I can’t believe that just a few days ago I was in coastal Otago. Now at the other end of the country we are spending the weekend in the balmy and beautiful Whangarei Heads. However, Whangarei Heads does remind me a little of home on the Otago Peninsula.
It was a perfect way to complete our summer holiday with our friends Heather and Martin soaking in the stunning views, listening for the sound of kiwi at night and swimming in the clear blue harbour with the company of Kai, a rock diving Golden Retriever.
I discovered it’s not only the shape of the land that is familiar to Otago Peninsula. This area has had its fair share of Scottish early settlers too. Unlike Otago and Southland, Scottish settlers here didn’t come directly from the Highlands but via Nova Scotia, Canada. Compared to Nova Scotia I think the Whangarei early settlers must have thought they had arrived in Heaven with the warmth and lush growing conditions of Northland. Little touches of Scotland remain as every New Year’s Eve in Urquhart’s Bay the sound of bagpipes welcomes in the New Year from a boat moored in the harbour.
Heather is a wonderful cook. I wanted to bring something delicious and new for the weekend, so we battled with the Auckland traffic to stop in at the Matakana Village Farmers Market. There I met Jo from Whangapiro Buffalo Cheese Company who is passionate about buffalo cheeses and proudly showed photos of the latest arrivals to their herd. The Whangapiro buffalo stock came from Australia but originated from Italy.
We tried the Yassou Buffalo Haloumi and the Grado Buffalo Milk Labneh (soft balls made from Buffalo yoghurt coated in herbs and stored in a jar of oil). Both were delicious so we went onto Whangarei with both cheeses.
That night I offered to make the salad. Heather had assembled a lovely selection of small green and purple coloured lettuce, large leaved rocket, cucumbers and a good quantity of coriander.
I cut the cucumbers length wise and scooped out the seeds dicing into 1 cm pieces. This is to avoid the salad becoming too soggy.
If I wanted to use tomatoes I could go out and select them. No need to wash them as we had just received a warm downpour courtesy of Mother Nature. I simply cut them up and seasoned well with salt and pepper before adding to the salad.
Next I cut up three Buffalo Labneh balls and dotted them on top of the tomatoes and salad greens.
Now all these freshly harvested greens, tomatoes and cheese could just have a simple dressing, but I felt with so much coriander and rocket on offer I could make a pesto dressing that would add a real flavour punch.
Using a lovely large stone mortar and pestle I first crushed a large clove of mild flavoured garlic with rock salt. Crushing the garlic with salt makes it into a garlic slurry. Add a good handful of coriander and 2 or 3 rocket leaves slowly adding olive oil to ensure a paste develops.
Now for the nut component: for pesto you can use pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and even peanuts but Heather suggested I use macadamia nuts. As these nuts are grown in Northland I decided they would be perfect. Their mealiness and mild flavour would be perfect with the strong flavours of coriander and rocket. I found them tricky to crush whole, so I took them out and cut them up before working them into the paste with the mortar and pestle.
I usually finish off a pesto with a squeeze of lemon. Lemon also serves to retain a bright green colour in the pesto. As we didn’t have any lemons, I used one slice of Heather’s homemade preserved lemon.
This turned out to be a great addition. I really enjoyed the preserved lemon flavour.
I set aside a couple of tablespoons of pesto for the dressing and put the remainder in a bowl for everyone to enjoy before dinner with crackers.
For the dressing I dilute the pesto with olive oil. Always taste at this point. You might want to add a dash of vinegar but the preserved lemon made the dressing acid enough for this salad.
Just before serving I drizzle the pesto dressing over the salad. Even though coriander is the major flavour for this salad I couldn’t resist using some amethyst basil from the garden and placed some tiny whole cherry tomatoes in and around the cheese.
The salad complemented a Maori potato salad with chopped spring onions and local extra virgin unfiltered olive oil from Pataua Olive Grove, and the sweet and juicy sweetcorn purchased from a local roadside stall. Martin was in charge of producing the hot smoked salmon making this meal truly memorable.
Talk of scallops in the bay became a challenge for Peter. It was decided tomorrow when the tide is right he and Martin would attempt to free dive for scallops.
The promise of scallops for lunch depended on catching the tide at the right time and Martin and Peter being able to free dive deep enough. It wasn’t looking good. Then along came young Rolf who is an excellent free diver and he saved the day harvesting enough scallops for us to share over lunch.
I asked Heather to show me her favourite way of cooking scallops.
