Eat California recipes: grilled meatballs, breakfast tacos, prawn salad, coconut popsicles

Grilled meatballs with lettuce wraps. Picture: Con Poulos
Grilled meatballs with lettuce wraps. Picture: Con Poulos

It's safe to say that California has a lot going for it: a laid-back lifestyle, golden beaches, and a vibrant food culture. The seafood is fresh, the produce organic and plentiful, and the farmers' markets are a wealth of riches all year round. Thanks to the coastal state's fertile soil and temperate climate, local produce is varied and abundant, from the famed citrus to the beloved avocado. But beyond the impressive range of produce available, the state's cultural diversity means finding vendors hawking handmade tacos next to a bustling Korean BBQ restaurant. The food scene offers an abundance of flavors and techniques, and Californians appreciate them all. It is this genuine love of food - preparing it, eating it and sharing it - that fuels this positive energy in kitchens and around tables, and makes California truly golden.

  • Eat California, by Vivian Lui. Smith Street Books, $49.99. Pictures: Con Poulos. Food stylist: Vivian Lui

Grilled meatballs with lettuce wraps

There is a whole world beyond just pho in Vietnamese cuisine. This Vietnamese-style dish mirrors the freshness of Californian cuisine with grilled meat wrapped in fragrant herbs and lettuce to form a harmonious bite.

Ingredients

450g minced pork, not lean

1 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp sea salt

rapeseed or neutral olive oil, for brushing

Dipping sauce:

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp lime juice

2 tsp granulated sugar

1 garlic clove, grated

1-2 Thai chillies, finely chopped

finely sliced cucumber, radish, green mango or green papaya, for sauce

Accompaniments:

115g rice noodles

2 small gem lettuces or mild mustard green leaves, to serve

mixed herbs, such as Thai basil, shiso, perilla, dill, mint, to serve

Method

1. Combine the pork, fish sauce, maple syrup, shallot, pepper and salt in a large bowl and mix gently with your hands until just combined.

2. Divide into 20 balls, about one slightly rounded tablespoon, and lightly flatten. Set aside.

3. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Submerge the noodles, remove from the heat and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.

4. Heat a grill to medium high.

5. For the sauce, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and garlic in a bowl and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in 125ml water and desired amount of chillies, then add the sliced vegetables and fruit.

6. Lightly brush the tops of the meatballs with oil, then place, oiled side down, on the griller rack and grill for three to four minutes until nicely charred in spots. Flip and cook for another three to four minutes until just cooked through.

7. Serve the meatballs with the dipping sauce, noodles, greens and herbs. Wrap and enjoy.

Serves 4.

Breakfast tacos

Breakfast tacos. Picture: Con Poulos

Breakfast tacos. Picture: Con Poulos

Tacos come in many forms throughout California - traditional versions from trucks, Korean tacos and vegan tacos with jicama as the base. The tortilla is a perfect vessel to fill with different ingredients, so it makes sense that there are so many adaptations.

Ingredients

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

230g fresh breakfast sausage, casings removed

1 small onion, finely sliced

1 large poblano chilli pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, grated

8 small corn tortillas (about 13cm in diameter)

8 large eggs

Toppings: sliced jalapeo, pickled radish and coriander leaves

Method

1. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of the olive oil and the sausage and cook for six to eight minutes, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon and stirring frequently, until the meat is browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

2. Add another tablespoon of the oil to the pan, then add the onion and cook for three minutes, or until translucent. Add the poblano chilli pepper and season. Cook for five minutes, or until the vegetables begin to caramelise. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage. Wipe out the pan and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, toast the tortillas over a direct flame for one minute, or until lightly charred in spots or to desired doneness. Flip and repeat. Transfer to a plate and cover with a dish towel to keep warm.

4. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, season and whisk. Return the frying pan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat. Pour in the eggs and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Fold gently a few times and tilt the pan to allow any very runny parts to cook. Continue until mostly set with large billowy curds, about three to four minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

5. To serve, divide the eggs onto the tortillas. Top with the sausage mixture and finish with desired toppings.

Serves 4.

