Wandering gourmet … Maeve O'Meara has managed to combine two of her greatest loves – travel and food.
I'm a refugee from meat-and-three veg. Mum cooked great plain food as we were growing up in the white-bread suburbs. But I longed to be with those three generations of Italians we'd see in East Sydney, or at the table with a big Chinese family when we visited Chinatown – they seemed to be eating things so much more exotic than what was listed on the English-language menu. So largely by accident and a little by design, I'm now sitting at those tables and I'm in heaven.
I left Australia straight after university armed with an arts degree, telling my parents that I may not return. I flew to Rome; a month later, I was in Tunisia in a small village helping to prepare the evening meal with the women of the family. It was everything I'd dreamt of and more – the scent of the spices and fresh herbs, sitting on the ground to prepare food, the tagines and couscous ... life-changing.
Years later, I'm back living in the white-bread suburbs (to be close to my lovely mother) with three children. For our latest Food Safari series for SBS, which I present and help produce, we've been filming with Lao and Afghan families, tasting great food with Filipino and Peruvian cooks ... and marvelling at having such riches on our doorstep.
Greg Malouf's Tarator-style baked salmon.
I started my business, Gourmet Safaris, 14 years ago at the urging of my mothers' group: "Take us to that Lebanese restaurant we hear you talking about on radio." It's a food-adventure company that opens up new worlds – we visit Vietnam, Greece, Kangaroo Island, Broome, Corsica and Sardinia, as well as taking regular food tours in Sydney.
GREG MALOUF'S TARATOR-STYLE BAKED SALMON
This is one of the best dishes I've ever eaten. It is served at room temperature, so you can cook the fish up to four hours in advance.
Tortilla de patatas (potato omelet).
1 whole Tasmanian salmon (4kg-4.5kg)
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Mechoui (barbecued lamb) with minted yoghurt.
170ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1-2 lemons
1 red onion, finely diced
3 long red chillies, seeded and finely diced
2 cups coriander leaves, chopped
½ cup mint leaves, shredded
1 clove garlic
1 tsp sea salt
400g natural yoghurt
To make dressing, place garlic and salt in a mortar and crush well. Stir garlic, yoghurt and tahini together to make a thick paste. Thin with lemon juice (it should be the consistency of pure cream). Taste for salt and refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 150°C. Place salmon on a large sheet of baking paper. Season all over and drizzle with 2½ tbsp oil. Wrap salmon in paper, place on a tray and bake in centre of oven for 25 minutes. Gently turn salmon over and cook for about another 25 minutes or until medium-rare. Remove from oven and open paper to stop salmon cooking further. Leave to cool to room temperature.
Turn oven temperature up to 200°C and roast walnuts for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and rub briskly in a clean tea towel to remove as much skin as possible. Chop finely; set aside.
Close to serving time, use a sharp knife to cut through salmon skin along its back from head to tail. Peel skin away from 1 side. Scrape away thin layer of grey flesh to expose pink flesh underneath. Carefully transfer salmon to a serving plate. Brush ½ cup yoghurt dressing over top of salmon.
In a bowl, whisk remaining oil with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add onion and chilli and whisk lightly. Add chopped walnuts, herbs and sumac. Spoon salad over salmon, covering it as neatly as possible.
Use a metal spoon to "cut" portions of salmon and salad. Serve with remaining dressing.
TORTILLA DE PATATAS (POTATO OMELET)
This dish is simplicity itself – as well as being creamy and delicious.
250ml olive oil
4 potatoes, peeled, quartered, thinly sliced
Heat oil in a large frying pan and gently cook potatoes, stirring from time to time so they don't burn. When almost soft, drain potatoes in a colander set over a bowl to remove excess oil (keep it for another use). Leave 2 tbsp oil in pan. Beat eggs in a bowl and season with salt. Add potatoes, mix well and check seasoning.
Reheat frying pan over medium heat and pour in potato and egg mixture. As omelet begins to cook, shake pan from time to time so it doesn't stick. Once bottom of omelet has set, turn it by placing a plate on pan and quickly turning pan and plate over. Gently slide omelet back into pan and continue cooking, shaking pan from time to time, until omelet is set.
MECHOUI (BARBECUED LAMB) WITH MINTED YOGHURT
Chef Aziz Bakalla's easy marinade for lamb is full of flavour. The cool mint and tangy yoghurt team beautifully with barbecued meat. You can also try it with chops.
1kg lamb backstraps or fillets, cut into long strips about 2cm wide
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
generous drizzle of olive oil
1 cup natural yoghurt
¼ tsp sugar
3 tsp chopped mint
For minted yoghurt, combine ingredients in a blender and keep cold in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Place lamb in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Use your hands to thoroughly coat lamb. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
Barbecue lamb to medium-rare and serve with yoghurt.
Recipes from Food Safari: Glorious Adventures through a World of Cuisines by Maeve O'Meara (Hardie Grant Books, $40).
Photography by Sharyn Cairns (salmon and tortilla); Vanessa Levis (lamb). Food preparation by Caroline Marson (lamb). Styling by Bhavani Konings (lamb). Spoon from The Bay Tree, (02) 9328 1101. Stoneware pinch pot in green (with yoghurt) from Golden Brown Fox, goldenbrownfox.com. All other props, stylist's own.
From: Sunday Life