What I’m cooking: Asher Regan

What I’m cooking: Asher Regan

Wellingtonian Asher Regan has had a keen interest in food from an early age, largely fuelled by his Nana’s bagels, chopped liver and fluffy jelly. As a teenager, Asher began washing dishes after school at a local Taiwanese restaurant then left school at 17 to open the Kia-Ora Coffee Lounge on Vivian St with a school friend. He later moved to study cooking at AIT (now AUT), before working around the world.
When he returned to New Zealand, Asher gained a Masters degree in nutrition from Otago University. He now works for the Heart Foundation, developing recipes and resources to help school children and families cook healthy and delicious meals.

As a food writer, Asher believes we have a responsibility to increase an interest and appreciation of good food to everyone in New Zealand, especially for those who may not be able to afford more expensive ingredients. He’d like to see more people in the kitchen cooking, and less reliance on processed foods.

Rēwena bagels
My Nana was of Jewish descent and moved to New Zealand in the 1950s. I grew up eating her bagels, which were widely regarded as the best in Wellington.
No variation will ever replace the memories of the original, but knowing about the benefits of wholegrains and sourdough cultures I felt obliged to make some changes. This recipe uses a rēwena sourdough starter culture made from kumara or potato, which is a technique learned from Māori bakers. Rewena breads have a slight sweetness to them which bagels are also known for. I’ve also substituted some of the white flour for wholemeal.

Although not exact replicas of the original with their nostalgia and connection to my Nana, they are very enjoyable to eat. I know if I keep making them regularly for my children, they will grow up with a similar connection to this variety. Hopefully, this recipe finds favour with both bagel and rēwena traditionalists, as well as those who just like good bread.

For the starter:
150g potato or kumara, peeled and sliced
200ml water
200g wholemeal flour

For the dough:
5g dried yeast
400ml warm water
500g white flour
500g wholemeal flour
10g salt
15g sugar
100g cooked kumara, mashed
60ml oil
1 egg
300g starter culture

For the topping:
15ml golden syrup
1 egg, beaten
Poppy seeds
Sesame seeds

To make the starter, cover potato or kumara with water and boil until soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool in the water, add any more water needed to make up to 300g. Mash until smooth and mix in flour.
Leave covered in a warm place for several days or until it has started bubbling and doubled in size (this is the start of a sourdough culture).
Every day or two, feed this starter with a mixture of 50g wholemeal flour and 50ml water.  Before feeding remove approximately 100g of the starter so the overall quantity doesn’t become too much.

To make the dough, dissolve the dried yeast in the water. Add all the remaining ingredients and knead together until smooth. Bulk ferment until doubled in size (punch down and fold the dough at least twice during this ferment). Scale into 80g portions.

To cook the bagels, bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the golden syrup. Heat oven to 225C. Shape dough portions into rings. Boil approximately 6-9 at a time for 2 minutes, turning once or twice during the boil. Place on a baking tray. Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with either sesame or poppy seeds. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

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