While Australia is the furthest country in the world from most of the US, my research made it clear that the cuisine there is quite similar to our own — a Western European base with plenty of influences from immigrants around the world. So it took a little asking around to figure out what I could make that would be an only-in-Australia sort of thing. And this is how I learned about the mad genius of the Aussie burger, with a few other gems thrown in.
Tonight was a mini-reunion of Albania, with Snezan, Neely, Rudina, and Kirsty in attendance. We also had the pleasure of the company of Kirsty's mother (all the way from England) and elementary school teacher (all the way from Alabama), as well as Rudina's boyfriend Adam and my friend Mike. Thank goodness the threat of rain never materialized, because between the crowd and the need to grill, doing this one outside was a must.
Vegemite on toast
I'd heard plenty about this yeast extract spread that's apparently an immense cultural anchor and source of Australian pride and identity. Well, I found it at Fairway, and we spread it on toast. It was very salty and was like essence of meat in spreadable form. Check that off the foods bucket list.
Prawns in coriander-pepper sauce | Recipe
If an American has a thought about Australian food, it's probably "shrimp on the barbie," from a long-running and very successful tourism advertising campaign. It turns out, though, that in Australia they're called prawns, but that's where the inauthenticity ends — barbecuing them is definitely appropriate! I found this recipe, whose marinade is made from the entirely of the coriander (a.k.a. cilantro) plant, including the roots. I used the largest reasonably-priced prawns I could find, and I made sure to get them wild-caught because I've read some awfully nasty things about farmed shrimp/prawns. I had to peel and devein them myself, which wasn't a horrible hassle but probably worth paying a few extra points to avoid next time. Anyway, it was really yummy, a good nibble to pass the time while waiting for the main event.
Imagine a hamburger, made with breadcrumbs and some stuff to make it extra juicy. Now imagine it slathered with homemade barbecue sauce, and then stacked with cheddar cheese, a grilled pineapple ring, pickled beets, bacon, and, I kid you not, a fried egg (the recipe above doesn't call for that but I saw several mentions elsewhere). Yes, this was difficult to eat. Yes, this was a bizarre combination of flavors. But gosh, it was good. As Adam observed, the Chinese say that a meal should feature the five major flavors, and, well, this featured them all and then some in one impossible sandwich.
Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots | Recipe
Out of all that comprises "bush tucker," the umbrella term for fruits, vegetables, game and even grubs from the outback, the only native Australian plant-based food that seems to have spread this far is macadamia nut. I made do with a tip from Kirsty that Aussies like brussels sprouts, and I found this nice little recipe on an Australian site, so there we go. Turns out that Fairway has slab bacon that halfway replicates rashers, but I went a bit overboard and got the proportions wrong. This dish ended up a bit more like bacon with a smattering of sprouts. Oops! Well, nobody complained.
Anzac biscuits | Recipe below
Australia does lay claim to some distinctive desserts. I learned about the meringue-and-cream pavlova, but (sorry Aussies) my research leads me to conclude that it's originally from New Zealand so we'll want to do it then. The chocolate-dipped cake squares known as lamingtons seemed neat too. But Kirsty brought a recipe for Anzac biscuits from her ex's mother, so in the interest of keeping things in the family we went with that. These cookies are named after the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps, the one that met an infamous fate at Gallipoli in World War I. Apparently they were made to last during a long shipment, and to make do during a shortage of eggs, and the oats and coconut hold up valiantly. These disappeared within five minutes of hitting the table, warm from the oven.
As Mike put it, we'd been expecting that this might be a boring meal, but it turned out to defy that expectation. And I'll definitely keep that prawn marinate recipe in mind for future cooking — I could see it going on other types of fish, or even chicken. Next week takes us to Austria, where they don't do shrimps on barbies. Laura's parents and sister will be our guests of honor!
Combine oats, sifted flour, sugar and coconut. Combine butter and golden syrup stir over a gentle heat until melted. Mix bicarb of soda with boiling water, add to melted butter mixture, stir into dry ingredients. If the mixture appears a little dry just add a little more butter or margarine. Place tablespoonfuls of mixture on lightly greased oven trays: allow room for spreading. Cook in slow oven for 20 minutes. Loosen while warm, then cool on trays.
Makes about 35