Talk and table: free range cook Annabel Langbein

  picture: Annabel Langbein (internet)


 In February I met free ranger Annabel Langbein from New Zealand on a lunch, held in a restaurant that cooks with it’s own vegetables and other selected produce from nearby. Lunch was served and all gathered around the table to talk about cooking free range style with local or homegrown produce. Annabel told about her way of  life and her style of cooking. She had a lot to tell on food and the enjoyment you can get cooking and producing. More people should do that. It was a very inspiring afternoon and I wanted more. Suddenly I got the idea to invite Annabel for my series “gesprekken en gerechten” (talk and table) Based on the answers she gives I am going to conceive a recipe, that will please her and ofcourse my readers. I think that in her recipe New Zealand free range cooking will get a Dutch touch.


Who is Annabel Langbein and what would you like to share with us?

 I’ve been involved with food all my life and writing and publishing cookbooks for the past 20 years. I live in New Zealand and grow most of my family’s fresh food in organic vegetable gardens and orchards at our home in Auckland and our holiday cabin on the shores of Lake Wanaka in the South Island. In my television series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook [ ] and books [] I love showing people how easy it is to bring fresh, seasonal food into today’s fast-paced world. You can find out more about me and try lots of my recipes on my website at

 You come from New Zealand, can you give a description of this country and what is so special over there?

 When you live in New Zealand you feel really connected to nature – it is so beautiful here and so easy to access the outdoors. We only have four and a half million people so there isn’t any population pressure. It’s also unique in covering a long latitude, so in the far north the climate is almost subtropical while in the south you get cold winters and snow. That means you can drive through the landscape and encounter so many different environments and things growing. In the north we grow avocadoes and citrus and subtropical fruits and in the south we grow cherries and almonds and berries. As a culture we spend a lot of time outdoors – hiking and picnicking and at the beach.

 You invested a lot of energy in restoring your house and starting a vegetable garden? In another life, would you do it again? Or would it be somewhere or something else?

 At our family cabin in Wanaka we started from scratch with nothing, just wilderness, and then started to build the cabin in 2000 and plant trees and create a garden. I don’t regret a minute. It’s the most beautiful place in the world, and as we have a natural water supply from springs it makes it a gardener’s paradise.

 Your style of cooking and recipes speak to the imagination, it is all so laid back and easy, certainly with me. How do you do that?

It’s kind of a joke really as I come from a long line of engineers. I never got the gene for being good at maths or physics, but I do know how to engineer a good recipe. I think of a recipe as like a road map. I am a kinesthetic learner so if I cant understand a recipe then I don’t expect my audience to!

 My parents were/are very French oriented. De last two decades there has been a shift from French to Italian cuisine, certainly in my generation. Do you notice that in New Zealand  too?

 Maybe here it’s more of an Asian shift. We have a lot of immigration from Asia and that exposes us to the flavours of ginger and chilli and lemongrass and fish sauce – fresh, clean, light tastes that people seem to love. They make it easy to start with a simple, fresh ingredient and create something really delicious. These days going to the supermarket is like stepping into a global pantry – you can buy Japanese vinegar and soba noodles and wasabi, Thai sauces and Moroccan couscous and spice pastes, Iranian saffron, Greek olives, Dutch chocolate. It makes it so easy to cook everyday food that tastes interesting.

 What do you miss the most  from New Zealand, when you are abroad?

My bed! And my friends. And I miss my garden – I love to live in a natural environment and feel connected to the rhythms of nature.

 I recently hosted the Dutch foodblogger’s event. My question was: ”who would you invite to your table, what would you cook, which wine is served and what do you talk about?”Many bloggers send in an item. What would your post be? 

 My favourite thing in life is gathering people together around the table over fresh, simple food and some nice wines – the food and wine are the conduit to a good conversation. I don’t have many fantasies about my ultimate dinner party guest, but someone from back in history like Catherine de Medici would be pretty interesting – she was the one who really put French food on the map. I would want her to bring her entourage of cooks and for them to cook what they cooked then, and I would probably cook a piece of fresh fish and some vegetables from my garden.

