Thursday, February 12, 2009

Volcanic Cookery

I was never much of a domestic child. The laundry was a mysterious alchemist's laboratory, vacuuming was somehing that happened to other people, and, sadly, I didn't take much joy in food. Like a lot of kids, I would've been happy just subsisting on cucumbers, plain pasta and tim tams indefinitely. My Bewildered parents were subjected to the White diet (pasta, potatoes, plain pizza), unexplained but stubborn vegetarianism and an appetite that was irritatingly satisfied by the measly stale bread roll that restaurants put out before the Real Meal. And when the Real Meal did arrive, it was inevitably sullied by gravy or raw tomato or any number of items on the Blacklist and was therefore inedible. Memo: I must remember to call and thank them.

Although most of the insanity faded in adolescence, I still remained staunchly vegetarian and equally Unimpressed with food. By the time I left home, I was still living on an unofficial diet of coffee, croissants and cous cous. So it seems oddly fitting that the inaugural 'foodie' post should feature my current favorite: Summer Cous Cous salad, a delicious and filling meal for when it's 40˚C outside and the country is on fire.

So after I left The Nest for university, I opted for a catered college, three meals a day in a gigantic dining hall filled with oversized Leonard French paintings and stained glass. Despite the airy surrounds, the food was beyond pedestrian. After I had experienced the horror that was Bruce Hall Gumbo and Sunday Night Surprise, a passionate and urgent need awoke within me: I need to learn how to learn how to cook, and fast. Suddenly I realized what a brilliant chefq my mother was, and how much I'd learnt from her in the kitchen while I was flicking through magazines. So I put my researching skills to good use, and, with a lot of frantic calls to mum (Lots of "How do you do that thing with the vegetables," and "What am I doing wrong?") I've tried to make a cook out of an Unbeliever.  

Funnily enough, I now write restaurant reviews with my boyfriend every week, which is a lot less fun than it sounds - mostly because we've run out of the good ones and are now into Thai Takeaway territory. I swear if I have write another comment on the blandness of the Laksa or the stickiness of the rice one more time, I'm going to explode. 

I probably should get to the food now... What I love about this salad is that it's laughably easy to prepare and you can add anything you fancy. All you do is prepare the Cous Cous in like two seconds, take a big spoonful or so of salsa (the kind you have with corn chips), and maybe some paprika or garlic oil - then add some filler. Today I've included wonderfully colourful carrots, a large cucumber, cherry tomatoes from the garden, greek feta and sunflower seeds (you could also rock it with olives, basil leaves, pine nuts, whatever). 

Of course, it's probably more appropriate as a side salad with a barbeque - but who wants to slave over a stove when there's summer to enjoy? I could live on this stuff for days, and it is just so vibrant! Like Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini, I feel that a joyful presentation can greatly increase your enjoyment and even change your experience - who would want to eat some low-grade chocolate at Easter unless it was in the shape of and egg? 

Speaking of which, I went to a department store a couple of weeks ago and they were selling bunnies and eggs. Is it appropriate to be appalled?

P.S. I named this 'Volcanic Cookery' because the salad is a tasty mountain filled with explosively delicious fresh ingredients. And better yet, it won't spew ash, darken the sky and destroy the village. 

Edit: This post was largely written on that awful weekend when that heatwave reached its sick climax. Now its 21˚C, raining, and I'm wearing a woolen jumper. It boggles the mind. My next food installment in the next couple of days will be the winter-licious Poor Soup with Love-Heart Pasta. 


  1. Oh Mae-Belle, this is wonderful. My mouth is watering & I am laughing at your wonderful descriptions of a hungry childhood. But I'm not sure if I understand your reference to a stale roll & Real Meal.
    Do you remember I used to buy you a vegemite roll from the sandwich shop across the road every day when you were in primary school. And I don't think you ever ate it. I seem to remember finding three months worth stashed away somewhere.
    love MUm

  2. Yes, I remember those rolls... But for one year it was just sayos wrapped in tin foil.... they would always be crushed by recess but I'd eagerly scoop them up anyway.

    The stale roll reference was that i'd always lose my appetite by eating bread before a meal at a restaurant. Then I'd just push the Real Meal around and get hungry at about bedtime... Oh dear it's so embarrassing now!

    Thanks mum, btw.

  3. Hi Mae,
    I came back to this post for the recipe to make for dinner tonight. My 11yo daughter loves cous cous and I am sure she will love this too (love the idea of the mexican salsa!).

  4. Thats fantastic! That's what I love about cous cous - its always age appropriate. Adding salsa is cheap, dead easy and always tastes great. I hope she likes it!