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The Happy Talent - Travel "It is a happy talent to know how to play." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Passport & Plate - Aboriginal Bush Dinner

Australia | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 5 photos


Ingredients
Damper:
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup powdered milk

Camel (note: in lieu of camel, which isn't available in the States, I've recreated the recipe using sirloin steak)
2 sirlion steaks, cut 2.5-3 inches thick
1/2 cup salt
1 Tb. ground black pepper
1 Tb. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt to taste

 

How to prepare this recipe
Before you begin:

Start a wood fire. I like the traditional, stick-rubbing method, but you'll hear no judgement from me if you use matches or a lighter. We'll be cooking in the embers, which will take about 20-30 minutes to form.

While you wait, begin making your damper. This traditional Australian bread is easy to make -- but, after hunting and gathering in one of the world's harshest climates all day, it will eternally rank among the most flavorful cuisines you've ever tasted.

1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar and powdered milk together in a bowl.
2. Add in the water and mix it into dough. Knead until smooth
3. Shape dough into a round loaf, about 2-3 inches tall.
4. Bury the loaf in the hot ashes under your fire.
5. Bake for about 30 minutes.

While your damper is cooking, prepare your sirloin.

1. Mix salt, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper together in a bowl.
2. Moisten your hands and work seasoning into the meat. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
3. Place the meat on the ashes, which should be glowing red hot. Turn it after 8 minutes.
4. After both sides have cooked for ~8 minutes each, remove meat from fire. Let it cool on a cutting board for 8-10 minutes before cutting (it'll be juicier that way).

 

The story behind this recipe
"You see that?" Desmond asks quietly as he adjusts the gun on his shoulder.

Squinting across the red sand, I see a burned out old Jeep. In the middle of the desert. I turn my gaze back to Desmond, and he continues.

"Many years ago, there was a dispute between two brothers over the ownership of that car. When they took their trouble to Mooky -" (he's our medicine man) "- he told them to burn it. So they brought it out here and burned it.

"Because, to us, only two things matter: taking care of family, and taking care of land. The car came between family, so they destroyed it."

I'm moved - but coming from a land of small claims courts and arbitrators, I can't help but ask, "They didn't want to sell it and just split the money?"

He grinds his molars, as he often does when he thinks. Then he answers, "Sometimes, the simplest solution is best."

We continue our hunt in silence - after all, hunting works better when you're quiet. But, more important, living and working with the Martu has taught me something. I have one summer to do research in the Great Sandy Desert. I have one summer to sleep under unfamiliar stars every night - and, sometimes, wake to scorpions under my sleeping bag in the morning. I have one summer to hear dreamtime stories, to learn from elders who can recall the first time they saw a white person. Their culture is alive, and it is changing fast.

I have the rest of my life to talk. Now is the time to listen.

Our silence ends when we spy a small herd of camels. Desmond aims at the weakest and shoots. We light a fire so the others can find us and help carry the meat back to camp.

Desmond doesn't talk much that night. He is thinking about the life he took. I pull my damper and camel from the fire, put it on my plate, and brush off the ashes - then moan with pleasure when I take my first bite. I've had $100 souffles in Paris and fancy gelatos in Italy. But nothing could ever compare to this.

Because sometimes, the simplest solution is best.

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