• Macadamia Baklava by Mark Olive (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Poke bowls, Bahni Mi and the controversial Hawaiian pizza — fusion cuisine has given us some of the world's most delicious favourites.
Sophie Verass

18 Oct 2019 - 2:03 PM  UPDATED 29 Oct 2019 - 3:23 PM

A few years ago, my friend celebrated her birthday at one of the city's newest culinary hotspots.

Greeted by two faux-marble lion gargoyles, we entered an aromatic restaurant, wafting Indian spices and freshly cooked pizza dough. On the menu: Italian food meets Indian cuisine.  

Here, I soon learned that there is a big difference between dipping one's toe into fusion cuisine and dousing a risotto in butter chicken sauce (also — if a mango lassi has a lingering fizz, it will definitely give you diarrhoea). 

If the pleather seating and mirror balls weren't already an indication this place was worthy of a Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares episode, the overpowering tastes of the 'korma carbonara' or the 'tandoori arancini balls' certainly affirmed it. I guess some distinct worldly flavours have as much compatibility as oil and water. 

But who could really blame the aspiring restauranteurs for Frankensteining our food that night? Fusion cuisine is responsible for some of the world's most delicious favourites: Tex Mex, poke bowls, ceviche, Bahn mi, cronuts and depending on which side of pineapple-on-pizza you sit, the great Hawaiian deep pan.

It's just that maybe good fusion works best when the creation is at the hands of the food lovers, flavour experts and let's face it, professional chefs, rather than hospo hotheads looking to fill a gap in the market.  

Celebrity chef and one part of NITV's On Country Kitchen is one man for such a challenge. In the second season of On Country Kitchen, he brings inspiring new life to overseas dishes using Australia's native ingredients. 


Native Spice Stir Fry

Before Jamie Oliver was impressing us with 30-minute dinners, 14th Century Chinese were woking up some ferociously fast cooking.  

Stir Fry is one of those beloved peasant foods — dishes that are made from accessible and inexpensive ingredients — and is a great way of jam-packing nutritional vegetables into one meal. 

But it's not a 'dish' so to speak, but rather a cooking technique. Originating in China during the Ming dynasty, it's the cathartic process of dynamically sautéing tasty produce and seasoning it with fragrant Asian flavours.   

Australia's bush tomato is most accessible in dried, ground, powder form. It's described as having an earthy, caramel flavour and a gives a bitter kick if sprinkled a little too enthusiastically. 

Similarly, saltbush is another flavourful spice, derived from a grey-blue shrub grown in drier parts of the country. Ground up, these leaves are a fantastic table salt alternative; bitey, with a herby aftertaste.   

In one bite? Let Asian culinary techniques evoke the aromatics of the Australian bush. 

Make it yourself
Native spice stir-fry
Bush tomato is also known as desert raisin, Kutjura and Akudjura.


Macadamia Baklava

With over 60,000 Turkish speakers living in Australia, and many more who claim ancestry, sticky, flaky and nutty baklava has become so integrated into the 'Australian way of life' (whatever that means), that afternoon tea additions no longer come from an Arnott's packet. 

Originating in the Middle-East, with ties to Greece also, baklava has many recipe variations depending on country and culture. Particularly when it comes to nuts. In Albania, they use walnuts; in Jordan, it's often pistachios, for example.

Australia has had a difficult relationship with our prized nut — the macadamia — since 19th Century cultivars began importing them abroad. What originates from this country, is now mostly commercially produced in South Africa and consumed by the United States!

In one bite? Bringing back our national treasure and finding their buttery — almost coconutty — flavours a home in filo pastry layers. 

Make it yourself
Macadamia baklava
Mark Olive adds his signature twist to the classic Levantine sweet, baklava, with the use of macadamia nuts and lemon aspen syrup.


Lemon Aspen & Sea Urchin Roe En Croute

If you're like me, 'en croute' came into your vocabulary during the episode of Friends where Monica makes a "roasted asparagus and salmon en croute" for Rachel to disguise as her own cooking for her hot date. 

Hailing from France, 'en croute' literally translates as "in a pastry crust", and is the culinary art of wrapping something in pastry and baking it.

This popular European cooking method has been around for centuries. Different regions have different traditions in terms of filling. Generally, it's a pate-style meat of either pork or veal and even rabbit is very common. 

Admittedly, to call Olive's dish 'en croute' is a stretch, considering the key fundamental is lacking — pastry. However, he's certainly offered a tasty crust and executes french-style cooking, using sliced baguettes decorated with delectable dollops.

While many of us champion Australia's Lemon Myrtle, our country has another lovely lemony offering. Lemon Aspen is a small round fruit native to forests of northern Queensland. It has a tart lemon-grapefruit flavour, with undertones of eucalyptus.     

In one bite? Delightfully creamy, salty with a crispy crunch. It's the aromatics of the Queensland tropics meets rich French indulgence. 

Make it yourself
Lemon aspen and sea urchin roe canapés
This smart canape recipe makes enough for 20 small bites.


Lemon Myrtle Vegetable Tempura

Japan may be known for heroing some of the world's best meats like wagyu and sashimi, but in 2013, I formed a close, personal relationship with the vegetarian dishes of Nippon while I travelled there during my meat-free, high-level social justice warrior, university days. 

Let's face it. Everything tastes better battered. But unlike your traditional British Fish and Chips which has a thick, protein-rich coating of cornstarch and yeasty beer, tempura has a unique light batter made from ice-cold water and low-gluten soft flour.

Lemon myrtle is possibly the most commonly known Australian native ingredient. Its perfumey, citrus aroma which long lingers in your mouth, is used in both sweet and savoury cooking (as well as heaps of soaps and other gift shop items). Overpromoted? Maybe. Overrated? Absolutely not. There's a reason this flamboyant herb has such a cult following.    

In one bite? Meet the more charismatic, more attractive cousin of the rosemary roast veg.

Make it yourself
Lemon myrtle vegetable tempura
Lemon myrtle is relatively easy to come by nowadays and adds a subtle citrus hum to both sweet or savoury dishes.


Spaghetti with warrigal pesto

It's one of life's most difficult decisions — pasta with rich tomato bolognese or with oily, herby pesto?

You hear a lot of celebrity chefs advising that "simple food" is often the best food. And Pesto is one shining example. Basil, pine nuts, garlic, hard mature cheese and fatty olive oil brings pasta alive with vibrant colour and mouth-watering aromas. It may be the very basic of ingredients, but it's a culinary icon. 

While we'd all like to have the patience of skilled Nonnas who pound the ingredients using the traditional method, 'Pesto alla blended in the magic bullet' is probably more accurate in 21st Century kitchens.

Endemic along the coast of Australia, Warrigal greens are a leafy treat that can be found and foraged. While they're known as fantastic spinach alternative, they carry their own unique grassy, salty herb flavour. It pounds, blends and most importantly, eats well, packed with Vitamin C and iron.    

In one bite? It's classic comfort food conveying the coastline. 

Make it yourself
Fresh pasta with warrigal pesto
This recipe was made on the set of On Country Kitchen using fresh ribbon pasta, but you can use any type you like, fresh or dry.


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