Hetty McKinnon returns with 'Neighbourhood'

Author: Olivia Stanley
Photography: Luisa Brimble

It's been one year since Hetty McKinnon packed up her Surry Hills salad delivery service, Arthur Street Kitchen, bid adieu to Sydney and set up shop again in Brooklyn.

In her new cookbook Neighbourhood, McKinnon explores the new flavours she's encountered along the way as well as those she found in the communities of her new city.

McKinnon's salad and sweets recipes are accompanied by striking photographs by Luisa Brimble highlighting the simple and unpretentious nature of her cooking. That's not to say the food is uninventive - recipes such as roasted chestnuts with pan-fried pears, blue cheese, witlof and mustard vinaigrette remind the reader that there's a creative spark behind these pages.

We caught up with McKinnon to talk vegetable-love and what 'salad' means to New Yorkers.

GT: How has your cooking developed in the three years since you published Community?

Hetty McKinnon: Since Community was published my life has changed dramatically. Being in New York has introduced me to many new cooking styles and influences - it has been so exciting to learn about American culture, with its southern roots, Caribbean culture, Mexican flavours and diverse influences. Neighbourhood reflects my evolution as a salad-maker.

What is it about fruit and vegetables that keeps you fascinated?

As a cook, I'm inspired by how versatile fruits and vegetables are. They challenge me to be truly creative. You can cook roast, grill, barbecue, smoke them, fry them or eat them raw - all these cooking methods will produce vastly different results.

You visited quite a few places (including France, Italy, Germany and London) before settling down in Brooklyn. Where did you find the best quality produce?

Honestly, I'm blown away by the produce here in New York. It surprises people, especially New Yorkers, when I say this. There are greenhouses throughout the city and rooftop farms which keep the city with a ready supply of fresh food. My friend even grows sprouts in a makeshift greenhouse housed in an old shipping container.

What's your favourite recipe from the book?

I have so many favourites! The roasted Brussels sprouts with lotus root, black fungus and tofu salad features a delicious hoisin-sesame dressing which is a riff of a similar sauce that is served with fried rice noodles at yum cha. I love that sauce so much that I created a whole salad around it.

Are there any flavours that have come as a surprise to the American palate?

I think my whole concept of a salad has often surprised diners here in New York. When I ran my salad pop-up, Salads on Sundays, late last year, a lot of customers would come in very interested in what I was dishing up. Some called them 'roasted vegetables', as the widespread perception of a salad here is still very leaf based.

Do you have a go-to ingredient for home cooks keen to spice up their own salads?

Herbs and nuts can really transform your salads. Herbs add so much texture and finish, and nuts and seeds are a perfect finish to a dish. They add depth and interest. Also, make use of all those spices in your pantry. And always remember to season your dish before tucking in - a final sprinkle of sea salt and grind of black pepper makes all the difference.

Neighbourhood by Hetty McKinnon, $39.99 (Pan Macmillan, pbk).

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