She has tried a number of ways of cooking them but prefers this simple and quick method that showcases the flavour of the fresh scallops.
Melt a dollop of butter and add chopped garlic (how much is up to your preference) and a couple of kaffir lime leaves sliced. Saute slowly so as not to burn the garlic and butter. Turn up the heat and throw in the scallops.
The scallops are cooked and taken off the heat when the colour of the muscle goes from slightly translucent to creamy white. They take less than 5 minutes but it depends on the condition of the scallop and how full the pan is.
The finishing touch was some fresh coriander scissored on top of the scallops at the table. Yum… they were the most delicious scallops I have ever eaten. I think they were so good because they were alive half an hour before we ate.
How privileged we are to still be able to harvest a meal from the sea. We only got a couple of scallops each but then a little of something lovely is sometimes more appreciated than a lot. Besides we had plenty of fresh salad vegetables and the rest of the Buffalo Labneh balls to add to our lunch time feast.
Martin and Heather live in a beautiful part of Northland and are a major force in the local community based Backyard Kiwi action group restoring kiwi numbers in the surrounding bush on Whangarei Heads.
Backyard Kiwi aims to have kiwi thriving on Whangarei Heads for the grandchildren of today’s residents. Managed by the Whangarei Heads Landcare group and through working with local residents this project has been so successful that the aim to have 1000 kiwis living on the peninsula by 2020 looks like it will be exceeded. This has been one of the most successful kiwi breeding operations in the country and it has been completely reliant on the skills and passion of local residents to save their kiwis.
Heather’s an artist and she generously allowed me to use the image that she painted of her Swift Whip eggbeater for my blog.
She illustrates children’s picture books and her drawings have really captured the personality of the kiwi. You can see her work at this link Heather Hunt.
In this beautiful corner of New Zealand we ended our weekend with a long swim followed by sitting on the beach watching the sunset, sipping a refreshing Pinot Noir Spritzer (a mix of wine and soda water) and munching salty potato chips in the company of Heather, Martin, their daughter Marita and Kai the dog.
Imagine, freshly caught blue cod and an even fresher salad while watching the sun set over an expansive view of the coastline and the Pacific Ocean.
I was lucky enough to have this experience when visiting my friend Kate in the small coastal village of Shag Point in Otago. It’s only 50 minutes drive north of Dunedin and I can’t believe this is the first time I have stopped and explored this remarkably beautiful piece of coastal Otago.
Kate and Peter work and live in the Waitaki Valley (I profiled them in my posting Waitaki Valley Honey with Plums and Basilin March 2013) and purchased their Shag Point holiday home last year. They enjoy the coastal life whenever the opportunity arises. Peter is a keen fisherman and Kate, being one of the best networkers I know, has already started bringing the community together with social get togethers with those lucky home owners that live in this little piece of paradise.
Before dinner Kate and her friend Carol introduced me to the village and to meet the resident fur seals on the rocks. The rock platform beneath the houses on the cliff top has many places to explore.
There are rocks that look like eggs.
The rocks are made from mudstone and melt away leaving cavities that soon fill with rock pool life.
The rocks are fringed with forests of bull kelp. If you take time to stop, sit down and watch, be prepared to be transfixed to see the kelp sway and wave like hair as the tide moves in and out of the rock cavities.
Giant bladder kelp grows further out but you can see some detached and washed up on the rocks.
Giant bladder kelp if fresh can be eaten. Rinse and hang out the leaves like washing to dry. Once dry you can simply add to soups and stews to give your food the benefit of the good properties of seaweed. It will still be tough to cut up so it’s best to lay in an oven dish and bake on low until you can crush the seaweed. This can then be kept in a jar or simply eat like kale chips.
I remember as a child the fun of popping the dried pods of the bladder kelp.
All seaweeds are edible but some are not so palatable. After a seaweed cooking class at Portobello Marine Laboratory with marine scientist and home cook Sally Carson I tried to make a salsa using Neptune’s Necklace. It didn’t really work but I am keen to experiment further. Next time I stay with Kate seaweed may be on the menu, but not this time.
A walk by the sea can be a great place for finding treasures. Can you guess what this is?
Kate found this discarded wok on the beach. The seaweed has etched it, turning junk into a piece of art for Kate and Peter’s garden.
Kate’s neighbours Phil and Jane have an impressive vegetable garden especially when I learn that Phil is only here in weekends. Kate tells me he produces new potatoes in July – outside! His secret is his compost in which he adds lots of fishmeal.
