If you were to ask me what the new luxe looked like at the start of the year, I would have said it was all about less is more. In the face of climate change, the refugee crisis and the politics of food supply, showy displays of extravagance just didn't cut it anymore. In these complicated times, post-Covid, I think we can add the idea of supporting each other and feeling nourished with moments of intimacy and togetherness as things that make us feel well treated.
Fifteen years ago, writer Francine du Plessix Gray wrote a piece for the New Yorker entitled "Starving Children", which described the importance of dining together around the table. Her words seem even more relevant today: "The fact that we may be witnessing the first generation in history that has not been required to participate in that primal rite of socialisation, the family meal. The family meal is not only the core curriculum in the school of civilised discourse, it is also a set of protocols that curb our natural savagery and our animal greed; and cultivate a capacity for sharing and thoughtfulness. Dinner rituals have nothing to do with class, or with working women's busy lives, or any particular family structure."
The author dined with families in all kinds of different situations around the world — family dinners with boiled potatoes in Siberia, bowls of watery gruel in the Sahara and platters of deli cold cuts with welfare mothers in Chicago. She says "the unifying factor was the grace with which they were offered and the sight of youngsters learning through experience the art of human companionship".
Let's not forget, though, that cooking does take time and effort. As du Plessix Gray says, "The home meal requires genuine sacrifices of time and energy, large expenditures of those very traits it nurtures — patience, compassion, self-discipline."
Perhaps it is this, this simple idea of giving of your time and care to nourish others with the food you have thoughtfully prepared that best expresses an idea of what luxe means today. Time after all is our most valuable asset. Coupled with an idea of provenance — knowing where the food we eat has come from and that it has been grown and prepared ethically — is essential to creating a sustainable future for us all.
Celebrating fresh, locally grown food at home around the table is a simple way to tread a lighter footprint on the planet. It also helps support this country's economic recovery and is a good way to reduce the intake of (often imported) processed industrial food in our diets. Most of all it says: "I care."
Welcome to the new luxe, where it's all about eating fresh, eating local — and eating together.
Carrot and Yoghurt Salad
This piquant pretty salad throws sweet winter carrots into the spotlight for a simple light starter. It takes mere seconds to throw together, yet looks spectacular on the plate. Rose water adds an aromatic note if you have it.
Ready in 5 mins
Serves 6 as a starter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp orange juice
½ tsp rose water (optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
5 medium carrots, peeled
¾ cup plain Greek-style yoghurt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp runny honey
1-2 tsp lemon juice, to taste
A pinch of salt
3-4 Tbsp dukkah
Ground black pepper
1 Tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon and orange juices, rose water, if using, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Use a vegetable peeler to cut carrots into long ribbons. Toss in the lemon and orange mixture. To make the dressing, stir or shake together yoghurt, cumin, honey, lemon juice and salt. To serve, spoon about 2 Tbsp of the dressing on to each of 6 plates and run a spoon through each to create a teardrop shape. Pile carrot ribbons next to the yoghurt and sprinkle with dukkah, pepper and a little mint.
Speedy Salmon with Vietnamese Dressing
If you're making this for one or two people, just use salmon fillet portions with a teaspoon or two of dressing over each — they will take about 7 minutes to cook.
Ready in 15 minutes
1 boneless, skin-on side of salmon (1-1.2kg)
2 Tbsp Vietnamese Dressing (see below), plus extra to serve
Coriander or mint leaves, to serve
Lime cheeks, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 240C fanbake and line an oven tray with baking paper for easy clean-up. Place salmon on tray and top with dressing. Switch oven to fan grill and cook salmon until it gives a little, rather than springing back, when pressed in the thickest part (8-10 minutes, depending on size). Remove from oven, cover with baking paper and a clean tea towel and allow to stand for 10 minutes. To serve, garnish with coriander or mint and lime cheeks, if using and serve extra dressing in a jug on the side. Accompany with rice and lightly cooked spinach or Asian greens.
Ready in 5 mins
Makes 1½ cups
1 long red chilli, very finely sliced
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
½ cup water
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup rice vinegar
Place all ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Matcha Panna Cotta
Cream is such a great luxury ingredient that lends a rich silkiness to chilled desserts like this one. Even better, it's cheap to buy. You can make panna cotta in all kinds of flavours but I like how this green tea version provides a clean finish. If preferred, set the mixture in individual glasses or moulds.
Ready in 30 minutes plus setting
2 Tbsp cold water
3 tsp gelatine
2 cups cream
1½ cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup caster sugar
¼ cup honey
3 cardamom pods bruised with the back of a knife
2 tsp matcha powder mixed to a paste with 2 tsp warm water
Line the base of a 20cm x 30cm sponge roll tin with baking paper or plastic wrap. Sprinkle gelatine over water and stir to fully absorb with no dry bits. Set aside. Place cream, milk, vanilla, sugar, honey and cardamom pods in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. As soon as it bubbles, remove from the heat. Remove and discard cardamom. Whisk in soaked gelatine, once it has fully dissolved, whisk in matcha paste. Pour mixture into prepared tin. Chill until set, about 4 hours, it should be a little wobbly. Cut into 6-8 pieces and serve with mandarins or other fruit and a sprinkle of matcha powder. This will keep in the fridge if covered for up to 3 days.