Feasting with the least hassle

Cook & Feast, by Audra Morrice, published by Landmark Books, RRP$39.99.
Cook & Feast, by Audra Morrice, published by Landmark Books, RRP$39.99.
Cooking and feasting brings great joy to Audra Morrice and to many others, hence the name of her second cookbook, Cook & Feast.

Morrice is a MasterChef Australia finalist (season 4), who gave up a career in communications to work with food.

''My aim has always been to put a smile on people's faces by presenting delicious food to them.''

She celebrates her heritage - she was born in Singapore to a Chinese mother and Indian father - in the book with many recipes reflecting growing up in a multicultural family or her travels.

''I've brought to life memories of my travels, of people I've met, of conversations I've had, places I've visited, of birthday celebrations, of food my family adores, of my obsession with banana leaves, gochujang [Korean hot pepper paste, stoneware vessels and so on.''

Morrice talks of the countless feasts her parents hosted while she was growing up, how her mother prepared food days ahead of time and ran the kitchen like an executive chef, but acknowledges that cooking for a crowd sends many people into a panic.

She advocates organisation as the key to reducing this stress, whether for a weeknight dinner or a dinner party. Start by selecting a menu that works together not just by taste, but by cooking processes.

She advises keeping weeknight meals simple - a combination of protein, vegetable and carbohydrate or a high-protein vegetable combo is more than sufficient - leaving the special dishes to the weekends.

''Perhaps focus on one-dish meals and gradually build from there.''

Again organisation is key - plan and prepare ahead of time and delegate tasks to other members of the family. It is a great way for children to learn cooking skills.

''The best thing about cooking at home is it allows you to feed your family well while managing the budget.''

Cook double batches of the ''protein'' and present it differently the second night or freeze for a night when you do not have time to cook.

If you are going to cook for a large dinner party, Morrice advises organisation and preparation are key, starting with working out a menu a week out ahead of the event with dishes that complement each other flavour-wise.

''The easiest way to achieve this is cooking by cuisine. Selecting all Chinese dishes, Indian dishes or Italian dishes will ensure a good blend of favours.''

But just as important is ensuring the cooking processes flow smoothly, so all your mains can be served at the same time.

''Try steaming or poaching, with braising or roasting and top it up with a stir-fry dish that will come together quickly on a stove.''

By preparing dishes ahead of time, the cook can spend some time with their guests and not just slaving over the stove.

The book, which is divided into chapters on meats, seafood, greens, grains, tofu and noodles, condiments and baked goods, also has suggested menus, recipes with a ''wow factor'' and advice on table settings, flowers and edible gifts.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied
Tamarind chilli crispy-skin salmon with green mango herb salad

Tamarind and fish are a great combination. The tamarind chilli dressing is delicious but pungent with the addition of the shrimp paste, so use as little or as much as you desire. If you prefer it less sweet, pull back on the gula melaka (palm sugar).

Serves 4

600g salmon fillets, cut into 4cm cubes, patted dry with paper towels
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper
crispy shallots

Tamarind chilli dressing
5-10g large dried red chillies
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt
5g belacan (shrimp paste)
65g gula melaka, shaved
25g tamarind pulp, soaked in 150ml
(⅗ cup) hot water, rendered and sieved
1½ Tbsp lemon juice
2 large kaffir lime leaves, finely julienned

Green mango herb salad
½ telegraph cucumber or 1 Lebanese cucumber, unpeeled, shaved into ribbons
1 green mango, peeled, shaved into ribbons
1 small bunch coriander leaves
1 small bunch Thai basil leaves
2 wing beans, finely sliced
squeeze of lemon juice
pinch of sugar
olive oil

Season the fish with salt and pepper and a drizzle of oil.

Place the soaked dried chillies and garlic in a food processor and blend until a fine paste.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the shrimp paste and mash with a wooden spatula. Cook for a minute until the shrimp paste becomes fragrant and starts to toast.

Add the chilli garlic paste and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant.

Add the gula melaka and cook until dark, glossy and sticky. Slowly pour in the tamarind puree. Cook until slightly thickened, then stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle on the kaffir lime leaves. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat a non-stick fry pan over high heat. Place the fish pieces skin side down evenly around the pan and cook until crisp and golden.

To ensure that the skin is evenly crispy, you may need to gently press with a spatula to keep the skin flat on the pan. Turn over, and cook the other side until three-quarter cooked.

Pour over the tamarind chilli sauce and toss very gently to just coat. Be careful not to break up the fish pieces.

Combine the salad ingredients, and dress with lemon juice, sugar and olive oil just before serving.

Transfer the fish to a serving plate along with all the sauce and top with the green mango, cucumber and herb salad. Sprinkle with crispy shallots and serve immediately.

Note: Adjust the quantity of the large, red dried chillies according to your taste. Also, leave the seeds in if you like the dish extra spicy, otherwise, deseed them. In any case, soak the chillies in hot water until softened before using them.

Spiced rice, eggplant and zucchini masala in filo pastry

This is a real festive dish totally inspired by pastilla, a Moroccan pie. It does take a little while to pull together but totally worth it when you present it at the dinner table!