Phil told Kate to use some of the vegetables, so I decided to choose two new carrots, one medium sized courgette, some water mint, and this perfect looking lettuce to create a salad to accompany the blue cod and refried new potatoes.
I washed and left it to dry off while I prepared the other components of the salad.
I use a vegetable peeler to slice thin strips of courgette and place in a bowl. To this add a couple of tips of mint, finely chopped to make a heaped teaspoon. Add this to courgette with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
Next bowl to prepare is the carrot. You can use a mandolin to do very thin slices or do as I did and make peelings with a peeler like the courgette. To this add the juice of half an orange and about 1 teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar and some chopped parsley.
I treated myself to a very nice white balsamic vinegar to use especially with salads when you don’t necessarily want to darken with ordinary balsamic. For this salad I used 2 teaspoons…but always taste after you add 1 teaspoon before adding another.
The final component of the salad are nuts. Any nuts can be used but Kate had some local walnuts still in their shell. I shelled them and quickly browned them in a skillet, sprinkled on some ground cumin seed and dampened with some olive oil. Toasted walnuts have a lot more flavour and crunch than those just from the shell.
I sliced the Iceberg summer lettuce into 2 cm strips and added one finely chopped spring onion. I had meant to pick some of Kate’s rocket growing outside…but I got talking and forgot… as you do catching up with a friend. You can do any mix of salad greens to go with this salad.
I like to prepare the components ahead of putting the salad together so that the lettuce doesn’t get all soggy. One has the oil of the final dressing (the courgette this time) and another has the acid (the carrot with juice and balsamic vinegar).
Once Kate started cooking the blue cod I put the salad components together, first the courgette, then the carrot. Mix through the greens with your fingers to coat the lettuce in dressing then add the nuts. As I had a bowl of blackcurrants picked that morning from our Dunedin garden my final addition was a handful of blackcurrants to add a sweet-tart punch.
Just a few miles down the road from Shag Point is the fishing village of Moeraki where foodies flock to the renowned fish restaurant Fleur’s Place. No need for us to go to Fleurs when we had our own freshly caught blue cod and access to an incredible vegetable garden. Thank you Peter for the fish and thank you Phil for the salad.
My niece Sarah was my advisor when it came to decorating my potato salad mountain for a barbecue dinner with the family in Napier. I have discovered that potato salad is particularly good to eat if you are consuming bbq meats....more on why later
"Pick em up, pick em up hot potatoes...." Mart would chant and whistle on our back steps on Christmas day while carefully cleaning and scraping the new potatoes for lunch. Potatoes have been cultivated for 2000 years but my first connection with new potatoes was at Christmas time when I was a child. Every Christmas my great aunt and uncle, Nell and Mart, would arrive at our farm on Christmas Eve with freshly dug Jersey Bennies (new potatoes) from the Taieri Plains just outside Dunedin. To this day someone in the family is appointed to be "Marty" and prepare the new potatoes for Christmas lunch - and whistling is encouraged.
Cooking Hint: For a big occasion when timing could be problematic then you can pre-cook half an hour before your guests arrive. Test with a fork and when nearly done quickly drain off the water, add some butter, take off the stove top and wrap in a towel...pot and all. The potatoes will keep hot for ages this way and the remaining heat will ensure the potatoes will be perfectly cooked when eaten.
You know if your new potato is freshly dug - just rub the skin with your finger and if it peels off it means the potato hasn't long been out of the ground. This is one of the main reasons you want to grow at least some new potatoes in your own garden.
New potatoes if really fresh are best simply prepared and presented. Gently boil with a sprig of mint and salt until tender and then for serving add butter or olive oil drizzled over them and a fresh sprig or two of mint for decoration. My friend Heather from Whangarei Heads recently presented her freshly dug new potatoes with the delicious addition of finely chopped preserved lemon and chopped parsley.
The Jersey Bennie is a variety that is specifically grown as a new potato. New potatoes are harvested as soon as they start the flower and if you are lucky this could be in time for Christmas. Although, if you are careful, you can do some "robbing" before you harvest. If you want potatoes that will keep over the winter then you need to allow them to grow until autumn and harvest once all the foliage has died away. These are called main crop potatoes.
Kerry grew her early Swift potatoes in tyres.
Funnily enough when potatoes were first introduced in Europe late 16th century from South America they were viewed with suspicion and considered "evil food". In Scotland people refused to eat them because potatoes were not mentioned in the Bible.
