It’s an eerie feeling, walking along a deserted beach as dawn begins to break and stumbling across tracks freshly made by an obviously sizeable crocodile.

There’s beauty in the long, curved rut scored through sand by its heavy tail, in the sharp punctuation-like claw marks. But a feeling of deep uncertainty immediately settles in the pit of your stomach as your eyes automatically, nervously begin raking the landscape for a glimpse of the prehistoric killer who has this morning left the ocean and crossed the very sand you stand upon during its journey to the swamp.

So I found myself this week as our little group went solar eclipse chasing amid the wild surrounds of Northeast Arnhem Land, in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Never mind that we had misjudged the beach (turns out we needed east-facing not north-facing, duh) and were forced into a mammoth and hurried pre-dawn trek to round several small peninsulas for a clear view. We arrived in time to witness the apocalyptic spectacle of a fast-moving moon temporarily blotting out the sun, turning day to almost night.

As we walked back carrying that shattered feeling that comes with waking at 4am, dozens of tiny translucent crabs scurried from our path in another reminder of the inherent beauty of this Aboriginal-owned place. And those crocs? It seems they were having some sort of a party. One track had morphed into many more, maybe 20, by the time we returned.

I’ve another two weeks here in this land of colour and contrast that each day finds a way to challenge my own ideology or perception.

I’m working with Yirrkala’s renowned art gallery, the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, and here among the famed indigenous bark paintings, I’m gradually learning more about the local Yolngu people and their way of life. Or, more accurately, I’m beginning to understand just how much I don’t understand about their complex and highly structured culture.

Of course, with every experience comes the requisite food challenges and wins. And I have to admit, it is a little challenging being vego in this small and isolated community. One chef visibly broke out in a sweat when asked to make something sans-meat.

Luckily, on the win front, we’ve been blessed with our very own cooking extraordinaire, Michael. So let’s wrap this up with two more mouth-watering recipes he treated us to during our recent Biranybirany camping trip. He’s very good. You can find another of his recipes here (as well as more of an explanation as to why I’m temporarily living in Arnhem Land).

CHICKPEA AND LENTIL SALAD

Michael tells us this was made from what was around at the time, which really wasn’t much given we were nearing the end of a three-day camping trip with 20 people to feed. He reckons honing the dressing was crucial to pulling the whole thing together, a good tip for any thrown-together salad.

What goes in:

2 cans chickpeas
1 can lentils, drained
1 cup chopped celery
1 small Spanish red onion, finely diced
2 carrots, grated
2 lemons, all zest off and finely sliced*
A bunch of coriander

How you do it:

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl then mix through the dressing just before serving.

*A hint on nailing punchy chunks of lemon zest: take the zest off with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut too deeply into the bitter white portion, then chop the lot into thin lengths.

For the dressing…

What goes in:

¾ cup whole egg mayo – Michael’s fave is S&W
Dollop of Dijon mustard
Juice of the lemons
Salt
Slurp of red wine vinegar

How you do it:

Whisk the whole lot together until emulsified and consistent. Or use an old jar to shake things up.

VEGO PASTA SALAD

I love that there’s a bit of a story behind this salad. It seems Michael took inspiration from his travels through Nice in the south of France three years ago and a ubiquitous nicoise salad served up at almost every restaurant imaginable.

What goes in:

Green beans
Potato, pre-cooked and roughly chopped
Seeded Lebanese cucumber
1 cup Kalamata olives
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
A bunch of fresh mint
A bunch of fresh parsley
Half a packet of penne paste, cooked
Good quality olive oil
Whole egg mayonnaise
Red wine vinegar

How you do it:

Combine all ingredients, top with the dressing and eat until your heart’s content. You could certainly add some fresh ricotta and Michael, the kind soul, made a second version for the meat-eaters that included a big can of tune and one chopped hard-boiled egg per person.

For the dressing…

What goes in:

Mayonnaise
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Whole grain mustard.

How you do it:

Combine and … you are done!

Truly delicious. And possible to make in the dark with just a miner’s headlamp to light the way…

Thanks again, Michael!