Uncovering the flavours behind national dishes

Yummy Easy Quick: Around the World, by Matt Preston, published by Plum, RRP $39.99.
Yummy Easy Quick: Around the World, by Matt Preston, published by Plum, RRP $39.99.
When the introduction to a cookbook says ''welcome to the wonderful world of faking it'' you wonder what you are going to get.

MasterChef Australia judge Matt Preston has continued the theme from his previous book, Yummy, Easy, Quick, and this time is using the approach to find yummy, easy, quick ways to cook international dishes from Spain, India, Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China, the Middle East, France, Greece and Italy.

''You'll soon realise that by combining certain key ingredients, a dish quickly starts to take on the unique feel of one or another corner of the world.''

He warns it is not an ''authentic'' or an authoritative cookbook.

Preston has included shopping lists and ''faking it'' tips for each chapters to make it easier to know the main ingredients that makes a dish taste the way it does.

He hopes the book will make readers think twice before reaching for the phone to order from their nearest takeaway.


Photos: Mark Roper
Photos: Mark Roper
Tonkatsu sandwich with yuzu slaw

Crunchy crumbed Japanese pork has become quite a thing for me in the last year or so.

In Tokyo, we three MasterChef judges were overjoyed to eat it with piles of finely shredded raw cabbage in an old bathhouse, and almost as happy to see chiller cabinets at the train station loaded with katsu sandwiches - white bread and barbecue sauce encased fat slabs of fried crumbed pork.

It was as much the perfect snack on the bullet train down to Kyoto as it was when food warrior Warren Mendes and I made them for footy fans at a Swans function in Sydney.

The secret is the zingy but stupidly simple yuzu slaw, a sweet brown sauce that says London, but means Tokyo, and no crusts on the white bread - an essential that seems positively exotic in the gritty backstreets of Shibuya.

Serves 4

Prep time 20 mins

Cooking time 15 mins

Ingredients
4 small boneless pork loin steaks, fat trimmed
2 eggs
1 Tbsp soy sauce
75g (½ cup) plain flour
100g (2 cups) panko breadcrumbs
sunflower or vegetable oil, for shallow-frying
125g (2 cups) very finely shredded wombok or cabbage
1 Tbsp yuzu juice (or lime juice, at a pinch)
8 thick slices white bread, crusts removed to make perfect squares
125ml brown sauce or barbecue sauce
125g Kewpie mayonnaise

Method
Place one pork steak between two pieces of baking paper. Lightly bash with a meat mallet or rolling pin to flatten slightly, roughly to the same shape as the bread slices.

Repeat with the remaining pork steaks. Explain to any children in the vicinity that this is the same technique employed to make square ham and chicken roll - it's never too late to bamboozle them.

Combine the eggs and soy sauce in a bowl, and place the flour and panko breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Coat the pork in the flour, shaking off any excess, then dip in the egg mixture, followed by the breadcrumbs, turning to coat and pressing down firmly. If you've got time on your hands, re-dunk them in the egg and breadcrumbs to double-crumb them for extra crispness.

Place on a baking tray or plate lined with baking paper and store in the fridge until needed (see tip).

Pour enough oil into a frying pan to come 1cm up the side. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil sizzles when you flick a few panko breadcrumbs in it. Add the pork in batches and cook for 2-3 minutes each side or until crisp and golden. I turn the heat up between batches to help maintain the gilding heat of the oil. Drain on paper towel.

Combine the cabbage with the yuzu juice in a bowl.

Spread one piece of bread with some brown or barbecue sauce, then top with a piece of pork and some slaw. Spread some mayonnaise over another slice of bread and place, mayonnaise side down, on top. Press together firmly, then cut in half. Repeat with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Tip: If you have time, let the pork chill for up to 30 minutes after crumbing. This will help the crumb mixture adhere better, meaning it won't come away from the meat during cooking.


