Spicy Peas ‘n’ Cheese

30 November 2021

This time round on KCC we’ve been inspired to take on a curry house favourite of ours, matar paneer, cubes of fresh white cheese cooked with peas in a spicy tomato-rich gravy.

Spicy peas ‘n’ cheese aka matar paneer

We’ve been in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for the last two weeks to polish off the final chapter in a gruelling two-year run of Central Asian elections. While browsing around the supermarket, we came across a pack of locally made Ricotta cheese. Its dry, crumbly texture immediately reminded us of fresh paneer cheese from the Indian sub-continent, bringing to mind matar paneer.

Spicy peas and cheese with pumpkin dhal and rice

This white cheese does not taste of much on its own so it needs to soak up some flavour. We prepared a tomato gravy and then marinated the cubes of cheese and the peas in the sauce overnight before heating it through just before serving. For any vegans reading, substitute chunks of plain tofu for the paneer cheese – tofu is another ingredient that benefits from being marinated for a while. Serve with our pumpkin dhal and rice or flat bread.

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

  • 3 medium tomatoes (approx 250 g)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 200 g paneer cheese or tofu
  • 250 g peas (tinned, frozen or fresh if you can get them) 
  • 25 ml olive oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cm knob of chopped ginger
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander

Method

  1. Finely chop the onion and cook for five minutes in the oil over a medium heat in a heavy-based pan. Turn down to a low heat and add the spices and the minced garlic and stir well. Cook for another two minutes and then add the chopped, peeled tomatoes. Cook for 20-30 minutes over a low heat until the tomatoes have formed a smooth gravy with the onions.
  2. Allow the sauce to cool and then add the white cheese (paneer) or tofu, cut into 1 cm cubes, and the peas and mix well. Leave to marinate for an hour or two at least – overnight in the fridge is better, and then heat through. Sprinkle with fresh coriander before serving with our pumpkin dhal and rice. Also goes well with a flat bread of your choice.

Modern Day Plovers

17 June 2021

This time round on KCC we’re turning our attention to plov — Central Asia’s favourite rice dish. There are no hard and fast rules for plov, with regional variations prizing different ingredients and each family having its own take on what should go into the dish. One thing is for sure — this spicy rice, carrot, onion, garlic and dried fruit concoction makes for a great centrepiece for any party and is perfect for sharing with family and friends.

KCC travelled up to Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan to visit a modern day plov-meister who has perfected a tasty, meat-free take on this classic Uzbek dish. Our plov-meister learnt his trade on the mean streets of Hojeli, Karakalpakstan and in the student dorms of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Keeping the vampires at bay…

There are no strict cooking times for this recipe — it’s more of a feeling than an exercise in clock watching. Apart from the holy trinity of onion, carrot and rice, our plov-meister deploys whatever is to hand in the kitchen, adding dried fruits and spices along with a surfeit of garlic. For best results, your plov should be cooked in a kazan, a cast iron cauldron, but a deep, heavy-based saucepan or a casserole dish will suffice at a pinch. The pan should retain the heat to enable the plov to cook slowly and for the myriad flavours to meld.

Serve the plov alongside a spicy achik chuchuk tomato and onion salad, steaming bowls of green tea and Uzbek bread, non, click here for a recipe from Caroline Eden’s excellent Central Asian focussed cookbook Red Sands.

Ingredients (makes enough for 8-10 servings)

  • 100 ml cooking oil (For the authentic Uzbek taste track down some cottonseed oil, but failing that sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil works just as well)
  • 500 g onion
  • 500 g carrot
  • 500 g short grain rice
  • 6 heads of garlic
  • 150 g currants /raisins /sultanas – or a mix of all three
  • 100 g dried apricots (with stones)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

For the salad:

  • 250 g tomatoes
  • 250 g onion
  • One teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 – 3 Chilli peppers, finely sliced (adjust as to how hot you like your food)

Method

  • Heat the oil over a low heat in a heavy-based pan and then add the sliced onion. Fry the onion until it gets a golden-brownish colour so that later the rice will get its distinctive orangey colour. Cut the carrots into 5 cm long slices, a few millimetres wide and then add to the onions. Cook until the carrots are very tender so that they can easily be cut by a spatula or a wooden spoon while stirring. 
  • Now add the spices, the whole dried apricots, currants, sultanas or raisins (or all three) and whole heads of garlic. Cook for a few minutes to allow these ingredients to absorb the oil and the carrot/onion juice.
  • Rinse the rice carefully until the water runs clear and then put the washed rice on top of the spicy, fruity vegetable base and then pour water over the top through a fish slice to allow an even distribution of the liquid.
  • Cover the rice with an extra 1 cm of water and then cook over a high heat and  when the water disappears from the top of the rice, turn it down to a very low heat, close the lid and allow it to steam for about 20 minutes.
  • Serve with a spicy tomato and onion salad — achik chuchuk — a salad made from thinly sliced tomato and onion, a sprinkling of dried basil and diced chilli peppers, according to how hot you like it, and oven-fresh non bread.