 Culinary speaking, you are very experienced in free range  cooking now with local produce, which one is your favorite recipe? And naturally which wine?

 My goodness – it’s hard to pick ONE favourite recipe. I am very much the kind of cook who always loves inventing something new, and cooking according to the harvests of the season and the weather… Right now I am really enjoying roasted salmon with cherry tomatoes and a fresh basil pesto. It’s so easy you don’t really need a recipe – just slather salmon fillets with pesto and sprinkle over a little olive oil, salt and pepper and a grating of lemon zest. Scatter cherry tomatoes around the tray (and if you want some thin slices of zucchini or some olives) and roast for about 8 minutes at 250˚C. It’s as simple as that and it just tastes so good! Serve it up with couscous or new potatoes and some lightly cooked greens. So easy and so fresh and vibrant.

 If you were to start a cooking school in the Netherlands, what would you want to teach us? I know this is a though question.

 I love teaching so it’s not such a tough question really. As I never learnt to cook professionally I like to show people how easy it is to get to a great result, and not always have to be a slave to the recipe. Once you know a method, like the roasted salmon above, then you can change out the flavours. That salmon is equally as good with a teriyaki glaze on top, or you can take both those ideas and apply them to chicken – it will take longer to cook but the flavours will work really well together. I like to start with whatever is in season and is really fresh and then build my menus around that, so you learn to cook resourcefully, and get the best flavours without waste. I often think that learning to cook is a bit like learning to play music. You need to know the notes and the tones and then you learn a few chords of what goes together and then build out from there. Most of all I like to show people how much fun they can have, and how cooking brings people together and is such a simple way to build a good life.

 Last but not least, do you want to share anything else in my blog? Please be welcome

 I love the idea of sharing recipes – they are like gifts handed down from family to family and friend to friend. Simple things like this give texture and fabric to our lives. In the recall of where the recipe came from or where you ate it there are memories to cherish, as well as new memories to create when you serve that dish to someone you love. I’ve just created a new section on my website where people can upload their recipes and share them with my online community of foodies. I’d love for any of your readers to contribute a recipe. Join up at – – we’ve got quite a few Dutch friends already!


picture: Annabels newest book



The recipe

I have conceived a  recipe for Annabel, that has a feel of autumn. The colors of  fall. Inspired by the paintings of  the 17th century, the Dutch touch is in the use of orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. And needless to say, the mashed potato stew. We eat a lot of this so called ‘stamppotje” in the Netherlands. To add some bitterness to the sweetness of the gravy I suggest a stew with Brussels sprouts. Bitter and sweet. And topped with a salty grated cheese round. When I think of a wine, I think of a young Burgundy pinot noir. But I know New Zealand has a lot of good wines to offer form this grape. Or you might want to combine this dish with a dark beer.

 Ingredients 4 people:

4 pork chops

150 g/ 5 oz dried apricots 

1 glass medium sherry 

2 cloves 

1 tsp cinnamon 

2 tbs zest of orange 

pepper and salt

butter 1 kg potatoes 

500 g/ 1lb 2 oz Brussels sprouts 

warm milk 


chopped chives

grated old Dutch cheese.


 Grate the old Dutch cheese on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Make small flat rounds from the grated cheese. Like crisps. Bake them briefly under a hot grill and leave to cool. Rub the pork chops with pepper, salt and cinnamon. Heat the butter and fry them. Cut the dried apricots into small pieces and let them soak in the sherry. Remove te chops form the pan and keep them warm under some aluminium foil. Pour some warm water in the pan to make a gravy. Add the apricots, sherry, cloves and orange zest and allow to simmer. Put the pork chops  back into the pan. Add a little extra butter. Clean the sprouts and cut them in halves. Cook them briefly in hot water. Boil the potatoes. When they are cooked, add some butter and warm milk and make a mash. Add a pinch of nutmeg. Mix the mashed potatoes with the sprouts and stir in the chives. Serve the pork chops with some apricot gravyy and the mashed potato stew dish on a plate. Put the crisp cheese rounds on top

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