March is always an unpredictable month in Almaty. One day the temperature dips below freezing and snow falls. The next day brings bright sunshine and blue skies carrying a promise of the warmer days to come. Then on the next day a leaden sky gives the city a gloomy aspect as the rain pours down.
With the days settling into a grey, rainy pattern, something light and zesty is called for – such as the simple pasta dish made with chickpeas and lemons we ate back in 2015 when KCC visited Maiori on Italy’s Amalfi coast for a spring break. What a different world it was then – no COVID-19, no Brexit and travel was easy.
Back in 2021 in Almaty the choice of vegetables is gradually expanding with spring onions and jusai, a cross between a spring onion and garlicky chives, making a welcome seasonal reappearance, which along with that magic ingredient, the lemon, can give a lift to any dish. This light pasta dish is perfect for focusing our thoughts on the brighter days ahead. We added some capers, chilli and ginger to spice it up a bit and fast forward our taste buds into spring.
Ingredients (serves 4)
300 g dried pasta of your choice
300 g cooked chickpeas (reserve 100 ml cooking water)
50 g garlic chives (jusai)
Four spring onions
1 cm cube of grated fresh ginger
Two teaspoons chilli flakes
25 ml olive oil
Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions. While it’s cooking, combine the olive oil, chickpeas, capers and the cooking water in a heavy-based pan and heat gently until it starts to boil. Add the grated ginger, the zest and juice of the lemon and the chilli flakes and stir well. Finely dice the jusai and spring onions and add to the chickpea mix. Turn off the heat, drain the pasta and combine it with the chickpea sauce and serve.
As the market stalls overflow with fresh spring produce, this time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ve selected some zingy greens to make a zesty, lemony piccata sauce to go with pasta and some other leafy greens.
The piccata sauce comes from Italy and is a lemon-fuelled accompaniment to a variety of dishes. The name derives form the Italian word for ‘annoyed’, piccato, and it is from the same root as the word used in English expressions such as ‘a fit of pique’ or ‘to pique your interest’.
We’ve used jusai, garlic chives, to add more flavour to the sauce, along with white wine, capers and lemon zest and juice to give it a picquant bite. Add some chick peas and serve on a mound of pasta placed on top of a bed of fresh sorrel leaves for a tangy treat.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
250 g cooked chick peas
25 ml olive oil
50 g garlic chives
2 tablespoons flour
100 ml white wine
500 ml vegetable stock
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
250g dried pasta (we used spirals) cooked according to instructions on pack
Bunch of fresh sorrel
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and then add the chopped garlic chives. Cook for five minutes and then add the flour and stir well. Pour in the wine and mix to a paste and then slowly add the stock, stirring all the while.
Simmer over a low heat until the sauce starts to thicken, then add the chick peas, capers and thyme and cook for three minutes. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta. Grind a generous amount of black pepper into the sauce along with the lemon juice and zest.
Tear up the sorrel leaves and scatter over a plate. Place a pile of pasta in the middle of the plate on the leaves, and then pour the piccata sauce over the pasta and serve immediately.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club, we’ll be cooking with jusai, one of the few leafy greens to make it past the strict controls of Kazakhstan’s carnivore police.
The fare in Kazakhstan is a salad-dodger’s delight – it’s very meat heavy with potatoes or carrots only occasionally making an appearance – Kazakhs like to joke that they are second only to wolves in their meat consumption, so jusai is a welcome addition to this diet.
Jusai’s official name is allium tuberosum, and it’s a member of the onion family – you might know it as Chinese chives or garlic chives in English. Jusai originated in China but it’s now grown all over Kazakhstan. It imparts a mild garlic flavour to dishes and is used as a filling for pasties and dumplings in Kazakh kitchens.
We decided to cook it up in some cider with some brown rice, onion, lemon and walnuts to make a pilau, or a loose take on risotto. It pairs well with some oven-baked seasonal vegetables or a seasonal salad.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
300 g brown rice
50 ml olive oil
one medium-sized onion
100 g toasted walnuts
200 g garlic chives
250 ml dry cider
750 ml vegetable stock
one teaspoon mustard seeds
one teaspoon cumin seeds
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the mustard seeds – when the seeds start to pop, put the finely diced onion in and fry for five minutes over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir well and then add the rice, stirring for a minute to coat the grains with oil.
Reduce the heat and pour in the cider, stirring occasionally as the mix simmers so the rice doesn’t stick to the pan. When the liquid is absorbed, add 250 ml stock and continue to simmer and stir every now and then. Add more stock when this is absorbed and keep going until the rice is almost cooked. Add more stock if needed – the rice should be al-dente.
Remove for the heat and mix in the finely chopped garlic chives (leave some to garnish the pilau), the lemon zest, toasted, chopped walnuts and the lemon juice and mix well. Cover the pan and leave to stand for five minutes.
Serve with oven-roasted vegetables or a leafy green salad and garnish with the remaining garlic chives.