When MasterChef winner Nadia Lim wrote recipes for her debut cookbook, she chose ingredients from the sea, the earth and the sky - not the factory.
Lim achieved a childhood dream last week when her cookbook Nadia's Kitchen (Random House, $55) hit the bookshelves. The dietician, nutritionist and foodie was crowned New Zealand MasterChef last year, and part of her prize was to publish her own cookbook.
With so many in the bookstores, the 27-year-old Aucklander wrote one based on her attitude towards good nutrition and food.
"My nan used to say to eat your colours and eat around the table and make eating an experience.
"I've got good memories of that, but it's an attitude that we're missing in Western society."
The MasterChef title has launched her career, with touring food shows, working for Regal Salmon and spending time working in chef Simon Gault's restaurant kitchen, where she had the revelation that "restaurant cheffing is not really my thing".
"I'm much better being creative in the kitchen, where I can use creative flair," she says.
"The best thing I've got from it so far has been getting to meet so many people who are so talented and inspiring."
Lim was about 12 when she watched Jamie Oliver on The Naked Chef and decided that was what she wanted to do when she grew up.
The child of a Malaysian father and Kiwi mother, she began to concoct her own recipes and write them into scrapbooks. Throwing ingredients together, she laughs about the dishes she served: chilli and lavender syrup milkshakes, and bread stuffed with bacon and egg.
"I used to have these little dinner parties for my friends and serve them mocktails.
"My family were big foodies and there was nothing we wouldn't eat. Malaysia is the food capital of the world, so when we shifted there when I was 6, we got to eat the most amazing food and my parents would take us to all these different restaurants."
With so many cookbooks in stores, what's unique about this one? The recipes are arranged into seasons, with each using seasonally available produce.
Although a dietician, Lim has created recipes that taste and look good. Each recipe is a balanced meal, containing the right amount of carbohydrate, protein and fat.
"They're not low sugar and low fat. I'm trying to change people's ideas of what healthy eating is. You can have pork belly and roast duck and chocolate souffle.
"It's all about looking at the bigger picture of healthy eating, thinking about how often you eat and the size of your portions.
"In my experience as a dietician, I've seen all the different ways that people think about nutrition. We've become confused about what to eat, and there are nutrition labels everywhere. We get told this and that is good for us but that's pure marketing.
"If we could step back and look at the bigger picture, we wouldn't need any of that. We don't need an expert to tell us how to eat well."
The book took three months to put together, and in that time Lim had to create 120 recipes, test them and write them up.
A couple were created by accident. In the summer section, her pineapple with basil lime sugar was a mistake, and she says that's one that anyone – foodie or not – could try.
It takes five minutes to prepare. She says she wanted to offer a grilled fruit recipe with mint, but she had no mint in her herb garden, so decided to add basil.
"Then I thought sugar would be nice and so would lime, and caramelised pineapple could work.
"Served with a little bit of Greek yoghurt, it's delicious."
Her favourite season for eating is definitely winter. She likes the colours of winter food, and nice healthy stews.
Apart from the stews, three-quarters of the recipes in the book can be made in less than 30 minutes.
Through her work as a dietician at the Auckland District Health Board in the diabetes team, where she was working when she entered MasterChef, Lim knows that many people don't know how to cook.
She thinks it's her generation who weren't taught, as processed and packaged foods became increasingly available.
"My friends can't cook. The main barrier is that people don't know how to shop and they don't know how to cook.
"I used to flat with a guy who asked me once how to cook frozen vegetables."
MUSHROOM AND FETA TARTS WITH LEMON HERB OIL
These rustic mushroom tarts are full of flavour, but require little effort. They make a perfect entree or light lunch served with a leafy green salad.
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp runny honey
Pinch of brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig rosemary, stalk removed and leaves very finely chopped
8 portobello mushrooms, stalks removed
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 thin slices of goat or cow feta cheese
1/4 cup Lemon and Herb Oil (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 220C. Mix the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, brown sugar, garlic and chopped rosemary together.
Wipe any dirt off the mushrooms with a paper towel (avoid washing mushrooms) and place them, gill side up, in an ovenproof dish and spoon over the marinade.
Cut pastry into nine squares (about 7cm by 7cm) and roll out slightly with a wine bottle or rolling pin to make them a little wider and thinner. Place on a baking tray. Brush the pastry with beaten egg.
Bake the mushrooms and pastry in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden, and the mushrooms are cooked. Remove the pastry from the oven.
Switch the oven to grill, top the mushrooms with slices of feta and return to the oven until the feta is bubbly and golden, for 2 to 3 minutes.
To assemble, gently push each cooked pastry square down with a fork to flatten slightly (they will be very puffy, just like cushions). Place a pastry square on a plate, and top with a mushroom and feta cheese, top with another pastry square and another mushroom with feta cheese.
Drizzle plate with herb oil. Serves four.
Energy: 1592 kilojoules (375 calories); carbohydrate: 15 grams; protein: 7.7g; fat: 31g; saturated fat: 11.3g.
LEMON AND HERB OIL
This fresh, easy and versatile herb oil is delicious with chicken or fish, as a pasta sauce, or mixed into mayonnaise or yoghurt for a dip or dressing. Makes one cup.
3 packed cups of fresh herbs: eg, basil, coriander or parsley
Juice of 3 lemons
Zest of 2 lemons
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bash the herbs in a mortar and pestle until a paste forms, then mix in the other ingredients.
Alternatively, blitz the ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. The herb oil can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Join us at our next Dominion Post Write Stuff event, to hear Nadia Lim talk about her new book Nadia's Kitchen
WHEN Thursday 19 April 2012 6.30pm (doors open 6pm)
VENUE Amora Hotel Wellington
TICKETS $20 for subscriber, $25 for non-subscribers, including glass of wine/beer
TO BOOK TICKETS
PHONE 0800 50 50 90
VISIT The Dominion Post, 40 Boulcott St, Wellington
Ratings & Reviews
If you had to, which would you give up for a week?Related story: The best chocolate recipes ever