Serves 4


Eggplant and zucchini masala
1 eggplant (500g)
300g zucchini, halved lengthways, sliced on the diagonal
2 Tbsp cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil
1 large (250g) onion, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
2 stalks curry leaves
1 heaped Tbsp grated ginger
1 heaped Tbsp grated garlic
2 Tbsp finely chopped coriander stem and root
2 large hot green chillies, sliced thinly
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp hot paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1½ tsp sugar
1½-2 tsp salt or to taste
125ml (1½ cup) water
zest and juice of ¼ lime
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Spiced rice
1 Tbsp cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled, coarsely grated
2 stalks curry leaves
4 cardamom pods, crushed lightly
1 large cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1 star anise
2 small dried chillies
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
250g (1½ cups) basmati rice, washed and drained
150g (¾ cup) green or puy lentils, cooked in boiling water until al dente (about 30-40 minutes), drained
330ml (1⅓ cups) vegetable stock
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
80g (½ cup) dried currants
70g (½ cup) toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
2 large (500g) onions, peeled, halved, thinly sliced and separated, shallow fried in oil until golden, drain well
1½ cups fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped pastry
6 sheets filo pastry
50g butter, melted

Yoghurt dressing
420g (1½ cups) Greek yoghurt
2 tsp honey
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted, coarsely ground
1 Lebanese cucumber, coarsely grated or julienned
1 Tbsp oil
½ tsp chilli powder or paprika

Final touch
1 Tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp ground cinnamon

To prepare the eggplant for the masala, place the eggplant over the open flame of a stove top or barbecue and cook until the skin is charred all over and the flesh has softened.

Set aside to cool slightly. Carefully remove all the charred skin and the stem. Do not rinse! Pull the flesh apart into strips and set aside.

To prepare the spiced rice, place the saucepan over medium heat. Heat the coconut oil, add the garlic, curry leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and dried chillies, and fry for two minutes until fragrant.

Add the coriander, cumin, and turmeric then stir in the rice. Put in the lentils, stock, salt and pepper. Stir well and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and allow the rice to cook.

It won't take long, five to 10 minutes at most. As soon as the rice is cooked, remove from heat and stir through with a fork. Toss in the currants, nuts and fried onions. Season with more salt if needed. Set aside to cool.

To prepare the masala, heat the coconut oil in a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 10-15 minutes until softened and charred around the edges.

Add the curry leaves and allow to pop for about 10 seconds. Then add the ginger, garlic, chopped coriander root and stems and chillies.

Cook until fragrant, about two to three minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric and stir well.

Then toss in the sliced zucchini and charred eggplant strips. Season with sugar and salt and add the water. Cook until the vegetables have softened and the dish is saucy and thick.

Add the lime zest and juice, along with the coriander leaves and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with extra salt if required. Set aside to cool.

Heat your oven to 190degC.

Just before compiling, mix the 1½ cups chopped coriander leaves into the rice.

Line a 30cm dish or fry pan with filo by first buttering the base and sides of with a pastry brush. Place one sheet of filo pastry to cover about three-quarters of the base and let the excess hang over the sides.

Overlap this with a second filo sheet so that it hangs over the opposite side of the dish. Butter the filo slightly, including the sides, then lay on two more sheets of pastry using the same method. Butter the base slightly, then place one sheet in the middle of the base.

Divide the rice into two lots, fill the base with one lot, top with the eggplant and zucchini masala then cover with the remaining rice.

Cover the rice with the last sheet of filo. Butter the pastry lightly, then gently bring all the overhanging bits to the top, scrunching it gently and making sure that the rice is covered.

Lightly butter the top once more and bake for one hour until golden. If the top is not golden enough, increase the temperature to 200degC in the last five minutes of cooking.

To make the yoghurt dressing, mix together the yoghurt, honey, salt, zest, cumin and cucumber. Heat the oil, sprinkle over the chilli powder or paprika and drizzle this mixture over the yoghurt.

Just before serving, mix the icing sugar and cinnamon and dust generously over the filo pastry. Offer the yoghurt dressing on the side. This dish is great eaten hot or at room temperature.


Ikan bilis and cheese biscuits

What could be more delicious than ikan bilis and cheese cookies? These are more like a butter-based cracker and a perfect snack when you have friends over for drinks. Make them thin so they are crisp!

Makes 70-80 tiny cookies

200g plain flour
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp freshly ground white pepper
½ tsp hot paprika or cayenne pepper
½ tsp shichimi togarashi* (Japanese spice powder)
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
60g sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
30g ikan bilis* (dried anchovies), deep fried until crispy, drained on paper towels
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
parmesan cheese

Heat your oven to 180degC. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

Place the flour, spices, baking powder, salt and sugar in a food processor and blitz for 20 seconds. Add the cheddar and ikan bilis and pulse until roughly combined.

Add the butter and blitz until a dough is formed. You may need to add one to two tablespoons of water for the dough to come together. In warmer climates, you may not need as much water.

Roll the dough out between two large plastic sheets to 3mm thick. Alternatively, you can sandwich the cookie dough with the ikan bilis filling by rolling the dough out between two large plastic sheets until 4mm thick.

Sprinkle the filling over half the dough. Fold the other half over and roll to about 2-3mm thick. Using cookie cutters of different shapes, cut out cookies, grate over some parmesan cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden.

Note: To obtain a finely grated cheddar cheese, place it in the freezer until its hard, then grate. Or, blitz in a food processor until finely ground.

In warmer climates, to make it easier to cut out the dough, cool the rolled out dough in the fridge or freezer until its firm.

Most dried ikan bilis are slightly salted. Rinse well before frying them. The ikan bilis filling can be easily substituted with dried prawns. Ensure they are coarsely processed and deep-fried until crispy before using.

*Can be found in the international section of some supermarkets or at Asian grocery stores.

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