Waiter, there's dirt on my plate

"Get used to eating vegetables" ... Bryan Martin.
"Get used to eating vegetables" ... Bryan Martin. Photo: David Reist

You are most likely wondering what is it with all these dried flowers, seeds and grains that are cast, as if by the very wind, across the plate at your favourite restaurant lately.

Don't worry, they aren't preparing your beautiful meal in a forest, field or beach, though that is possibly the idea. It's just one of those food trends that has been perpetuated by shows like Masterchef and mostly can be attributed to people like Rene Redzepi, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Mark Best and their ilk.

I'm sure in years to come we will look back at the teens of this century eating stuff that looks like dirt and think much like we do when looking back at the food trends of the late '70s and early '80s, when we were eating tiny little morsels of quail with fruit sauces - what were they thinking?

Some of the trends endure and end up being part of the complex matrix that is our food heritage while there are others that are best forgotten.

I could be wrong but I dare say that in some time in the future we'll be wondering what happened to all that dried stuff and edible earth we used to see on our plates as we tuck into a dish of genetically modified algae that tastes like steak and a side of fried insects with lab-grown egg yolks. This is apparently the current theory of where food trends may go given the direction in which we seem to be sailing. But the reality is more likely, say in 50 years' time, when we would have fished out the sea and there is such a demand for land to grow crops that the only thing we can physically grow to feed a world of 10 trillion people is stuff like cassava and sweet potato.

And yes, I can see the self-satisfied look on the faces of vegans everywhere who knew this was going to happen and certainly vocally warned us.

This dull prediction makes it even more important to act now: Find yourself arable land with good water; invest heavily in wind turbines, solar panels and bio-stills; and put up the barricades to keep out the meat-starved zombies.

I know I've been here before, bare-arsed protecting my 40 acres, but it is increasingly looking like I might have been right all those years ago when I suggested we arm ourselves against neighbours who invested in the wrong animals and crops (alpacas and quinoa) before a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion.

My main point - though I've lost track of my argument three paragraphs ago - is get used to eating vegetables and don't get too caught up with food trends.


If in doubt, I give you one question: What happened to sundried tomatoes?

I just picked my first lot of home-grown radishes, baby carrots and beets and I'm going to have a crack at making a fairly tricky yet simple dish that might have been created by Narisawa and influenced Redzepi and Blumenthal.

The idea is to use these baby, early summer vegetables and re-create what they looked like before you pulled them from the soil. Only you can eat everything including the dirt. It's an elaborate process that isn't at all tricky, just takes time to find all the gear and then dry the ''dirt'' in an oven.

One of the main ingredients is malt flour, hard to find, for sure, but you can still make something edible without it. Malt flour, I reckon but could be wrong, is made from sprouted barley that has been roasted. If you are into the dark arts of beer and whisky making you'll know this as the starting point. As barely sprouts, it uses stored protein and starch to germinate, the starch converts to simple sugar that are subsequently roasted and fermented in the brewing process. Malt flour is the ground, toasted, sprouted flour so it has a deeper colour and is higher is simple sugars.

All good but I can't find malt flour, travelled many a health food outlet, put up with them thinking I was some kind of nut or visionary who has found some new super food that will save the planet. It was back at my favourite place in Canberra that I found what I was looking for, yep good old Kaleen Place Butts N Brew. You can buy ground malt that just needs a quick blitz in a food processor and you have malt flour. Of course, if you aren't interested in eating soil that took you two days to make, simply having a nice range of fresh spring baby vegetables with a dip is still pretty good form.

Malt soil with spring vegetables

Malt soil

This recipe is modified and shortened from Noma.

200g flour

100g malt flour

100g hazelnut flour

25g sugar

1 tsp salt

75g dark lager

60g butter, melted

Blend the flours, sugar and salt in a food processor and slowly add the beer and butter. Spread in a thin layer on a tray in an oven set at 90C and bake for five hours. Cool and push through a sieve to remove lumps.

Spring vegetables





asparagus tips

baby beetroots

 Pickling mixture

¼ cup sugar

1 tbsp salt

140g rice wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar and salt in a cup (250 ml) of hot water. Mix in the vinegar and cool. Clean real dirt off all the vegetables. Baby vegetables don't need to be peeled. Pickle half the radishes and carrots. Place them whole in separate containers. Slice the fennel across the bulb and put in a container. Cover each vegetable with pickling mixture, and leave for at least eight hours.

Cook the broccolini and asparagus tips separately in a large pot of rapidly boiling water, for only one minute, remove and plunge into an ice bath. To serve, you can find some flower pots and give them a clean. Fill the bottom with the gribiche (below), cover with malt soil and put the pickled, raw and cooked vegetables into it.


2 eggs, boiled for 10 minutes, shelled and smashed up some

2 tbsp chopped capers

2 tbsp chopped baby gherkins

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup mixed chopped herbs: chervil tarragon, chives and parsley

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp mustard

Mix it all up.

>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au.