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A Mystery Box recipe challenge
© Sue Courtney
11 February 2001

When the participants of the Food Lovers Discussion Group on the Wine Lovers Page decided to have a mystery box type of cook-off, I said I would love to join in so long as the ingredients chosen were available in New Zealand. That was before I knew what I was in for. The day arrived and the ingredients were posted. We were instructed to make at least two courses - a starter and a main, using the following

Fresh salmon (filet or steaks)
Cured pork (bacon, pancetta, prosciutto), a single thick slice or several thin slices
Lentils (green, brown or dal)
Green cabbage (smooth, savoy or napa)
Goat's milk cheese
A non-animal ingredient of your choosing that costs no more than US$1.50 a portion (hereby baptised "the stealth ingredient")

With just three days to work out and cook my menu, I had no idea what I could possibly do. I was not at all familiar with lentils apart from the spicy dahls of India and the delicious puy lentils I'd had as part of my meal at Logan Brown's restaurant in Wellington a couple of weeks before. I decided I would use the latter, but one obstacle proved to be finding them.

Thinking about the ingredients, which became totally pre-occupying for about 48 hours, the ideas soon started gathering in one corner of the brain and after writing them down I decided on the following

* Grilled Goats Cheese on a bed of puy lentils and pancetta
* Salmon fillet on a bed of cabbage, coriander and coconut cream

It was time to go shopping.

I had planned on a little bun of cherve that I could halve and grill, but none was to be found. Thank goodness my normal supermarket had a selection of other goats cheese and I selected a Kapiti log of goats' cheese camembert because at least it had the right shape. Besides I have grilled ordinary camembert before, so why not a goats cheese camembert?

Lentils also proved to be a problem however, in near desparation, I remembered that a produce shop in Albany (north of Auckland) sold a range of spices, nuts and pulses not found in regular supermarkets. I was in luck as they had 'organic French green lentils' which looked pretty similar to puy lentils to me.

Here are the recipes I came up with

First Course
Grilled Goats Cheese on a bed of puy lentils and pancetta
(for 2 people)
Goats cheese on puy lentils Ingredients
* New Zealand Kapiti Cheese "sainte-maure" goats' milk camembert
* 1/2 cup French green (puy) lentils
* 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
* 1 clove garlic, crushed
* 3 thin slices pancetta
* extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic cloves (several months ago we placed whole garlic cloves into a bottle of olive oil)
* 3 salad leaves for garnish.

In a frying pan heat about a tablespoon of the garlic infused olive oil. When warm add the garlic and onion and saute for a couple of minutes. Add two slices of the pancetta, which has first been chopped into tiny pieces. Saute together with the garlic and onion for another couple of minutes. Add the washed and dried lentils. Stir to combine well, then cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 to 35 minutes, until the lentils are soft and the water has evaporated.

While this is cooking, prepare the goats cheese.
Slice two rounds, about 1.5 cm thick, off the goats milk camembert log. Place each on top of a square of baking paper, which in turn is atop a square of silver foil (unless you have something better on which to place them).
Roll the last slice of pancetta and cut so you get several 'coils'. Place the coils alongside the goats cheese on the baking paper.
When the lentils are ready, grill the cheese. Place the papers with their toppings on to the grill tray underneath a hot griller and grill until the pancetta coils are crispy and the cheese has started to bubble.

Assemble the dish. Spoon some lentils on to the plate to form a bed. Carefully lift the grilled cheese on to the lentils. Place a coil of pancetta on top of the cheese and about three around the side of the dish. Garnish with some salad leaves.

Wine recommendation: Kemblefield Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000

Second Course
Salmon fillet on a bed of cabbage, coriander and coconut cream
(for two)
Salmon on a bed of cabbage Ingredients
* 4 tbsp butter
* About 1/4 of an ordinary green cabbage
* 1 clove crushed garlic
* 1/2 small onion
* small tin of coconut milk (I use the 140ml Ayam brand)
* a bunch of fresh coriander
* 2 slices of salmon fillet
* 1 tbsp soy sauce
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 1 tsp ground coriander seeds

* lemon wedges for garnish

Mix together the soy sauce, lemon juice and ground coriander in a shallow bowl. Wash and dry then marinate the salmon, by placing the salmon fillets into the shallow liquid, skin side up. The skin should not be covered. Marinate for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and the thick white core then slice the rest into very thin but long shreds, then wash and dry well. Slice onions into thin rings then halve the rings to give a small shred.
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan.
Add the garlic and onion and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add the cabbage and cook for no longer than 5 minutes so the green of the cabbage is bright and the texture is soft to the bite. Add about 2 heaped tablespoons of chopped coriander and about half the tin (about 70ml) of coconut milk. Stir well to combine, bring to the cusp of the boil then remove from the heat so the cabbage does not overcook and lose its colour.

The salmon is to be fried and grilled. Prepare your grilling papers first. I prepared a piece of baking paper atop a piece of tin foil to sit on my grill tray.

In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter and when it is bubbling place the salmon fillets in, skin down. When you can see that the salmon is cooked to about 1/3rd of the way through, place the salmon on the grilling papers, so the skin of the salmon is on the paper. Then put under a hot grill so the marinated side of the salmon cooks and glazes. Cook your salmon until done to your preference. I like mine a little rare.

Now assemble the dish. Spoon the cabbage mixture on to a plate to make a bed for the salmon to rest on. Place the salmon, skin side down, on top of the cabbage. Garnish with sprigs of fresh coriander and wedges of lemon.

Wine recommendation: Pegasus Bay Waipara Chardonnay 1999 (NZ)

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