Kiwi cooking: New Zealand cheese rolls, lamb, cloud cake and onion dip

When consulting Professor Google on the national dish of New Zealand, one learns that there are two contenders for the title, pavlova and hângi, both of which proved rather problematic for us in terms of deciding what to make. Pavlova was immediately out of the question, because to concede defeat and acknowledge pavlova as a Kiwi dish would require Miranda to completely turn her back on her Aussie heritage (as if moving to England and marrying a Pom wasn’t bad enough). And there were some obvious logistical problems with hângi, which is a traditional Maori method of cooking in a big pit in the ground.

Fortunately, during our recent visit to Australia, we had three very useful things at our disposal:
a) cultural experts (our Kiwi friend and his wife);
b) their collection of Annabel Langbein cookbooks and their Speight’s Southern Man Cookbook; and
c) supermarkets that stock Maggi onion soup mix and Nestle reduced fat cream. Both of these are key ingredients in New Zealand dishes but are not available in the UK (or if onion soup mix is, it would only be in specialty shops and would cost a fortune).

Kiwi ingredients

Therefore, perhaps somewhat inappropriately, but at the same time totally appropriately, our last night in Australia was spent preparing and eating a New Zealand feast, accompanied by New Zealand wine, beer and cider.

Kiwi wine

Kiwi beer and cider

First on our menu was cheese rolls, which we’ve heard our friends rave about for years, so we were very excited to have the opportunity to try them. We took our recipe from the Speight’s book, but slightly adapted it, as explained below.

Cheese Rolls

2 cups grated tasty cheddar cheese
250ml can reduced cream
1 packet onion soup mix
16 slices of cheap white bread

1. In a bowl, combine the cheese, reduced cream and onion soup mix.
2. Cut the crusts off the bread slices and use a rolling pin to flatten each slice a little.
3. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the bread slices and roll up into a cigar shape.
4. The original recipe says to brush them with melted butter and grill them, but we chose to put the cheese rolls into a sandwich press and grill until golden brown.
Serves 4 in theory; potentially 1 in practice.

Mixing cheese roll filling

Slicing crusts off bread
Ashley would like it pointed out that the gash on his knuckle is not from a punch-up, but from the gentlemanly action of carrying Miranda’s suitcase down a flight of stairs and scraping his hand along the rough brick wall on the way. The wedding ring is pretty cool, either way.

Ungrilled cheese rolls

Cheese rolls

YUM. So simple, but so good. It’s probably best not to think about these snacks too closely, as there is basically no nutritional value in them, but hey – we were on holiday. Definitely one to make again next time we can get hold of the ingredients.

Choosing what to make for our main course probably took longer than it should have, as we debated various options involving lamb, venison, kumara and (of course) kiwifruit. In the end, simplicity won out and, on the advice of our cultural expert, we went for a dinner of lamb cutlets and boiled veges. Therefore, there isn’t really a recipe for the main components of the meal (other than ‘cook the lamb’ and ‘cook the vegetables’), but we did make our own mint sauce, thanks to

Mint sauce

3/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tsp caster sugar
60ml boiling water
125ml white wine vinegar (though you may need less than this so add gradually and taste)

1. Combine the mint and sugar in a small, heat-resistant bowl.
2. Add the boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves.
3. Add the vinegar and mix well.
4. Allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Carrots and potatoes

Chopping mint
There’s that ring again!

Boys at work
The boys were hard at work; the girls were enjoying the Kiwi beverages.

Lamb dinner

We don’t really need to consider whether we’ll make meat and three veg again – we will! – but that mint sauce recipe was a good find, and the lamb cutlets were a bit of a treat, as they’re so expensive in the UK.

For dessert, given that pavlova was never going to happen, we took a leaf out of Annabel Langbein’s book (namely The Free Range Cook) and made a strawberry cloud cake. It’s probably not an ultra-traditional New Zealand dish, but the recipe did come from a well-known New Zealand chef… and it is the land of the long white cloud after all! This is one to start at least four hours before you want to eat it, because it needs time to freeze.

Strawberry cloud cake

For the base:
150g plain sweet biscuits
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g butter, melted

For the filling:
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
250g ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced (we didn’t bother with much hulling, admittedly)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Line the base of a 26-28cm spring form cake tin with baking paper.
2. Make the base by crushing the biscuits with a rolling pin and combining with the coconut, cinnamon and melted butter.
3. Press firmly into the base of the prepared tin. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
4. Place egg whites, sugar, strawberries, lemon juice and vanilla into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high speed for 6-8 minutes until the mixture is very thick and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved. To test whether it is ready, rub a bit of it between your fingers: it should not be gritty.
5. Spoon the filling over the chilled base, smooth the top, cover with a sheet of baking paper and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Mixing cloud cake

Unassembled cloud cake
Try not to eat the filling straight out of the bowl at this stage.

Assembling cloud cake

Cloud cake

Slice of cloud cake

Firstly, we must thank our cultural experts for doing the actual assembly for us: we made the base and filling about a week earlier, but then had to rush off to socialise elsewhere, so they put it together and stored it in their freezer. We also need to thank them for not weakening and eating it before we got there, because it was awesome. It was so light and fluffy, it really was like eating a strawberry-flavoured cloud. A triumph indeed.

Our final Kiwi delicacy happened the next day in the form of onion dip, advertised as ‘the original Kiwi dip’ on the packet of onion soup (which is also where the recipe comes from). The most important thing to note before making this recipe is that onion soup is not the same as French onion soup. You could substitute it, but then you’d have French onion dip, not onion dip, and any self-respecting New Zealander would sneer at you for sullying their national institution.

Onion dip

1 packet onion soup mix
1 can reduced cream
1 tsp lemon juice

1. Mix everything together.
2. Cover and chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Onion dip
Onion dip served in its special bowl

Onion dip and kiwi mug
An extra nod to New Zealand with the sheep mug!

We enjoyed our onion dip with Jatz and Sakata crackers (probably more Australian than Kiwi, but it was our last day in the country, we had to sneak in some more Jatz!), but it also goes very nicely on bread, as evidenced by the yearning eyes of Holly in the picture below…
Onion dip on bread

Unfortunately, onion dip is not something we are going to be able to recreate in its purest form in the UK, because we can’t get hold of reduced cream. However, we did learn from an earlier experience that it is just as tasty made with Greek yoghurt instead of reduced cream – the yoghurt gives it a pleasant tang and a lightness that doesn’t exist in the original. It’s just probably best not to admit to a New Zealander that you would dare to make such an adjustment.

We actually have one packet of onion soup mix in our cupboard, which was smuggled home after a previous visit to Australia. The question now is: what do we make with it?! More cheese rolls, or more onion dip? Such a dilemma. Either will require a reduced cream substitute, but I’m sure we can live with that.

So our New Zealand feast was a roaring success, and (again, slightly ironically) a lovely way to round off our Australian adventure – so thank you to our friends for sharing your kitchen and your expertise. Coming up next is what seems like about a year’s worth of Pacific island nations to explore, starting with French Polynesia. Ash is, of course, beside himself with excitement about how much coconut is going to be in our meals over the coming months…


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