Dishes from Down Under

Cynthia Stone
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I don't while away my leisure hours planning a retirement filled with glamorous trips abroad, because I'm a lousy traveller. I loathe airports and planes and buses and taxis and suitcases and lineups.

Don't get me wrong - once I get to where I'm going I squeeze every bit of good out of a place. So when work sent me to Australia, you bet when I wasn't hard at labour for the boss, I was having fun. It goes without saying that quite a lot of that fun was sampling the kitchen offerings from Down Under.

To say Australian cuisine is eclectic is to doubt the bear's bathroom intent in the forest.

The warm and extraordinarily friendly people there seem to thrive on latching onto customs brought from every corner of the globe and making them their own.

Before you ask, yes, there was a tiny morsel of kangaroo on my menu. I was underwhelmed, but I didn't eat enough to pass judgment, so I won't. I particularly enjoyed a place that featured Tasmanian dishes, however - the rabbit was divine and I can't wait to try it with the next bunny to cross my path.

On every menu there seemed to be meat pies and chips - come to think of it, potatoes in every form. They don't eat ketchup, by the way, so if you're planning a trip, learn to live without it because you can't take any food into the country.

Barbecue is huge and, yes, you can get Vegemite on toast for breakfast.The influences from China, Japan, Thailand and India were everywhere. At a Sunday morning street market, two women were frying Turkish breads as fast as patrons could order them up - filled with lamb, can you imagine?

The fish was also delicious; many species I had never tasted, but I enjoyed every bite. And the wine? To die for, of course.

Lamb meatballs

I ate lamb several ways, including in a takeout sandwich. I happened upon some ground lamb here about a month ago, so there happened to be a package in my freezer - perfect timing upon arriving home with a thousand recipe ideas revolving in my head.

If you can't find ground lamb, then use ground beef. It won't be quite the same, but delicious in its own right. Serve these as party finger foods or simmer them for a couple of minutes in tomato sauce and pour over pasta.

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 lb. ground lamb
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup mango (or other fruit) chutney
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
1/2 cup (approx.) flour
vegetable oil

Cover breadcrumbs with milk and let stand five minutes. Combine with lamb, egg, onion, garlic, chutney, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Fry a tiny bit and taste for seasoning - you might want another pinch or two of salt. Form into patties, meatballs - whatever size you like, but smaller are easier to cook. Dredge in flour and fry in oil until golden brown and cooked through the centre. By the way, this mixture makes absolutely fantastic burgers, too.

Smoked Fish 'n' Potato Pie
The British heritage is evident everywhere, from the flag to the table, and no more than in this dish. It's pub fare at its best, but just as easy to make at home.

Use whatever smoked fish you want, but haddock, cod or another white variety would be best - salmon and herring are probably too strong for the light sauce. Fresh fish in this would be equally delicious, but a different recipe altogether. This amount serves about 4.

Fish Base:

1-1/2 lbs. smoked white fish
2 cups milk (divided)
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
large handful of chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp. lemon juice

4 large yellow potatoes
1/2 cup coffee cream
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese

Place fish in a shallow pot and cover with 1 cup of the milk. Cover and poach over low heat about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

When the fish is cool enough to touch, break it into large flakes and set aside. Melt butter in the same pot and fry onion until softened. Stir in flour and cook for a minute. Whisk in remaining 1 cup milk along with the reserved cup of cooking liquid from the fish. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring, until thickened and smooth. Add pepper and check for salt; add a little if needed. Add parsley and lemon juice then gently stir in fish.

Pour into a greased casserole dish. For the topping, boil potatoes in salted water until very tender - dicing them first reduces the cooking time. Mash with cream and butter and spoon on top of fish layer. Drag a fork along the top to make deep grooves and sprinkle on the cheese. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.

Golden Syrup Dumplings
Australians love their sweets and they love to talk about them. A chance encounter in a restaurant led to a fellow patron writing down this recipe for me and I couldn't wait to try it. You'll enjoy these with a little whipping cream - unwhipped - poured over top.

1 cup flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
1 tbsp. cool unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1-1/2 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter or margarine (add a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter)

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter using a small food processor, pastry blender or your fingertips. Whisk egg into milk and add to flour mixture, tossing lightly until mixed. With well-floured hands, pinch off small bits (maybe a little smaller than a golf ball) and roll into rounds - don't overwork the dough. Set aside on a piece of waxed paper. Bring the sauce ingredients to a boil in a large pot or frying pan. Drop in the dumplings all at once. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Open the lid and flip over the dumplings then cover and cook another 10 minutes.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Australia, China, Japan Thailand India St. John's

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