SERIES PRESENTER / PRODUCER
Maeve O’Meara is an award-winning television food presenter and author (Food Lovers Guide to Australia, Better Homes and Gardens, SBS Eating Guides to Sydney and Melbourne). Maeve has spent the last 15 years exploring the many cuisines that make our Australian culinary scene so vibrant. Maeve says: "Many of the chefs and cooks appearing are my old friends, so as a viewer you feel like you get a kiss on both cheeks as you pull up a chair to learn some great recipes and tips."
Maeve has spent her life collecting recipes, from her early days baking with her grandmother to her in-depth exploration of the many cuisines around the world. Her expertise as food editor in major magazines, television food presenter and cookbook author - combined with a passion for food - make her an engaging and knowledgeable host. The idea for the series came from Maeve’s food adventure business Gourmet Safaris and observing what people most want to know: the basics.
Moroccan food is one of the most cleverly balanced cuisines on earth; spices are used to enhance the flavour of dishes and there is nothing like the warm waft of beautiful spices that seduce you when you open the lid of a tajine. The essence of Moroccan food is a communal style of eating, with many dishes shared by the family. The meal time is very social and eaten at a leisurely pace with much laughter and talking. When entering a Moroccan home, you would be offered food and usually tea within a heartbeat. Hospitality is a very important part of Moroccan culture and making guests welcome is also part of the Islamic teaching.
Malaysian food is heavily influenced by the food of other countries including Chinese, and Indian as well as the native Malay or Peranakan style of cooking. These influences extend from the use of the wok as the main cooking pan, to a combination of a number of spices in many of the dishes. Malaysian food uses an amazing blend of flavours aimed at making your tastebuds jump up and down and the thing that raises it to an art form is the combination of textures, tastes and colour. And nothing is more colourful than the cleverly layered rice-flour and coconut sweets called Kueh.
Fire and passion are the hallmarks of Portuguese cuisine. Its all about cooking over hot coals and branding food with white hot irons. It is an earthy peasant style of quite simple food using few ingredients but with strong flavours as see in the now famous Portuguese charcoal chicken. Portuguese cuisine is born from the earth - hearty peasant fare full of strong flavours, many charting the culinary history of the country. For instance, the famous dried salt cod or bacalhau changed the course of Portuguese history - when it was discovered the beautiful white fish caught in the cold Scandinavian waters could be dried and kept for long periods, sailors were able to go on long voyages of discovery to new lands, which then opened up trade routes. So loved is bacalhau that there are recipe books enirely devoted to it, with a range of recipes from around the country. Paprika, bay leaves, garlic and wine feature largely in many dishes, olive oil is adored and used to cook food as well as finish dishes. Pork is a favourite meat and is used in the famous chourico sausage, smoked over wood with heady aromas of garlic and paprika. Also cooked over charcoal is the now familiar Portuguese chicken which has been a huge hit in Australia - we all love the flattened marinated chicken served with chilli spiked piri piri sauce - a recipe developed in Angola when it was a Portuguese colony. Desserts rely heavily on eggs - think creme caramel, rice pudding and the famous custard tarts or pasteis de nata.
In Greek culture, food is so much more than sustenance; its everything; culture, comfort, family, life. If you grow up Greece, you grow up with your mother chasing you around the house with a spoon! jokes Greek/Australian chef Peter Conistis. From one of the ancient civilisations on earth comes simply prepared food that uses the best of whats in season and adds a little magic to help it sing off the plate. From some of the best lamb dishes on earth to fresh seafood, vegetables, beans, pulses and of course good olive oil, Greek food is simple, colourful and incredibly nutritious. When Greeks taste something delicious, they have a lovely phrase Yia Sta Heria Stas which translates as I kiss your hands, celebrating the skill of the cook.
Vietnamese food is one of the most varied and seductive on the planet – a delicious mix of the food of its colonial visitors and age-old flavours and techniques. One example is the combination of crisp golden baguette brushed with nuoc cham – a mix of fish sauce, vinegar, garlic and chilli – the basis of a shredded chicken or pork sandwich with lots of crisp salad and herbs seen at the many Vietnamese sandwich shops proliferating in our big cities. Vietnamese dishes are fresh, have a depth of flavour and seem to have amazing health properties at the same time. Have you ever eaten a bowl of pho with all the accompaniments when youre feeling less than 100 per cent* One chef friend calls pho the Vietnamese equivalent of Jewish chicken soup; its good for the body and the soul. Or have you had a few mouthfuls of green papaya salad when your palate is feeling jaded* Instant zing! More than any other cuisine, Vietnamese food centres on herbs and uses an amazing array along with salad greens in many dishes. These are eaten for their healing properties as well as for their taste.
The vibrant, intensely colourful world of Indian food in Australia found an ever increasing fan base when Australians began to travel through India during the 1960s and 70s. Each region of India has its own style of cooking and distinct flavours. North is known for Tandoori and Korma dishes, South is famous for hot and spicy foods, the East specialises in chilli curries, the West uses coconut and seafood and the Central part of India is a blend of all.
Chinese cuisine is familiar to Australians and a recent survey found that two thirds of Australian households own a wok and use it regularly, but not everyone knows how to use it properly. With authentic ingredients now being more widely available it is possible to cook recipes that once were only available in restaurants. The spread of traditional Chinese food began with Cantonese style cooking from the south of China and includes instantly recognisable dishes such as stir-fries, sweet & sour and chop suey. In recent years Northern style and spicier food from Szechuan and Shanghai have followed.
