International Thursday: New Zealand

  • Garlic and rosemary roast lamb
  • Ships’ sweet mint sauce
  • Oven-roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Kiwi and fresh berry pavlova

There isn’t a country more diametrically opposed to Texas than New Zealand, and after our vicarious International Thursday excursion there, I’m convinced that this family needs to hold a referendum on “Texit.”

And here, I will comment with some trepidation that our weekly exploration of the world through food and facts is leaving me with a heavy heart. The Germans have a word for that (as they do for seemingly every complex abstract sensation): fernweh. It translates as “the ache for distant places,” or the direct opposite of home-sick (heimweh). Note that it’s a term used distinctly from wanderlust, which I understand to be the desire to wander.

I’ll try to succinctly list all the enticing aspects of the incredibly diverse, intensely beautiful country at the edge of the world’s map, that to me, looks like a comma on the Tasman Sea—a symbol of continuity. Progression.

Compared to Houston, this steaming, oil-slicked, noxious pancake of a city in which I live, New Zealand’s main two islands are exquisitely carved by eons of volcanic activity and glaciation. It has beaches and mountains; some mountains overlook beaches. I was resolved not to mention Lord of the Rings, but how can I not, because the setting, vibrant sea of grass and deep, blue skies, has been bored into my mind. (Did you know that the country profits from the movie and even has a ministry for Lord of Rings to ensure that most money can be made from the films?)

Finally, appealing in a big way to my little guy’s imagination, New Zealand’s name in Maori is Aotearoa, which means “land of the long white cloud.” Only 5% of the islands’ inhabitants are people—the remainder are sheep and cattle, and an array of wildlife, including the iconic kiwi. If I were a bird on a long white cloud, would I evolve into a flightless creature? Food for thought.

Speaking of that: For our culinary adventure, we considered that the islands are rife with sheep, and that lamb (along with pork, and seafood) is a staple. And Ships jumped at the chance to take this one on.

Within an hour or so in the kitchen, he called us in for his rendition of a New Zealander entree: Garlic- and rosemary-scented roast lamb with sweet mint sauce, and oven-roasted, peppered potatoes and sweet potatoes. The lamb’s piney aroma floating in the air, it emerged caramelized on the outside, each slice patterned with browned slices of garlic.

WP-NewZealand-LambCut

But while I think his lamb was a thing of beauty, the keeper was really his very simple mint sauce, a balanced concoction of sugar, and salt, vinegar, and water, freshly pulverized black pepper,  and finely diced fresh mint.

The glass of cabernet he poured propelled the meal’s ranking substantially, too.

Epitomizing the country’s Maori name, dessert was the baked cloud–like, fruit and cream–smothered pavlova. The dessert’s origin’s and claim are hotly contested by New Zealand and it’s neighbor, Australia.

Apparently, the dessert takes its name from Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both nations in the 1920s, but as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the first recipe for the meringue with fruit and cream appeared in New Zealand in 1927. At least 21 pavlova recipes could be found in New Zealand cookbooks by the late 1930s, which is when a chef in Perth published the first Australian recipe.

I will admit, I have never been fond of meringue—I’ve always found it cloyingly sweet and brittle, and never really understood why so many desserts are founded on the confection. But after a bit of research, after my first bite of the pavlova, I am turned.

The instant the roof of your mouth breaks the delicate shell of a pavlova, it melts into marshmallow cream, the micro air bubbles within the vanilla-laden whipped cream sitting atop it releasing its subtle aroma, and the berries and kiwi lending an extraordinary new dimension of texture and tartness.

WP-NewZealand-PavlovaRaspberries

In an attempt to drastically curb the sugar in the meringue—yet still keep the weightless, airy characteristic that reminds you of a graceful, leap of a ballerina—I researched a number of pavlova recipes. Among the key lessons from my first attempt are that the egg whites must be beaten with castor sugar (I used sugar pulverized in my Vitamix) just until they hold shiny, stiff peaks. The vinegar and corn starch also seem to have a key role in keeping the egg whites suspended within their shelled cloud.

I modified the base of Nigella’s mini-pavlolva recipe, scaling it down to just two egg whites (and a 1/2 cup of icing/castor sugar), a teaspoon of cornflour and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar (I left out the vanilla and salt). Key to the success of the pavlovas was likely her method of heating the oven to 350F, then turning it down to 300F for a 30-minute bake period, turning off the oven, and leaving the pavs for another 30-minute period. Within 10 minutes of the first bake period, the pavs began turning brown, and I worried they’d be burned to a dry crisp by the end of the hour, but to my surprise, the recipe yields four formidable clouds.

The clouds are then topped with a dollop of whipped cream infused simply with vanilla bean paste (requiring no more than a scant half cup of heavy cream), and finally, raspberries, blackberries, and the iconic fruit of New Zealand, the kiwi (which, by the way, originated in China, but found a new name and identity by the fruit’s marketers in New Zealand).

Obviously, this one was wildly successful. #Thisisakeeper for sure.

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