Coconut popsicles

Coconut popsicles. Picture: Con Poulos

Coconut popsicles. Picture: Con Poulos

Hot California summer nights need something refreshing to finish off the day. Creamy, sweet, tart and floral, these pops will do the trick.

Palm springs date pops:

400ml tinned unsweetened coconut milk

200g Medjool dates, pitted

50g coconut flakes

2 tbsp honey

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

pinch of sea salt flakes

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Transfer to popsicle moulds and freeze for 30 minutes before placing in sticks. Return to the freezer to fully set for about four hours before unmoulding.

Citrus creamsicle pops:

400ml tinned unsweetened coconut milk

125ml condensed milk

300ml mixed citrus juice

2 tbsp mixed citrus zest

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Transfer to popsicle moulds and freeze for 30 minutes before placing in sticks. Return to the freezer to fully set for about four hours before unmoulding.

Strawberry and vanilla pops:

170g strawberries, sliced

55g granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds scraped out or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

400ml tinned sweetened coconut milk

225g natural yoghurt

Toss the strawberries, sugar and vanilla together in a bowl. Leave for 20 minutes.

Add the milk and yoghurt to a large measuring cup and whisk to combine. Purée the strawberries in a food processor or blender until smooth. Divide among popsicle moulds. Top with the yoghurt mix and swirl. Freeze for 30 minutes before placing in sticks. Return to the freezer for four hours until fully set before unmoulding.

Makes 10.

Spring prawn salad

Spring prawn salad. Picture: Con Poulous

Spring prawn salad. Picture: Con Poulous

Springtime brings with it a lot of delicate flavours and textures, which makes this salad pair well with the sweetness of the Santa Barbara ridgeback prawns. Substitute with any local, wild, smaller, sweet prawns.

Ingredients

1 bunch of asparagus

3 spring onions

3 fresh bay leaves

8 whole black peppercorns

450g raw local small prawns, peeled and deveined

125ml thinned Avocado Green Goddess (recipe below)

180g sugar snap peas or snow peas, halved lengthways on a bias

1 bunch of pea shoot leaves, tough stems removed

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

60g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method

1. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil. Prepare an ice bath. Add the asparagus and cook for one minute until just bright. Remove and transfer to the ice bath. Once cool, drain the asparagus in a colander.

2. Place the spring onions, bay leaves and whole peppercorns in the pan and return to the boil. Add the prawns, cover and turn off the heat.

3. Poach for eight to 10 minutes until just cooked through. Strain and discard the aromatics, then toss the prawns with two tablespoons of the Avocado Green Goddess dressing and leave to cool.

4. Place the sugar snap peas and pea shoot leaves in a large bowl. Add half the remaining dressing, season and toss lightly.

5. Season the asparagus and serve with the prawns, topped with the sugar snap peas and leaves. Sprinkle the pistachios on top and serve with the remaining dressing.

Serves 4.

Avocado green goddess

This dressing is a take on the original from San Francisco. The creamy avocado replaces the need for sour cream or mayonnaise. It can be enjoyed thick as a dip with crudités or thinned out as a dressing.

Ingredients

1 avocado, stoned and sliced

6 anchovy fillets, drained

15g parsley, leaves and tender stems

15g chives

10g tarragon, leaves and tender stems

10g mint leaves

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tbsp juice

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth and lightly flecked with green herbs, scraping down the side as necessary. Season with salt and pepper.

2. For a thinner dressing, add one tablespoon water at a time and process until you reach the desired consistency. Season lightly.

Makes 350ml.

Eat California, by Vivian Lui. Smith Street Books, $49.99. Pictures: Con Poulos. Food stylist: Vivian Lui

Eat California, by Vivian Lui. Smith Street Books, $49.99. Pictures: Con Poulos. Food stylist: Vivian Lui

This story California dreamin' (and dining) first appeared on The Canberra Times.