Ever since Italians migrated to Australia and introduced us to spaghetti bolognese and pizza, Australians have embraced this wonderful, satisfying cuisine. Spaghetti Bolognese is now so popular that it could almost be classed as an adopted national dish. Italians were among the first to show us how to appreciate good coffee, use olive oil and understand the joy of fresh pasta.
Antipasto is another Italian introduction. The literal translation is before the meal. Small morsels are offered to guests as they arrive and these might include zucchini fritters, carciofi (artichokes), olives, stuffed peppers, tuna carpaccio. Remember not too much so that your guests dont get full before the main meal.
Thai food has been a huge hit in Australia with Thai restaurants in many suburbs and parts of our cities serving a range of curry puffs, soups, curries and stir fries. At its best, the flavours of sweet, sour, salty and tangy are balanced and when used cleverly, you feel your taste buds dance. Eating Thai style is to be served all the dishes at the same time in the centre of the table - no entree/maincourse/dessert here. Rice is an integral part of every meal, along with soup, a couple of curries and side dishes. Thai people eat with a spoon and fork and use the fork to push the food onto the spoon; the fork is never used to actually eat with.
Sahteyn is a word you will often hear in a Lebanese home - loosely translated it means twice your health - a form of welcome to join a family and share delicious food. And this is some of the most exquisite food in the world.
Lebanese cuisine is generous and abundant. The reason is the age-old tradition of hospitality which exists - your host will never believe you dont have just a bit more room for something utterly delicious thats been prepared with love.
In a Lebanese household, food is life and sharing it is one of the great joys of being alive. And even for simple dinners at home, there are a variety of dishes on the table, the meal starting with small portions known as mezza which centres around dips and salads. As well as having great variety, Lebanese food is one of the freshest and most delicious on the planet. Lamb is the meat of choice and appears in many dishes including kafta in which minced lamb is rolled into sausage shapes and cooked on the barbecue or in the oven. Sweets are pure artwork, as a visit to one of the palaces of Lebanese sweets will attest – there are many variations of filo pastry combined with nuts and syrup; there are creamy sweets filled with a clotted cream called ashta plus melting shortbread sometimes filled with a date paste or nuts and much more. Sweets are generally served separately to a meal with black coffee or tea.
So, Sahteyn - welcome to a great cuisine.
Authentic Mexican food is vibrant, delicious and fun and varies according to which region its from. It is also colourful, spicy and uses an amazing array of chillies, both fresh and dried. Many ingredients are available everywhere – tomatoes, limes, coriander, red onion, avocado, corn…and its easy to cook. Some people think Mexican food is too spicy – but true Mexican food has a depth of flavour with its combination of savoury and earthy flavours, and use of fresh herbs. Mexican cuisine is one of the most ancient and developed on earth but is little known outside its borders and too many restaurants are more “Tex” than “Mex” according to the small number of Mexican expatriates in Australia.
Korean food is some of the healthiest on earth, with an emphasis on vegetables, meats cooked simply and without much oil and a near obsession with the fermented vegetable kimchi. Much of the food that exists today and the customs surrounding it have come from royal cuisine and the complex customs of the ancient court. The food is a study in balance with consideration given to temperature, spiciness, colour and texture along with careful presentation. Starting with ritual bowls of rice and soup, the meal is built around numerous shared side dishes, each carefully selected to complement the other. A banquet consists of many dishes cooked in various ways -being steamed and simmered, pan-fried and stewed, fermented and raw. One constant is the presence of the beloved kimchi which is adored for its sour tangy crunch as well as being a digestive aid. Many Koreans say they just dont feel right without kimchi and feel weak and unwell without it. Traditional restaurants often feature charcoal grills in the middle of the table - a type of indoor bbq. Paper-thin slices of marinated meat -bulgogi- or beef ribs - kalbi - are grilled, cut into pieces and wrapped in lettuce leaves with garlic, chilli and soybean paste. Theyre eaten in one bite as its considered the height of rudeness to bite into a lettuce parcel. Koreans also place importance on food as medicine, using exotic ingredients such as dried persimmon, red dates (jujube), pine seeds, chestnut, gingko, tangerine and ginseng in their cooking and also in specially brewed teas.
Spanish food is incredibly varied, the first recipes were written in the fourteenth century and the cuisine was enriched by the Moors, Arabs, Sephardic Jews, French and Italians as well as the voyages of discovery to the New World which resulted in a huge range of new ingredients. With its very different regions - the long coastline, rugged mountains, baking plains and rich farming land, there are a vast range of dishes but they all have one thing in common - theyre all simple, unpretentious and use beautifully fresh seasonal ingredients.
Eating is more than simply looking after hunger pangs - food is savoured and enjoyed communally and many traditions have evolved over the years including the famous tapas - the series of small snacks eaten with a drink as the prelude to a meal. In Australia were familiar with some of the main culinary exports like paella, and sangria and still coming up to speed with the lesser known zarzuela (seafood stew) and fino - the dry sherry that makes for a great aperitif and goes so well with the strong flavours of some of the tapas dishes. Its worth seeking out the best ingredients - a good Spanish paprika, saffron, olive oil, being generous with garlic and wine and having a go at making some of the simple Spanish recipes here. Enjoy.