Well our Scottish ancestors may have had misgivings about this exotic import but in the Mackay family the arrival of new potatoes are so looked forward to that we have just had to make it competitive to see who can grow the best potatoes for Christmas? My sister Kerry easily won the potato growing competition in 2014 with her Swift potatoes.
Swifts (as their name suggests) are a fast growing new potato variety that can be ready for harvest in 60 days so are a good option if you are aiming for an early summer harvest.
Kerry was able to do some "robbing" of her Swift potatoes back on the 9th of December by gently lifting the mulch and picking a sample. This gentle robbing will allow the plant to continue to grow and once they start to flower you know it's time to dig up your new potatoes.
My entry into the Mackay potato growing competition was woeful this year. I have had to rely on our Sanctuary Community garden for our supply of fresh new potatoes.
The Community garden decided to grow Swift potatoes because of the short growing period and we were allocated on Christmas week 2 kilo bags of potatoes in return for the time we gave to the community portion of the gardens. Delicious the Swifts were too!
Four rows of Swift potatoes in early November on the left and the earlier planted Maori potato varieties at Sanctuary Community Garden.
Before the Swifts three varieties of Maori potatoes were harvested as young potatoes at the gardens. Space is at a premium in our community growing areas so we grew new potatoes not main crop.
There is no one name in Maori language for the ancient potatoes grown here and the varieties are various as they have been selected and grown by families for generations. Taewa is one name and when translated means "foreigner" that hints at its origin. So where did Maori potatoes come from?
Three varieties of Maori potato that were grown at Sanctuary Gardens: top Kowiniwini, left Maori potato and right perhaps the most common variety Urenika.
In the later part of the 18th century explorers, Captain Cook from England and Marion du Fresne from France, stopped long enough in New Zealand to set up gardens that grew potatoes and other European vegetables. Maori, unlike the Scottish a century earlier, soon realised potatoes were easier to grow and produced a higher yield than the Kumera (sweet potato) they brought from Polynesia. The arrival of the potato replaced the only other form of starch the fern root.
Potatoes were also introduced to New Zealand directly from South America via sailors and whalers. New Zealand Maori potatoes therefore have a much stronger genetic base making them stronger and more resistant to disease and fungal infections ... like that which caused the potato blight in Europe in the 1840s. In Europe all the potatoes actually came from a few potato varieties. So when the potato blight hit in Europe there was little resistance and the potato crops were devastated.
Not only are they more disease resistant they have a higher nutritional value.
Researchers at the Riddet Institute in Palmerston North have discovered that Maori potatoes have different attributes to modern potato varieties, which makes them useful for developing new food products. When testing four varieties of Maori potato against the modern potato Nadine they found,
"Overall, taewa have more antioxidants than modern Nadine potatoes (for example, 6-10 times more in the case of Tūtaekurī). Antioxidants are thought to protect cells from damage and may reduce the risk of cancer and slow the effects of ageing. Taewa are also rich in essential amino acids, minerals and anthocyanins. The skin of all the cultivars has higher protein, fat, minerals and dietary fibre than the flesh. All four cultivars showed significant nutritional advantages over the modern potato, Nadine." http://biotechlearn.org.nz
The potatoes before being put in the oven. You can vary the flavouring - a favourite of mine is to put in unpeeled garlic cloves.
I have found Maori potatoes are far better cooked in the oven than boiled. They tend to disintegrate when boiled. I also like using the following method of baking with any new potato variety as I think it brings out the earthiness of the potato.
Place washed potatoes into an oven dish, slice half a lemon into segments and place on top, Add some mint leaves and I like to also add a couple of bay tree leaves. Season with salt and pepper and either dot with butter as I have above or your favourite oil. Cover with foil and cook in an oven for around 50 minutes at 180 Celsius.
The cooked potatoes do loose some of the intense colour - all except for the purple sausage shaped Urenika.
Cooking time varies depending on the number of potatoes and how they are stacked in a dish - single layer being quicker than layers.
I really enjoyed the Kowiniwini variety with its medium deepest eyes, and is distinctive with its yellow patches of skin. The potato has a purple-red skin but the fleshy is creamy white.
The variety simply called Maori potato is quite similar to other modern varieties in appearance and it has shallow eyes and a uniform round shape. The only real difference is the rough texture of the pinky-red skin.
