“Australia’s history can be told through food,” writes Yuin man and Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe in his foreword to cookbook Warndu Mai. He points to the early settlers’ diet of mutton and potatoes. Then the cuisines of each new wave of migrants: Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, African – food that’s shaped Australia’s culinary landscape while we’ve ignored the bounty of produce right in front of us. Finally, that’s changing.
Partners Rebecca Sullivan and Damien Coulthard are two of Australia’s most passionate advocates for indigenous food and culture. Together they run Warndu, a native-food label and food-education brand, and they’ve just released their first joint recipe book (Warndu Mai means “good food” in Coulthard’s Adnyamathanha language).
The “cookbook and compendium” contains more than 80 accessible recipes and a glossary of more than 60 ingredients with information about seasonal availability, flavour profiles and how best to incorporate these foods into your home cooking.
“It’s a very easy way for people to start using native ingredients,” says Sullivan, who wrote a series for Broadsheet dedicated to the stuff. “We feel very strongly that the industry can’t be sustainable unless every person is using it … it can’t just be at a chef level, and I know chefs don’t want it to be just at chef level either. In fact, for chefs to have an easier job of it, it needs to be at an every-person level so the supply is there.
“We believe every pantry should have at the very least some wattleseed in it, some lemon myrtle … [and] that people need to start subbing beef with kangaroo.”
Sullivan has developed delicious, doable recipes with ingredients such as Kakadu plum, Geraldton wax, karkalla (or pigface) and pepperberry. There’s kangaroo meatballs with lemon-myrtle pasta; emu prosciutto; bunya nut pesto; wattleseed brownies; emu-egg sponge cake; strawberry-gum pavlova and more.
“It’s the sort of food we eat,” says Sullivan. “Let’s say [a recipe called] for spinach, I’ve replaced it with warrigal greens. If there’s a call for lime I use finger lime. My favourite recipe in the book is a desert lime and coastal rosemary – which is our native rosemary – olive oil cake, but using macadamia oil instead of olive oil.”
Clare Valley-based Sullivan is a self-taught cook, sustainability advocate and regenerative farmer. She teaches cooking at River Cottage UK, The Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania and Le Cordon Bleu Australia. Last month she was one of only 15 people worldwide chosen as a Yale World Fellow – a global leadership development program – for her advocacy work.
Most exciting for Sullivan is the book’s distribution to mega-retailers such as Big W, which she says will bring these ingredients to entirely new diners. “This is big for the industry, generally speaking,” she says. “There are so many people who have been grafting away for so much longer than Damien and I … they’re the ones who have made sure this stuff hasn't died down. Just grafting, grafting, grafting … almost ready to give up and thank God they haven’t because I really hope that some of those rewards start coming their way.
“People like Tumbeela in the Adelaide Hills … who just keep going and going and going and … obviously we have so many amazing chefs in Australia who have championed it and also put in the hard yards … and got the word out there. So that’s all starting to pay off for everyone.”
Sullivan says we’re at a “tipping point” now where native Australian produce is no longer ignored, and, crucially, no longer a “trend”. “People are seeing the value in it not just culturally and socially but environmentally and from a health perspective as well,” she says. “And also I think people are seeing through the local food movement – I mean, how can you be a supporter of the ‘local food movement’ if you don’t eat anything truly local?”
“Here’s me – 15 years in the ‘local food movement’ and I was as big a hypocrite as the next person. It was only when I met Damien that I started eating this stuff.
“So the landscape is definitely changing … I mean look how many bloody gin brands there are out there with native ingredients in them now. And people seeing that it’s easier for them to get their hands on things helps.”
Accessibility is vital, and rather than include a list of stockists in the book, Sullivan and Coulthard are building an online resource guide through the Warndu site. “The industry changes so frequently so [this way] it can constantly be up-to-date,” says Sullivan. “And we’re heavily vetting the people in our resource guide … so if they’re unethical businesses they won’t be in.”
Culture and history is inextricably tied to these ingredients – something Bruce Pascoe is quick to remind those embracing these foods without stopping to consider their connection to country. “Cook your way through this book but remember that you can’t eat our Aboriginal food if you can’t swallow our history.”
Start with the following recipe for roo meatballs and lemon myrtle pasta, an edited extract from the book.
Prep time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
1kg kangaroo mince
1 cup breadcrumbs
1⁄2 cup sea parsley, chopped
2 tsp sea rosemary, chopped
2 free-range eggs
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1⁄2 cup grated parmesan plus extra to serve
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, for frying
1 onion, diced
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
Drizzle of wattleseed balsamic vinegar
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp barbeque sauce
1 bunch of wild basil, leaves picked
Lemon myrtle pasta (see below), to serve
Start by making the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the mince, breadcrumbs, sea parsley, sea rosemary, eggs, 2 garlic cloves, parmesan, and salt and pepper.
Roll into balls using about a tablespoon of mix at a time. Place on a tray and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and roll in a little oil prior to cooking.
Heat a large frypan to high heat. Fry the meatballs in small batches until golden brown on all sides. Set aside.
To make the sauce:
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion with a pinch of salt until soft. Add the remaining garlic clove and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and passata along with the balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire and barbeque sauces and cook over medium–high heat until it begins to reduce, around 20 minutes.
Return the meatballs to the pan with half the basil and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve with the pasta and the remaining basil and sprinkle with parmesan.
Lemon myrtle pasta
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes*
140g good quality plain flour
1 tbsp ground lemon myrtle
140g hard wheat semolina
2 large free-range eggs
Pinch of salt
In a large bowl, mix the flour, lemon myrtle and semolina with your hands. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, then add the salt. Mix to a dough then turn out onto a floured surface. Knead for up to 5 minutes, or until smooth. If the dough feels too dry while kneading, add a few drops of water as necessary. If too wet, add a little more flour. Cover the dough with a tea towel and leave to rest for 1 hour.
If you have a pasta machine, follow the instructions to make tagliatelle. If not, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into very thin sheets and cut into strips 1cm wide and about 20cm long.
Cook in boiling salted water for a few minutes, or until al dente.
Extracted from Warndu Mai (Good Food) by Rebecca Sullivan & Damien Coulthard, published by Hachette Australia, hardback, RRP $45. Photography by Luisa Brimble.