There’s a certain feeling that leading Australian cookery writer Donna Hay gets from diet food, and it’s not a good one.
It’s “that taste”, as well as “that look”, that the Sydney-based food stylist and bestselling author detests, along with many other things.
“I hate diets,” says the mum-of-two, who regularly appears as a guest judge on MasterChef Australia and previously starred in her own series, Donna Hay: Fast, Fresh, Simple. “I just don’t like all rules and all the fuss that goes with diets. And all the missing out and all the bland-tasting food. Life is too short.”
With this in mind, Hay’s new cookbook, Fresh And Light, focuses on flavoursome but wholesome food designed to appeal to everybody, including those who are health-conscious or watching their weight.
“I call it my Monday to Thursday book, for when you want to fuel your body for a busy week and want to feel good about the things you eat,” she says.
She regularly dishes up her own tasty creations to family and friends who come round for Sunday lunch, especially those who comply to a certain level of etiquette... “I have really great friends who love me cooking for them and always do the washing up,” she says, laughing.
“I always think the best guests do the washing up. They’re the dream guests that bring a nice bottle of wine and stack the dishwasher; and always get invited back!”
When the tables are turned however, and it’s her friends’ turn to cook for Hay, she admits that they often “get in a little spin” about it - but they needn’t worry; she may be a domestic goddess but she’s “happy with anything”, Hay insists, and is more impressed by simplicity than complicated food.
“I see a lot of food during the week, so I just like really fresh flavours and something simple,” she says. “I don’t need really fussy food, I think that’s what restaurants are for. Home cooking is different; it’s about having time to catch up with your friends and having a good laugh and unwinding.
“Keeping the food really simple is really fine with me.”
Recently, however, Hay had a helping hand impressing guests when they came round for a barbecue. Her young son caught a fish, and then shared the spoils of his catch.
“It was one of those perfect afternoons where I had some things to put on the barbeque, and he brought his little fish in,” the proud mum recalls. “One of the other dads gutted it and scaled it, because I can’t stand that, and then he cooked his little fish on the barbecue. It was one of those perfect life moments.”
Freshly-caught fish aside, they key ingredients to a good meal with friends are tasty, simple grub and lovely company, Hay notes.
Fancy whipping up a light summer supper to share with your friends? Here are three recipes from Fresh And Light.
RED QUINOA, KALE AND HALLOUMI SALAD: (serves 4)
150g kale, trimmed
600g red quinoa
1,000ml chicken or vegetable stock
65g flat-leaf parsley leaves
500g halloumi, thinly sliced
Olive oil, for brushing
For the smoky lemon dressing:
2tbsp lemon juice
1tsp sweet smoked paprika
1tbsp olive oil
Rinse the quinoa and then place it and the stock in a saucepan over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 12-14 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Remove from the heat and stand for five minutes. Stir with a fork to separate the grains. (If you have any cooked quinoa left over, try using it to bulk out other salads during the week. You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.)
Cut the kale into large pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Pour over boiling water and allow to stand for five minutes. Drain and pat dry on absorbent paper. Toss the kale with the quinoa and parsley.
To make the smoky lemon dressing, combine the lemon juice, paprika and oil. Pour over the salad and toss to combine.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Brush the halloumi with a little oil and cook for one to two minutes each side or until golden. Divide the salad between serving plates and top with the halloumi to serve.
FENNEL AND ORANGE CHICKEN SKEWERS WITH CARROT SALAD: (serves 4)
60ml orange juice
1tsp fennel seeds, toasted
1tbsp vegetable oil
1tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
750g chicken thigh fillets, trimmed and sliced
12 baby rainbow carrots, thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler
Place the orange juice, honey, fennel, oil, lemon juice and garlic in a bowl. Place the chicken in a separate bowl, pour over half the orange juice mixture and allow to marinate in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Thread the chicken onto 12 skewers. Place the chicken on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cook under a hot, preheated grill and for two minutes each side, basting with the marinade, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Toss the carrot with the remaining orange mixture, divide between serving plates and top with the chicken to serve.
MIXED BERRY COBBLER: (serves 6-8)
750g frozen mixed berries
3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
75g caster sugar
For the golden buttermilk topping:
75g self-raising wholemeal flour
75g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
30g rolled oats
1tsp ground cinnamon
30g ground almonds
110g granulated sugar
60g unsalted butter, chopped
Extra raw sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 180C. Place the berries, apple, cornflour and sugar in a bowl and toss to combine. Place in a 2.5L-capacity ovenproof dish.
To make the golden buttermilk topping, place the flours, baking powder, oats, cinnamon, almond meal and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and rub with your fingertips to combine. Add the buttermilk and mix until combined.
Spoon the cobbler mixture in large spoonfuls over the fruit. Sprinkle with the extra sugar. Bake for one hour and 20 minutes or until the cobbler is puffed, golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.