a festive gathering – is a chance to share some love.
“It’s a way that you can take care of other people … people that you love,” says Masha Rener, the Italian guest chef in the first episode of Nadia’s Family Feasts. “When you love someone … that’s like the little magical part of cooking, so you do the dish that they love, and you’re going to sit around the table and you’re going to share your experience, you’re going to share your feelings. This is just magical, I think.”
Frank Pinello's aunt shares their family recipe for a potato casserole that embraces the spirit of pizza.
"This is possibly my favourite Great Aunty Kim dish. It’s very simple but so tasty and one of those dishes that proves you need very little to create wonderful flavour. Serve as a fabo dine-alone vegetarian dish or as part of a shared meal. A big bowl of rice with this dish is the purest form of happiness for me." Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co. 2