The Urenika is probably the most commonly planted variety of Maori Potato simply because it's a real survivor as you will soon find out if you grow any in your garden. The purple skinned knobbly sausage-like tubers will persist in the ground for long periods and this is the potato that you can still find growing in the wild probably in old abandoned Maori occupation sites. The potato plants have purple stems and white flowers with grey in the centre of the petals. It is a very floury potato with purple flesh. If you keep them for a while before cooking they are less floury. The Urenika is probably similar to the Purple Congo that is cultivated in Australia and used by the Italian community to make gnocchi (potato pasta).
So for you gnocchi lovers out there why not try the Urenika.
I did have some leftover potatoes cooked this way and was pleased to see they did keep their shape when cut old into a salad the next day.
I have only recently learn't that cold potatoes are really good for you. I have never been a fan of potato salad but since learning that it is a very healthy option I have decided to perfect my potato salad recipe. Cold potato is especially good for you if you are eating red meat and a barbecue is probably the setting where you are most probably going to find a potato salad lurking.
So what is the difference between a hot potato and a cold potato?
When a potato cools down much of the potato starch turns into "resistant" starch. Resistant starch is not digested in your stomach or absorbed in the small intestine but passes into your large intestine, where it becomes food for a host of beneficial bacteria ... these starches will also line and strengthen the walls of the colon.
The trouble I have with potato salad is that it's such a boring unappetising colour so I decided to make a potato salad mountain and decorate it with other salad vegetables for a recent family barbecue.
Green additions can be any herb such as parsley, coriander, basil or chopped chives. A nasturium always adds colour and a feel of summer. This variety is called "Empress of India" - it is supposed to be red but its a very dark orange. The good thing about this nasturtium is that it has a compact habit so is good for those that don't have room for the rambling standard nasturium.
For a quick dinner I wouldn't go to these lengths but I would always have some green in the dressing and pop on a colourful edible flower. At our barbecue young Julie who is 6 really loved the peppery flavour of the nasturtium.
Cook the potatoes ahead of time so they can cool down before eating. They don't need to be chilled but do need to be cold. Cook them with their skins on as it helps keep them together and besides a lot of nutrients in potatoes are in the skin.
Osprey potatoes I purchased at the Tauranga Farmers Market. I am always keen to try a different variety of potato and these Osprey with their pink eyes were intriguing. I later found out that the soft moist texture makes them an ideal potato salad candidate.
There are two camps of opinion when it comes to how to dress your potato salad - whether you use an oil and vinegar based dressing ... or a creamy dressing. Around the same time that I discovered cold potato was good for your gut health I was given some Kefir grains to produce the fermented milk product Kefir that is also great for promoting gut health. I will follow up with a posting dedicated to kefir and if you haven't got kefir on hand you can just use yoghurt for this dressing.
I bought the Arataki clover runny honey en route from Tauranga to Napier as I thought it would come in handy for the Christmas catering and it has been great for sweetening the kefir and for dressings.
Kefir, Yoghurt and Mustard Dressing
One cup of Kefir (you can just use yoghurt instead)
3 Tbsp of Yoghurt
2 tsp Tahini paste
one garlic clove crushed and made into a puree in some salt
1 tsp grainy whole mustard
1-2 tsp of honey - add one at a time and taste
1-2 Tbsp of your favourite oil.
Shake and mix - taste and see if you need more honey. Kefir is tart and acid so you may need 2tsp of honey if using kefir or a particularly tart yoghurt.
Here I have just added the garlic that has been crushed with salt to become liquid. This is optional but I love garlic and especially now that new season's garlic is around.
The tahini is the thickening agent as kefir is the consistency of cream - just using a tsp or two will not give you a dominating flavour of sesame. I add yoghurt to get a creamy taste and texture. If using all this dressing in one go then you can also chop in herbs. To give an aniseed flavour, chop up a small amount of tarragon (no more than one sprig). Parsley is a great addition and you can use lots of parsley. I have also used fresh coriander and a good pinch of ground cumin. Flavour it however you like. If you are using just yoghurt you may wish to either grate some lemon zest or add a squeeze of lemon to give it more zing.
This dressing can be used for any salad ... not just potato. It's a healthier option to replace a mayonnaise dressing and everyone in the family enjoyed it in combination with the potato.
The Maori gardeners became excellent cultivators of the potato and soon began trading their surplus potatoes to our growing cities and to Australia. The early European settlers would have relied on these potatoes for food until they could establish home gardens. In the US Thanksgiving remembers the kindness of Native Americans who provided starving settlers with food. Pumpkin and turkey are part of their Thanksgiving celebration meals, but perhaps in New Zealand we should give thanks to the early Maori gardeners and the potato affectionately called "the spud".