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.
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.
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
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.
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.
With the feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales, coming up on 1 March, we’re cooking with leeks. We’ll be combining this creamy-tasting cousin of the onion, which is one of the symbols of this country with a dragon on its flag, with crumbly white cheese in layers of filo pastry to give a Celtic twist to Turkey’s popular anytime snack – the börek.
Börek consists of thin sheets of pastry stuffed with cheese or vegetables. It is found in all corners of Turkey and alongside the more familiar fillings of white cheese, spinach or potato, it’s worth looking out for the lesser-spotted leek filled version, known as pırasalı börek in Turkish.
The leek is thought to have been adopted as a symbol by the Welsh in the 7th century when soldiers, fighting off an invasion by Saxons from the east, were advised to wear leeks in their helmets in order to distinguish the home fighters from the enemy. The battle was won and the leek is still worn by people in Wales to this day. Expect to see many being sported this Saturday in the run up to St David’s Day as Wales seek to repel more invaders from the east in the form of England’s rugby team.
To celebrate the occasion we’ve filled our börek with a riff on the Glamorgan sausage, a vegetarian, breadcrumb-covered speciality of south Wales made from leek and Caerphilly cheese. We also knocked up our own sheets of filo as Ramstore, the purveyor of all things Turkish in Kazakhstan, has shut its doors, a victim of the pandemic. This means that yufka, as the Turks call filo, is no longer easy to find in Almaty.
Ingredients (makes 4 böreks)
300 g all-purpose flour
100 ml olive oil
20 ml white wine vinegar
150 ml warm water
One leek (approx. 250 g)
150 g crumbly white cheese
One teaspoon caraway seeds
One teaspoon of nigella, sesame or poppy seeds
50 ml olive oil
Make the filo pastry first. Combine the sieved flour with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Slowly add the water a bit at a time and mix it all together with a wooden spoon until the dough forms into a smooth ball. Knead for 10 minutes on a lightly-floured surface to make the dough more stretchy. Separate into eight golf-ball sized pieces. Lightly coat with olive oil and leave for an hour covered in clingfilm at room temperature.
For the leek filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the caraway seeds. Clean the leek thoroughly and roughly chop it into 0.5 cm rounds. Use all the leek, including the green bits, discarding the rough tops of the leaves. Add to the pan and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. When the leek has softened, turn off the heat and grate in the white cheese and combine well.
Roll out the filo sheets as thinly as you can using a rolling pin or the palm of your hand. It should be around 15 cm by 20 cm and become clear in places. Brush one sheet with olive oil and then place another on top. Add a quarter of the leek the filling along the shorter edge. Roll up the mixture into a cigar shape and tuck in the edges. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle nigella, sesame or poppy seeds (or all three) over the börek and cook for 20 minutes at 200 c, until they turn a golden-brown colour. Serve on its own or with a green salad or roasted root vegetables.
With much of 2020 spent at home there has been plenty of time this year to hone our baking skills here at KCC. Over the past few months we have been experimenting with the base for an old favourite, pide (Turkey’s take on the baked dough and cheese combo), with an eye to creating a perfect pizza base that is soft and springy but with a crispy crust and we’re well pleased with our latest efforts.
After testing bases made from plain wheat flour, wholemeal flour or rye flour but found that these resulted in a denser base so we tried a more finely-milled flour, similar to Italy’s 00 standard, and found that this gave the best results with a fluffy but crispy base.
With tomato supplies running low (and being too lazy to brave the icy conditions outside), we improvised with crushed avocado in place of tomato sauce and hit upon a winning combination. Add some melty mozzarella, chunks of artichoke and slices of tomato to complete the taste sensation!
Ingredients (makes an eight-slice, 30 cm pizza)
150 g pizza flour (00 grade)
30 ml olive oil
Dried yeast (use according to pack instructions)
75 ml water
One medium tomato
150 g mozzarella
One teaspoon dried mixed herbs (of your choice)
Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the dried yeast (according to the instructions on the pack) and then slowly add the water, mixing all the while.
Use your hands to form the dough into a ball and knead gently for ten minutes or so. Leave to rise in a warm place in an oiled bowl with a damp tea towel over the top for an hour or so. After 30 minutes, turn the oven on and heat to 200 c.
Roll the dough into a 30 cm round on a lightly-floured surface and then spread crushed avocado over the base. Arrange strips of mozzarella on top of the avocado. Put tomato slices on top of this and then add chunks of artichoke. Sprinkle with mixed herbs if using.
Bake the pizza on the top shelf of the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown and the edges of the crust turn a golden brown colour.
With the temperatures tumbling in the second half of September, thoughts turned to the opening of the pumpkin season, which traditionally starts on 1 October in the world of Knidos Cookery Club.
There’s a definite chill in the air and we’ve even got the heating coming on two weeks ahead of schedule here in Almaty, Kazakhstan. So, it’s certainly time for some autumn comfort food.