Sticky caramel and ginger fish

Sticky caramel and ginger fish ... That's all you need to know.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Prep time 20 mins

Cooking time 20 mins

Ingredients]
70g palm sugar, finely chopped
60ml ¼ vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 small Asian shallots, finely chopped
3 spring onions, white part finely chopped, dark green part sliced into 3cm lengths
2 heaped Tbsp shredded ginger
long red chilli, thinly sliced, plus extra, shredded, to serve (optional)
60ml ¼ fish sauce
1 tsp freshly ground white or black pepper
4 2.5cm-thick skin-on fish cutlets or firm white fillets (such as blue-nosed warehou or barramundi)
2 Lebanese cucumbers or 1 telegraph cucumber, sliced diagonally
steamed rice, to serve

Method
Start by making a caramel. Melt the palm sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and cook for 3-5 minutes or until starting to bubble - keep an eye on it.

Reduce the heat to low and stir in 60ml of water - be careful as it will spit. Stir vigorously to combine, then simmer for 3-5 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Dig out a claypot or large frying pan that will fit the fish in one layer. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until it just starts to colour.

Reduce the heat to low, add the shallot, white part of the spring onion, ginger and chilli (if using) and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until aromatic.

Stir in the fish sauce, followed by the caramel and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-low and let it bubble away for 1 minute.

Nestle the fish in the pan, skin-side up (if using fish fillets), and spoon some of the sauce over the top. Simmer over medium heat for 4 minutes, then gently turn over and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork.

The flesh should be lightly opaque and the sauce will have reduced a little and become sticky. Add a splash of water if the sauce has reduced and thickened too much.

Serve the fish from the pan or transfer to a serving plate. Scatter over the green spring onion and extra chilli, if you want an additional kick of heat. Serve with the cucumber and rice.


Barbecued leeks, asparagus and cauliflower with salsa romesco

This sweet toasty capsicum sauce from Tarragona in southern Spain is often served with ''calcots'', a sort of giant spring onion, but it goes just as well with leeks, asparagus or cauliflower.

We use all three in this recipe, but you can use any combination you like - or roast potatoes, or grilled chicken thighs, or barbecued fish!

Serves 4

Prep time 25 mins

Cooking time 30 mins

Ingredients
1 cauliflower, cut into 4 chunks, with the core holding the florets together
12-16 baby leeks or fat spring onions
2 bunches asparagus, woody ends trimmed
60ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Salsa romesco
2 medium tomatoes, with a cross cut in the base
1 red capsicum
white onion, unpeeled
45g (¼ cup) blanched almonds, toasted until golden
45g (¼ cup) hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed
1 thick slice bread
1 garlic clove
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
80ml (⅓ cup) extra virgin olive oil

Method

To make the salsa romesco, heat a frying pan or char-grill pan over high heat. Add the tomatoes, capsicum and onion and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the skins start to burn slightly and the juices begin to weep.

Transfer the tomato and onion to a chopping board. Place the capsicum in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to sweat for a few minutes.

Starting with the cross at the bottom, peel the tomatoes. Then the onion. Place both in a blender. Peel the capsicum and remove the seeds.

Add to the blender, along with the almonds, hazelnuts, bread, garlic, paprika, sherry vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. Blitz to combine, then,with the motor running, gradually add the oil in a thin steady stream.

Add a little water if you would like a thinner consistency. Taste and season with pepper if needed, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the cauliflower and cook for 4 minutes or until just starting soften. Drain well and transfer to a tray.

Add the leeks and asparagus to the tray and drizzle with the oil.

Preheat a barbecue grill or large char-grill pan over high heat until just smoking.

(A charcoal or wood-fired grill is ideal if you have one.) Add the leeks first and cook for 6-8 minutes. Pull them on the grill and wrap in newspaper to trap the steam and tenderise. Add the cauliflower to the grill and cook, turning, for 6 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the cauliflower has nice char lines on each side and the asparagus is tender-crisp.

Arrange the leeks, cauliflower and asparagus on a large platter. Sprinkle with salt and serve with the romesco sauce.

Tips: To eat the leeks (or spring onions), hold the leek at the top and pull down the first layer of charred skin to reveal the sweet, soft flesh. Remove the roots if they're still attached, then dunk the leeks into the romesco sauce and, still holding the top, eat about three-quarters of the stalk - don't eat the top quarter as it can be quite tough.

Or do what Sarah did on the last season of MasterChef and grill your untrimmed leeks slowly on the barbecue until the centres are creamy and the tough outer leaves are charred. To speed up the cooking process, microwave each leek for 3 minutes first.

To serve, slice open lengthways and spoon over the romesco.

Pour any leftover romesco sauce into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

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