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Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family recipes

Pickled mussels and Atarangi’s rēwana bread.

Māori food champions Kasey and Karena Bird share traditional family recipes that are ideal for Matariki. Photography by Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot.  

Matariki, which starts today, is one of the most important dates on the Māori calendar. The celebration starts when the first new moon is seen following the pre-dawn rise of the cluster of stars known as Matariki (or Pleiades). Of the more than 1000 stars in this cluster, only seven are visible to the naked eye, with four signifying connections to food.

The brightest of the four seen on that first day will be used to reset the Māori calendar, which aligns to phases of the moon, shaping food customs, planting, fishing and hunting for the coming year. Those stars are Tupuārangi, which signifies food from the sky or trees; Waitī, food from fresh water sources; Tupuānuku, food grown in the earth; and Waitā, harvest from the coast and ocean.

Across the country, marae will mark the annual  event with feasting and parties, and families will gather to celebrate and share special recipes. More information on Matariki can be found on the website for Eat New Zealand.

RelatedArticlesModule - Matariki feast Kasey Karena Bird

Maketu sisters Kasey and Karena Bird, who won MasterChef New Zealand in 2014, have spent the past few years immersing themselves in Māori food traditions, language and culture. Last year, the most spectacular meal I ate was the Creation Dinner they put on at an Auckland marae. They served authentic ingredients, stylishly cooked and presented for a seven-course feast that told the story of the beginnings of life, according to Māori lore.

This year for Matariki, the sisters will be in Taipei as part of a Māori trade mission delegation that aims to celebrate and deepen cultural connections between Māori and indigenous Taiwanese. They will design and deliver bespoke Māori cuisine at events during the visit.

This week, they have shared traditional family recipes. They say, “Matariki was an important time for our ancestors, huge in terms of how they planned to interact with the different food sources. So, it’s an important reminder for us to be connected with the environment and the seasons and have them dictate what is eaten at our tables in Aotearoa. This food is exactly what we love to eat as a family when celebrating Matariki, and every feast always includes rēwana bread made by our mum, Atarangi.”

Atarangi’s rēwana Bread

14g dried yeast
½ cup white sugar

1 litre warm water
6 cups flour
2 tsp salt

In a bowl, mix the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar with the warm water until the yeast dissolves. Leave it to stand for 10-15 minutes until the yeast becomes frothy and fermented.

Put the flour, salt and remaining sugar in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Add the yeast liquid gradually, mixing it in with one hand. Keep adding warm water until a soft, sticky dough forms. Leave it to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Tip the dough on to a floured bench, then knead until it is smooth and pliable, adding more flour if necessary.

Divide into quarters. Shape the pieces of dough to fit into 2 greased metal bread tins. Leave them to rise for 45-60 minutes. Cook in a preheated 180°C oven for an hour.

Once cooked, remove the loaves from the tins and wrap in damp tea towels until cooled. Slice and eat with butter and jam.

Makes 2 big loaves

Pickled mussels

750g green-lipped mussels
½ cup brown sugar

½ cup malt vinegar
½ cup cold water
½ red onion, finely diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

Either shuck the mussels raw or very lightly steam them in a saucepan until they start to open.

Add the sugar and vinegar to a bowl, then stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the mussel meat, water, onion and tomato. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To serve, leave the mussels whole or chop the meat into 1.5cm pieces. Spoon the mussel mixture into the cleaned, dried shells.

Covered and refrigerated, the mussels will keep for 2-3 days.

Serves 6 as a snack or entrée
Drink match: cold beer

Pātiki (flounder) with bacon and watercress butter.

Pātiki (Flounder) with bacon and watercress butter

1 meaty bacon bone
100g ice-cold butter
1 handful of watercress
zest of ½ a lemon
salt and pepper
1 flounder per person
½ cup flour

1 tbsp oil
watercress and lemon to garnish

Place the bacon bone in a small saucepan with enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the bacon bone from the heat, then leave to cool. Pick the meat off the bone. Cut the butter into 2cm cubes, then blend in a food processor with the meat, watercress and lemon zest until well combined. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

Dry each flounder with a clean tea towel or paper towel. Place the flour on a dinner plate, then coat the fish on each side. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large frying pan, then add the oil. Once the oil has reached a medium heat, add the flounder to the pan with 2 tablespoons of the bacon and watercress butter. Cook the fish for about 5 minutes on each side or until cooked (cooking time will depend on the size of the fish).

Carefully place the fish on a plate, spoon over a dollop of the butter, then garnish with lemon wedges and watercress.

Serves 2-4
Wine match: a favourite white wine

Plates from nomad&home, Omaha Beach, Other Props from Quail Farm Collectables.

This article was first published in the June 22, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.