If there's one question Katrina Meynink gets asked again and again in her role as a food writer and cookbook author it's how to get dinner on the table with the least amount of effort.
"I spend my life thinking, cooking and writing about food but I know the depths of an empty cupboard, the angst that comes with a hungry child screaming for dinner, and I've called cereal a meal on numerous occasions," says the busy mother of three.
"My life has gone from a pre-children time where I'd laboriously plan meals, shop for them and do a lovely slow cook, to how can I get it done.
"That's the reality so I'm constantly looking for more time-efficient ways to cook without taking any shortcuts on flavour."
And she's discovered the answer is in condiments and seasonings.
"If there's one thing I've learnt is that the finishing touch - the sauce, the relish or the sprinkling of spice - will bring a dish home. It's the glue that binds; the workhorse your dinner needs."
In most cookbooks, these recipes are at the back of the book but in From Salt to Jam: Make kitchen magic with sauces, seasonings and more flavour sensations they take front and centre.
Here it's about putting away some time to make something - a chermoula, a "bloody useful red sauce" - and then using it in meals across the week.
"When you have a collection of condiments at hand, something in your pantry or fridge ready to reach for at a moment's notice, it will make your life that little bit easier."
The book features 19 "flavour bombs", from lemon curd to a Thai-style dressing but the one which surprised even Meynink was chicken salt. It's a far cry from the bright yellow dust you might get on your hot chips at the takeaway.
"I spent ages on it, it can go with anything, sprinkle it over chicken thighs, or roast vegies, it's revolutionary," she says.
It features dried saltbush and lemon myrtle powder alongside nutritional yeast flakes, among other things. In the book she uses it on homemade pici with a kombu butter and parmesan; on a plate of tomatoes with stracciatella and tarragon oil.
Meynink was working in corporate communications but has always been a massive lover of food. She started food writing for the local newspaper and knew she was hooked. So she did her cordon bleu chef's training and got a scholarship to do a Masters of Gastronomy through the University of Adelaide. She quickly realised she wasn't cut out to be chef.
"The pressure in the kitchen took away all the joy of cooking for me but I loved writing about food and I loved cooking so in the end it was a happy marriage."
From Salt to Jam is her fifth book and she's had a regular newspaper column for about six years.
There's a few things she always has in the fridge or the pantry. Salt, garlic, butter - "really, really good-quality butter" - lemons, parmesan, anchovies.
"And always a bottle of oyster sauce, I just love it. I'm quite into yuzu at the moment too, it's so citrusy and fresh, I know it's not your everyday supermarket ingredient but it just adds so much."
She says the book's not a cooking lesson, "more a rough roadmap for flavour-addled dinners".
"We're too busy to labour too much over each plate of food we send from our kitchen to the table. Having an arsenal of herb-laced, vinegar-spiced, spicy, sour or sweet salsas, dressings, pastes, jams and more on hand makes it easy to add flavour to a dish quickly and without much fuss.
"It keeps the spirit of the food relaxed and not showy while giving your weeknight dinner rotation enough contrast to sustain interest. It will give your cooking a sense of the curated amongst the chaos."
- From Salt To Jam, by Katrina Meynink. Hardie Grant Books. $40. Copyright photography (c) Katrina Meynink 2023
We now live in a world where nutritional yeast is a condiment, and we are all loving fancy quinoa and activated sprouts; a place where the words monosodium glutamate are whispered furtively in dark places. So, this feels like a glorious rebellion. I made a chicken salt. And it makes food taste like it's alive. Never again should chicken salt be relegated to a stash of piping hot fries. It should go on almost everything.
- 4 tbsp chicken stock powder
- 4 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 4 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp sea salt flakes
- 1 tbsp dried saltbush (omit if unavailable)
- 2 tsp lemon myrtle powder (or dried lemon thyme)
- 2 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 3 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp caster (superfine) sugar
- 3 tsp celery seeds
- 3 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir with a fork to ensure the spices are fully incorporated. Pop into a screw-top jar and prepare yourself for deliciousness. This will last for up to three months in a screw-top jar in a cool and dark pantry.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Chicken salt shallot tarte tatin
Crispy sweet 'n' salty things are an addiction. It's a thing. This tarte tatin should also be a thing. Slow-cooked jammy onions, puff pastry and chicken salt. This is flavour-chasing at its finest. When is French-inspired food ever a bad thing?