We’ve combined the first butternut squash of the season with the summer’s last stand of courgettes and tomatoes and some minty halloumi cheese to come up with a roast that conjures up the pale green, orange and red hues of the falling leaves synonymous with this time of year.
Ingredients (serves 3-4 people)
300 g Butternut squash
300 g Courgettes (Zuchinni)
Three plum (Roma) tomatoes
200 g halloumi
One teaspoon cumin seeds
50 ml olive oil
Cut the butternut squash into 2 cm cubes – you can peel the butternut or leave the skin on if you wish. Cut the courgette into 1 cm slices and cut in half to make semi-circles.
Put them in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle the cumin seeds and pour the olive oil over the vegetables and mix well. Cover the dish with tin foil and cook in the oven at 150 c for one hour. Give the veggies a stir after 30 minutes
Remove the foil and stir well. Add the tomatoes, sliced into six wedges and the halloumi, cut into 2 cm cubes. Place these on top of the squash and courgettes and bake at 150 c for another 30 minutes or until the cheese starts to look charred.
Serve with a flat bread such as pita or chapati. You can bake some jacket potatoes in the oven with the roast veggies to make the meal more substantial or serve with pasta, rice, bulgur wheat or pearl barley.
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.
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.
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.
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
100 g halloumi
50 ml olive oil
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.
After a couple of months of lockdown, a bit of garden envy is setting in as we hear about people getting outside and having barbecues. With no open space in the flat other than an enclosed balcony, it was time to get inventive in order to get some char-grilled food.
We’re fortunate to have a gas hob, so with some creative use of tin foil (some of it salvaged from last week’s chocolate fest!) and a rack from the oven, KCC came up with an improvised BBQ grill.
Use whatever vegetables are available – we had courgettes and green peppers, and cook them over the open flame, turning regularly. We grilled some halloumi as well. We cooked the jacket potato in the oven and made our own chapati, a flatbread from the Indian sub-continent, to serve with the indoor barbecue.
Chapati recipe (makes 4):
150 g wholemeal flour
75 ml water
50 ml oil ( we used olive oil, but you can use whatever you have handy)
A pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Sieve the flour into a large, ceramic mixing bowl and add the oil and bicarbonate of soda. Combine with a wooden spoon or your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Slowly add the water until you have a fairly elastic dough – not too wet and not too dry. Knead for ten minutes and then leave covered with a tea towel for an hour or so.
Heat up a non-stick frying pan or a cast iron pan. Divide the mixture into four and form into balls. Flatten with your hands and then use a rolling pin to roll the dough into 1 mm thick rounds. Cook over a high heat on both sides until the chapatis take on a leopard-spotted look as in the picture above.
For this week’s lockdown lunch we had a root around the cupboards and came up with some dried red beans, last autumn’s walnuts and a bottle of Turkish pomegranate sauce (Nar Ekşili Sos) – perfect ingredients for taking us on a culinary away day to Tbilisi for a bowl of lobio, Georgia’s signature bean dish.
Lobio can be more like a soup, a stew, a salad or even re-fried beans depending on which region of Georgia it’s prepared in – we’ve gone for lobio nigvzit which is somewhere between a soup and a stew. Serve the lobio in a clay pot with white cheese and a hunk of fresh mchadi (corn bread – recipe link here) or any other bread for an authentic taste of Georgia.
To help pass the time during lockdown, here’s something on the etymology of lobio from @thomas_wier on twitter:
Weekly Georgian Etymology: ლობიო lobio, kidney bean stew w/ herbs & spices. From Persian لوبیا lôbiyâ, < Anc Greek λόβια, pl of λόβιον cowpea, < Akkadian 𒇻𒂠𒊬 lubbu, < Sumerian 𒇻𒂠𒊬 lub cowpea. Now a central part of Georgian cuisine, it's not attested until the 17th century. pic.twitter.com/Bhirdwz4FC
One teaspoon blue fenugreek (use fenugreek or cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
One small bunch fresh coriander
Three bay leaves
50 ml cooking oil
50 ml pomegranate sauce
250 ml water the beans were cooked in or vegetable stock
If cooking dried beans, then soak 250 g of beans overnight. Change water and cook for one hour or so until the beans are just cooked but not yet falling apart. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the coriander seeds and blue fenugreek. Cook for a few minutes and then add the diced onions, mashed garlic and chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes over a low heat and then add the crushed walnuts and the pomegranate sauce. Cook for another five minutes.
Now add the drained beans, bay leaves and reserved cooking water. Leave to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon – don’t worry if the beans start to fall apart – they taste better like this and absorb more sauce.
Add the chopped fresh coriander and serve hot with bread and white cheese. It tastes even better if left overnight and reheated, but only add the fresh coriander after re-heating the mix.
Over the last few days, we’ve been experimenting with perfecting a batter to make pakora – a deep-fried snack from the Indian sub-continent. After testing a few recipes we’ve hit on a formula that can be used to coat a variety of vegetables from cauliflowers to carrots, parsnips to peas, and also cheese!
