Charles Royal, well known Maori Chef, sees Matariki as “the time when the sap runs, and a good time to plant and transplant any plants that need to be attended to before the growing season”.
A Feast is always part of it. But although Charles is passionate about food he feels that Matariki is more about people getting together than about what you put on the table.
“I think any food goes with Matariki. To me it’s more about celebrating and sharing our past, remembering the ones that have passed before us and allowing that knowledge from our ancestors to be re-lived which could easily be lost with modern technology and convenience at the helm.”
His plan for Matariki this coming weekend is to have a pool party with some of his friends at a local ngawa (hot mineral pool).
“We’ll be starting at 8 pm and we’ll be around the fire with drums drumming, guitars playing, singing and eating and talking about the Matariki Star Constellation. That is if the weather is fine!”
Charles will be taking along a selection of canapés with kawakawa and lime jellies as the cleanser before the pot luck dinner starts. Then they’ll share what everyone brings.
For inspiration on what to serve for a celebratory Matariki feast I delved into his new book.
Cooking With Charles Royal is more than a collection of recipes. He takes readers on a fascinating culinary journey in which he teaches them to identify and gather New Zealand native plants and herbs such as kawakawa, pikopiko, wild bush mushrooms and ferns in the bush. And once they are harvested how to use these to create dishes with a contemporary twist.
Some of his whanau’s best loved homely recipes such as his Nanny Hine’s Rewena bread, his Aunty Tangi’s Paraoa Parai (fried bread) and his Nanny Cinny’s Boiled Pudding are also divulged.
Many of the recipes in this book make use of Kinaki dried herbs and rubs which were developed by Charles and his wife Tania as a result of their interest in the Slow Foods movement and experiments done with native plants.
I chose the Halloumi and Wild Salad Mix for the starter. For this Halloumi is tossed in flour and Kinaki 3 Pepper Spice, teamed with a salad made from watercress sprouts, baby puha and rocket leaves and dressed with horopito-infused balsamic vinaigrette.
The Horopito rack of New Zealand lamb would make a flavorsome but elegant main. The rack is sprinkled with horopito pepper before roasting. Steamed kumara and Maori potato wedges are put into the roasting pan while the lamb is resting. Some wilted New Zealand spinach would go well alongside.
For dessert I’d serve the sticky kawakawa meringues alongside a platter of seasonal fruits such as persimmons, kiwifruit, tamarillos and mandarins) and lashings of whipped cream.
We’re city dwellers so won’t be able to harvest piko piko ferns and supplejack vines from the bush. But these ingredients are optional. I’ll use what we do have and the food will still taste good. In any case, as Charles would agree at Matariki time above all it’s the company which counts.
Cooking with Charles Royal
By Charles Royal and Jenny Kaka Scott