Hash Greens: More Mücver Variations

17 September 2020

This time round on KCC we’re returning to mücver, Turkey’s versatile courgette fritter, with our take on that brunch staple Hash Browns. This mücver variation adds potato and garlic scapes to the mix to give us a fritter we’ve dubbed Hash Greens.

These fritters are super-easy to prepare and cook and are great as part of a breakfast or brunch. They can also be served in a roll to make it closer to a veggie burger.

We came across garlic scapes, the edible stem that grows from the bulb, on a recent visit to the local greengrocer while looking for green beans. This flavoursome peduncle gives a milder garlicky kick to soups, pestos and stir fries. It’s not an overpowering flavour as it adds a subtler, roasted garlic undernote to these dishes.

Ingredients (Makes 6-8 fritters)

  • One medium courgette (zucchini) (approx 200 g)
  • One medium potato (approx 200 g)
  • One small onion (approx 100 g)
  • 50 g garlic scapes
  • 100 g chickpea flour
  • 25 g mixed fresh herbs
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon chilli flakes
  • One teaspoon turmeric
  • One teaspoon black pepper
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • Grate the potato and courgette and mix together in a large bowl. Finely chop the garlic scapes and add to the bowl. Stir in the chickpea flour and add the herbs (use and fresh herbs you have e.g. parsley, coriander, mint) and spices and mix well so you have a smooth that’s neither too dry and crumbly nor too wet and sloppy.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan. Form the mix into golf-ball sized patties and then put in the pan and flatten with a fish slice or spatula. Fry until golden-brown on both sides. Serve as part of a breakfast or brunch or in a bun as a burger with toppings of your choice.

Double Radish Courgette Quiche

23 July 2020

With reports coming in from allotment owners in the UK of a bumper post-lockdown vegetable crop, we’re revisiting an old favourite — a quiche made with courgettes, peppery radish leaves and a healthy dash of horseradish.

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Courgette, radish leaf and halloumi quiche

In a topical touch, we’ve added a dash of horseradish (хрен in Russian), the latest plant to be touted as a defence against coronavirus in Central Asia, following hard on the heels of garlic.

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Horseradish sauce with beetroot

 

Demand for horseradish, a root vegetable which is traditionally mixed with honey to fight colds and coughs, has soared in in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in recent weeks, along with the price. We bought a jar of horseradish sauce, flavoured with beetroot, as the fresh roots are in short supply.

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Going a bit crackers in lockdown

Crackers have also been hard to find in Almaty in recent weeks, so we used up the leftover pastry from making the quiche to prepare our own. Simply roll the pastry out to a thickness of 1 mm and then use a glass or mug to cut out a round shape. Bake in a hot oven (200 c) on a baking tray for 8-10 minutes until they start to brown.

Ingredients (3-4 portions)

For the pastry:

  • 250 g  flour (we used a 50/50 mix of rye and wheat flour)
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 120 ml cold water
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Healthy sprinkling of black pepper

For the filling:

  • One medium courgette
  • Bunch of radish leaves
  • One teaspoon horseradish sauce (or freshly grated if you can find it)
  • One small onion
  • One egg
  • 100 g halloumi
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • Put the flour in a large bowl with the cumin and sesame seeds and a sprinkling of black pepper. Mix the flour and oil together with a fork and then slowly add the water and keep mixing until it starts to come together. Knead with your hands for 5-10 minutes until you have a stretchy ball of pastry. Leave in the fridge covered in clingfilm for an hour or so.
  • Heat the oven to 200 c. Roll the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it is about 2 mm thick. Grease a baking dish and then put the pastry in the dish to form a pie crust. Prick all over with a fork and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. You can use any leftover pastry to make crackers – put them on the top shelf of the oven at the same time as you’re baking the pie base.
  • Heat 25 ml of oil in a heavy based pan and chop the courgette into 5 mm slices. Cook the courgettes on both sides until browning. Put the courgettes to one side and add the rest of the oil to the pan.  While the pie base is baking, cook the sliced onion and chopped radish leaves in the hot oil.
  • Add the horseradish sauce and the egg to the mixture when the radish leaves are wilting. Stir well and then pour this into the pie crust. Place the fried courgette slices on top and put strips of halloumi around the courgettes. Bake for another 20-30 minutes at 180 c until the pastry is starting to go brown and the cheese has started to melt.