Caramelised pork ribs.
Caramelised pork ribs. Photo: Steve Shanahan.

As a nod to the good ol' stars and stripes Fourth of July celebrations, it seems fitting to celebrate the day with a Yankee Doodle nosh-up.

In the States, backyard barbies and shared food with family and friends accompanied by the patriotic glitter of red, white and blue flags and fireworks is the traditional thing to do. But for us Aussies, deep in winter’s grip, it’s an indoor event with an Aussie twist – family and friends gettin’ down in our onesies and ugg boots.

Cabbage slaw with peanuts for Debbie Skelton's 4th of July Cook This Week. Photo: Steve Shanahan
Cabbage slaw with peanuts. Photo: Steve Shanahan

While I’ve stuck with the basic elements of a typical Independence Day menu, I’ve removed the “traditional” from these All-American pork, pumpkin and slaw recipes by deleting the cane sugar content and replacing it with rice malt syrup. Rice malt syrup is a fructose and (mostly) glucose free sugar alternative. This conversion is not without its controversy, and may be considered unpatriotic, given the Americans love of all things sweet. However, at the risk of water-boarding for my un-American activities, I plough on.

On a recent and gradual campaign to better health, I have actively reduced our family’s sugar intake. For a few years now, I have found that halving the quantity of sugar in recipes rarely makes any difference and allows other flavours to shine through. In recipes in which cane sugar is deleted, it is replaced with a healthier alternative, such as natural rice malt syrup or stevia powder. There’s enough hype and publicity floating around about our ever-expanding waistlines, so I won’t bang on about the merits of fructose and glucose free food. If you still prefer to use the white stuff, the quantities are included in the following recipes.

To obtain the equivalent sweetness in foods, the approximate ratio of rice malt syrup to sugar is about half, and look for brands that contain no added sugars. Also beware that stevia is a few hundred times sweeter than sugar, so use it sparingly.

Pumpkin pie spice slice with cream cheese frosting for Debbie Skelton's 4th of July Cook This Week. Photo: Steve Shanahan
Pumpkin pie spice slice with cream cheese frosting. Photo: Steve Shanahn

Rice malt syrup and stevia powder are available from supermarkets and health food stores.

The pumpkin puree needed for the pumpkin pie slice can be made ahead of time by placing a whole pumpkin on a tray in a 180C oven for one and half hours or until a knife can be inserted easily through the skin. When done remove the pumpkin from the oven and allow to cool a little before slicing and discarding the mushy core and seeds. Scrape out the cooked pumpkin flesh and place into a food processor bowl or use a stick blender and puree until smooth. Pumpkin puree can be frozen for a month or so in useable quantities sealed in ziplock bags.

Almond butter can be made at home by processing whole almonds to a paste in a food processor or Thermomix. Alternatively, you can buy it ready made from the supermarket or health food store, but it can be a little expensive.

Cane sugar-free caramel pork ribs

2kg pork ribs, cut into 3 rib portions
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup rice malt syrup (or 1 cup sugar)
1 cup dark beer
¼ cup bourbon (substitute with whiskey)
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tomato, diced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp tabasco sauce
1 heaped tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Pour the rice malt syrup into a large lidded stovetop and oven-proof casserole or dutch oven. Cook on the stovetop over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is bubbling and toffee like. This will take about five minutes. Take off the heat and stir the beer in slowly. The mixture will bubble up, so do this at the sink. Allowing the mixture to cool down a little stir in all the remaining ingredients, adding the ribs in last. Return to the heat until the sauce starts to bubble. Turn the ribs over a couple of times in the sauce to coat.

Place the lid on and bake in the oven for one and half hours, until the ribs are falling-off-the-bone tender. Stir a couple of times during baking to ensure that the sauce is not burning. If there is a lot of liquid remaining, and you prefer a drier consistency, remove the lid from the pot and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or so to reduce the liquid. Skim any visible fat from the surface and serve with crunchy cabbage slaw.

Crunchy cabbage slaw with peanuts

2 cups savoy cabbage, chopped
1 cup red cabbage, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 cup snow peas, chopped
¼ cup basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup coriander, chopped
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
1 avocado, diced
¼ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
2 tbsp black sesame seeds

Dressing
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice malt syrup (or 1 tbsp sugar)
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 clove garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tbsp water

Combine the cabbages, carrots, avocado, snow peas and half of the herbs in a large bowl. Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jug, adding more water to thin if needed. Toss the cabbage mixture with the peanut sauce and top with the reserved herbs, the peanuts and sesame seeds.

Spiced pumpkin pie slice with cream cheese frosting

Slice
200g almond butter
200g pumpkin puree
4 eggs
160g rice malt syrup (or ¾ cup sugar)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt flakes
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a slice tin approximately 30cm by 20cm. Place all slice ingredients in an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until combined,  about two to three minutes. Pour into prepared tin and bake for  20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. When cool top with cream cheese frosting, and slice with a wet knife.

Frosting
250g cream cheese
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup rice malt syrup (or ½ cup sugar)
grated zest of 1 lemon

In a food processor or stick blender, blend the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and blend. The frosting will set a little harder in the fridge if needed.