- 3 tbsp chicken stock
- 3 tbsp Chicken salt plus extra to serve
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 350g French shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
- 1 x 375g sheet puff pastry
1. Preheat the oven to 150C.
2. Add the stock, chicken salt, olive oil and brown sugar to the base of a 25cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan and give it a quick stir to combine. Add the shallots, cut side up. Cover the pan with foil and roast in the oven for one hour. Remove the pan from the oven and increase the heat to 180C.
3. Remove the foil and, using a pair of tongs, turn the shallots over and arrange them in the centre of the frying pan - they will have shrunk during cooking time.
4. Gently encase the shallots in the sheet of pastry, tucking the edges snugly around the shallots like you would put a small child to bed. Return the pan to the oven and cook until the pastry looks light and golden and has puffed, roughly 20-30 minutes.
5. Remove the pan from the oven and place a large serving platter upside down on top of the frying pan. Carefully flip the pan and plate over together so the tarte tatin transfers to the plate. There will be hot jammy liquid, so be careful doing this. It is inescapable. Sprinkle with a little more chicken salt and serve piping hot.
I don't have too many non-negotiables when cooking. People are mostly appalled by my slapdash approach, but one steadfast rule is the importance of dry-frying and grinding your spices. It's a crucial step that releases a bounty of oil (and flavour). It's the thing that will make this chermoula truly sing. The shelf life of this paste is a few weeks, so if you are uncertain how much you will use, opt for a smaller quantity.
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant
- 1 preserved lemon, or to taste
- 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 cup coriander leaves
- 375ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tsp sumac
- 4 tsp aleppo pepper
- 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp turmeric
1. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the coriander and cumin. (See above regarding non-negotiables.) Rinse the preserved lemon, then scrape off and discard the pulp. Transfer the peel to a blender or food processor with the remaining ingredients and blend until combined but still a little chunky.
Tip: Store in a jar in the fridge for a few weeks. You could stretch it further; I often have and everyone has lived to see another day.
Makes 2 cups.
Chermoula and haloumi lamb meatballs with lemon
Sometimes you just can't beat a bit of meat and sauce. The chermoula and lemon give this such a glorious unexpected and bright twist. It does need a bit of time on the stove, so it's a cook-it-on-the-weekend to eat-sometime-during- the-week kinda meal. It also does marvellously well for a double batch-and-freeze scenario.
- 4 slices white bread, crusts removed
- 250ml milk
- 500g minced lamb
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 4 tbsp chermoula
- 1 x 200g block haloumi, grated
- 3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 large organic free-range egg, lightly beaten
- extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
- coriander sprigs, to serve
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, finely diced
- 3 tbsp chermoula
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 800g tinned crushed tomatoes
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 60g tomato paste
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 500ml chicken stock
1. Make the meatballs by soaking the bread in the milk until soft. Squeeze the bread to remove any residual milk. Add the soft bread to a large bowl with the beef, onion, chermoula, haloumi, parsley, garlic and egg. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then get your hands in there. Massage the ingredients until fully incorporated. Roll the mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs and set aside on a tray until you have rolled all of the beef mixture.
2. In a heavy-based large frying pan or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and, working in batches, sear the meatballs all over until golden, about five minutes. Gently remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Make the sauce in the same pan by adding the olive oil. Once hot, sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Add the chermoula and garlic and cook for another one to two minutes. Add the tomatoes, lemon, tomato paste and brown sugar and give everything a really good stir. Add the stock and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has begun to thicken and reduce slightly. Place the seared meatballs in the sauce and continue to cook for 40 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the flavours have intensified. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
4. Scatter with the coriander when ready to serve.