While on a recent visit to the UK, we came across battered halloumi on many menus – the squeaky cheese from Cyprus that stays firm when cooked. We’ve discovered that it makes a perfect partner for our pakora batter when deep-fried. We recommend you try it with this spicy Yemini sauce, zhug.
But you’ll need to be quick, as halloumi has been a victim of its own success. Severe global shortages of this versatile cheese are predicted as demand far outstrips supply. Luckily for us here in Kazakhstan, a local producer has started making a version of this cheese. We’re pleased to report that it tastes pretty good, so for now the crisis has been averted in our winter base.
Ingredients (makes enough batter for a sliced up 250 g block of halloumi)
100 g chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan)
One small onion
1 cm knob of ginger
One garlic clove
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
One tablespoon of fresh coriander
50-100 ml cold water
Mix all the ingredients together with a fork or a whisk, adding water until you get a smooth consistency that is neither too runny not too thick with no lumps. Cover the batter with clingfilm and let it stand for an hour or so before using.
Heat a litre of cooking oil, we used sunflower oil but any will do, in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat until it reaches 180 c. To test the temperature, dip a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil – if the oil starts to bubble vigorously, then it is at the right temperature.
Slice a 250 g block of halloumi into eight pieces. Coat the halloumi slices in the pakora batter and drop into the oil. When the pakora rise to the surface and are a golden-brown colour, remove with a slotted metal spoon and drain on kitchen towel.
Serve hot with potato wedges or roast potatoes and minted peas. The pakora goes well with a coriander and coconut chutney – this site has a good recipe for this sauce, or with our zhugsauce.
On a recent flying visit to Glasgow, KCC dropped into Ox and Finchin the city’s West End for a bite to eat. This Sauchiehall Street eatery offers a range of tapas-style sharing plates – we opted for the giant couscous with grilled halloumi, a plate of braised leeks, beetroot hummus, grilled baby gem lettuce and, with this being Glasgow, chips of course.
This time round, we’ll be recreating the giant couscous dish, made with ptitim, toasted pearls of wheat and semolina, first cooked up in Israel in the 1950’s when rice was in short supply in the early days of the Israeli state. This couscous relative was dubbed Ben-Gurion rice after Israel’s first prime minister. After scouring our local supermarkets, ptitim proved to be in short supply so we’ve replaced them with mung beans!
Key to this salad is the dressing, a piquant sauce called zhug, which was brought to Israel by emigrées fleeing persecution in Yemen in the late 1940s. This spicy cousin of Italy’s milder pesto and Mexico’s equally fiery salsa verde, is served often alongside falafel and hummus. The name is said to be derived from mas-chag, the name of the grinding stone traditionally used to crush the spices and herbs into a paste.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
100 g mung beans
125 g halloumi
Sprinkling of pomegranate seeds
Sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds
For the zhug sauce:
One bunch fresh coriander
One bunch fresh parsley
One garlic clove
Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
One teaspoon black peppercorns
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon coriander seeds
One teaspoon cardamom seeds
Juice of half a lemon
25 ml olive oil
To make the zhug sauce, put all the ingredients except for the olive oil in a blender and give it quick blitz. Don’t overdo the blending as you want a slightly chunky texture. Now slowly add the olive oil, blitzing until it is mixed in with the other ingredients. Put in a glass jar – it should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Cook the mung beans until tender. While the mung beans are cooling, grill the halloumi until a golden-brown colour. Then mix the cooled mung beans with a tablespoon of zhug, arrange the grilled halloumi on top, sprinkle with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and serve with a selection of your favourite meze dishes.
In the dog days of summer, a persistent tap-tapping sound can be heard resounding around the Datca Peninsula. Look for people huddled over piles of green shells to find the source of the tapping. This summer’s almond crop is in and the best way to get to the badass nuts is by hammering the shell open – labourious but ultimately worthwhile work!
The almond, badem in Turkish, is an important crop on the peninsula – check out this post from a few years ago on the many uses for almonds. We got hold of some of this year’s crop and combined them with some grilled peaches and halloumi cheese to make a super-tasty summer salad.
We got the idea for the grilled peaches from a salad we had in Kaş, Turkey. We grilled the peach and halloumi slices on the barbecue until they took on the required charred appearance. The combination of the sweetness of the peach with the saltiness of the cheese is a winning one.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
250 g halloumi
One large peach
One large tomato
One bunch of rocket leaves
Two green peppers
Four spring onions
One teaspoon capers
One teaspoon dried thyme
Cut the peach into eight slices and grill until just starting to char. Cut the halloumi cheese into eight pieces and grill until it goes a golden-brown colour.
Roughly chop the rocket leaves and slice the cucumber and green peppers and mix together with the capers. Dress with the thyme, olive oil and pomegranate sauce.
Slice the tomato into wedges and arrange with the peach and halloumi slices on top of the green salad. Just before serving, place an almond on top of each halloumi slice and put four in the middle.