This week’s column is a departure from the usual format in which I report on restaurants in Clovis. I’m still writing about food and about Clovis — but food in a different setting. A really nice setting, actually.
On May 12, I went to the Clovis Botanical Garden near Clovis and Alluvial avenues. The garden held a food-themed fundraiser cleverly called Around the World in 80 Bites.
Event organizers offered food from regions of the world where plants in the three-acre garden originate. Those regions — Australia, Chile, South Africa and the Mediterranean — have a climate similar to the Central Valley.
Restaurants supplied some of the dishes. Others had that homemade touch.
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At the Chilean booth, Arlene Smith of Clovis gave a thumbs-up to the empanadas, fried pastry with meat filling supplied by the Hilton Garden Inn in Clovis.
Smith said the minced beef in the empanadas had a good flavor.
“It’s spicy but not too hot,” Smith said.
The empanadas were filled with steak, cilantro and Oaxaca cheese, a white cheese from Mexico with string cheese texture, said Edgar Lee. He’s the food and beverage director and banquet chef at the Hilton Garden Inn. The cheese is named after the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, where it was first made.
Also at the Chilean booth, guests could sample crispy fried tostones from the Hilton Garden Inn. They’re made using plantains, which are members of the banana family.
Lee said tostones are fried twice. The first time softens the inside. Then they’re smashed into a flat, round shape and fried again for crispiness. They are seasoned with sea salt.
Nearby, Elsabe and Hennie Kruger of Clovis tended to a South African lamb stew called potjiekos as it simmered over a charcoal fire in a three-legged cast iron pot. The stew is served over pap, a traditional South African porridge made from ground corn. The Krugers moved to Clovis from South Africa.
Guests at Around the World in 80 Bites enjoyed the dish.
“I like lamb, and the stew tastes kind of country,” Dave Tally said. He explained that he meant the dish had a blend of many flavors.
Elsabe Kruger, a member of the botancial garden’s board of directors, said she starts the stew by browning onions and then adds the lamb, cut in cubes. Next come potatoes, carrots and green beans in layers. It’s cook’s choice whether to toss in mushrooms and dried fruit, such as apricots.
Kruger then adds Mrs. H.S. Ball’s Original Recipe Chutney. Other ingredients are brown onion soup mix, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and Madras curry powder.
“The secret of a potjie is not to stir it,” Kruger said. “The longer it simmers, the better the taste.”
She doesn’t have exact measurements for the ingredients. She cooks by taste. “I give my husband some and ask him, ‘What does it need?’” she said chuckling.
Many good cooks recognize that approach, though it’s not what a first-time cook needs. So for those folks, there’s the Internet. I found a recipe at cookingchanneltv.com. Enter potjiekos in the search box.
At the Australian booth, Perry Coy started out grilling shrimp and pineapple on bamboo skewers. They cooked on “the barbie” – Australian slang for barbecue. Coy later stopped using the skewers and cooked in a pan to speed up the process.
Coy sprinkles garlic salt and lemon pepper on the shrimp, and he also bastes the shrimp with butter or olive oil. He smiled and said he employs the KISS method of cooking. “Keep it simple, sugar.”
The Mediterranean booth served baklava donated by the Phoenician Garden restaurant in Fresno and lasagna made by Pat Wynne, treasurer of the garden’s board of directors and a former member of the Clovis City Council.
Wynne got the lasagna recipe from a friend when they were students at Fresno State in the early 1970s.
“I don’t claim to be Martha Stewart,” she said. “But I can make clam chowder and lasgana, but not together.”
I’m including Wynne’s recipe at the end of this article for anyone looking for an easy way to enjoy a taste of Italy.
Meanwhile, Mark Bryson, a volunteer at the garden, and some of his friends made desserts. Nelda Lewis, secretary of the garden’s board of directors, arranged for homemade tamales that guests enjoyed. Trader Joe’s donated chips and salsa. And, Borunda Private Security & Patrol of Clovis donated its services during the fundraiser.
(Other officers and board members are Anne Clemons, president; Tom Delany, vice president; and Carolyn Dickson, board member. Andrea Reed manages the books and records for the board.)
Clovis residents Rebecca Miller and David Porcella were among the people who attended Around the World in 80 Bites.
“Dave’s mother volunteers here and we thought it would be neat to try the foods of other cultures,” Miller said. “The South African stew is amazing.”
Pat Wynne’s Lasagna
1 8-oz. box lasagna noodles
1 lb. hamburger
1 small onion, chopped
1 pkg. Lawry’s spaghetti sauce mix
2 6-oz. cans of tomato sauce
grated cheddar cheese
grated mozzarella cheese
grated Monterey jack cheese
1. Boil noodles until tender.
2. Brown hamburger and chopped onion together in large pan. Stir in spaghetti sauce mix.
3. Add two cans tomato sauce and ½ can of water. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Place cooked lasagna noodles in layer on the bottom of a 9-inch rectangular baking dish. Spread a light coating of the meat sauce on the noodles and sprinkle with each of the three cheeses. Add another layer of noodles crosswise over the bottom layer. Spread meat sauce over new noodle layer and sprinkle with cheese. Continue to layer noodles in the same way until noodles are gone.
5. For the top layer use a generous amount of meat sauce and cheese. Do not use a heavy layer of meat sauce between the layers as it makes the lasagna heavy.
6. Cover and bake at 425 degrees for 50 minutes.