There were signs this week of life slowly beginning to return to some sort of normal. Cafes and terraces are set to open once again in Almaty from next week and the streets are busier. We’re not planning on changing too much at the moment and, in the meantime, we’re content to continue our armchair culinary travels.
Greece has been in the headlines this week with the news that its beaches are reopening and it’s preparing to open its borders to tourists next month. This news brought back memories of holidays in the Greek islands and the great food in the tavernas. One of our favourite dishes is briam (pronounced bree-AM) – a delicious stew of oven-roasted seasonal vegetables.
As usual, we’ve taken a few liberties with the recipe, omitting aubergines (usually a key ingredient) as they are not quite in season in Almaty yet, so foodie purists please look away. We’ve added carrot and spinach to the usual potatoes and courgettes and then cooked it slowly in a tomato sauce. We’ve also topped it with some breadcrumbs to enclose our briam.
The name briam has an interesting history – it is a borrowed word – there is no letter ‘b’ in the Greek alphabet, instead this sound is represented by combining the letters ‘μ’ (m) and ‘π’ (p) – ‘μπ’. Many Greeks call this casserole tourlou tourlou (all mixed-up), so briam could have come from Greeks who lived in Anatolia until the mass population exchanges in the early 20th century.
In the Ottoman era, there was a word biryan, spelt büryan in modern Turkish, which refers to a side of lamb cooked slowly over charcoal in a pit in the ground – a speciality of Siirt in the Kurdish area on the borders with Iraq and Syria. This in turn could come from Persian, where biryan means roasted (notice the similarity with India’s biriyani). Whatever the name’s origin, it tastes great!
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the bake:
Two courgettes (approx 300 g)
Four potatoes (approx 300 g)
One carrot (approx 100 g)
200 g spinach
75 g breadcrumbs
For the tomato sauce:
One red onion
250 g tomatoes
One bunch of parsley
25 ml olive oil
One teaspoon mustard seeds
250 ml vegetable stock or water
Make the tomato sauce first. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop add the chopped onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. After five minutes reduce the heat and add the chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer for ten minutes then add the stock, chopped parsley and capers. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
Cook the spinach for a few minutes until it is beginning to wilt and then set aside. Cut the potato, courgette and carrot into 1 mm slices and put a layer of potatoes, then courgettes and then carrots into a greased baking dish. Add the spinach and pour half the tomato sauce over the vegetables. Add another layer of potatoes and courgettes and then pour the remainder of the tomato sauce over the layers. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top.
Cover with tin foil and bake in an oven at 180 c for around 1.5 hours. After an hour, remove the foil and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the breadcrumbs go start to go a golden brown colour. Keep an eye on it to make sure the breadcrumbs aren’t burning. Serve immediately with a fresh salad – it’s also great when it’s cooled down a bit.
Nearing four weeks of lockdown in Almaty and supplies are holding up surprisingly well, especially now that spring greens are beginning to come on tap. This week our local veg shop had rocket, celery and sorrel – all the makings of a peppery green salad to perk up the lunch menu.
We’re coming to the end of our super-sized cabbage, which was bought in the early days of lockdown, so we decided to use the remaining leaves to make cabbage rolls, a popular dish in eastern and southern Europe.
We stuffed the leaves with some rip-red risotto, a recipe we made a few years back that combines coarse bulgur wheat with beetroot and walnuts (if you want a gluten-free option, you can use arborio rice or pearl barley instead).
Simmer the stuffed cabbage parcels in a tomato and herb sauce for thirty minutes for a winning lockdown lunch. It makes for a tasty veggie take on that beloved Ukrainian / Russian dish, golubtsi, or ‘little doves’, or dolma as they are dubbed in some parts of the Mediterranean and into the Caucasus.
Separate the leaves carefully from the cabbage. Place in boiling water for five minutes to soften. Put the leaves in cold water and then drain. Cut out the tough, lower bit of the stalk (about 2-3 cm). Place a tablespoon of filling above the cut and then fold and roll the leaves into cigar shapes.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped spring onions, celery and parsley. Cook for five minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and water , stir well and bring to the boil.
Lay the stuffed leaves in an ovenproof baking dish and pour the hot tomato sauce over them. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 200 c for thirty minutes. Sprinkle the cooked cabbage leaves with basil leaves before serving with a green salad.
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.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club, we’re turning our attention to a winter classic from the UK – the Lancashire Hotpot. Our spiced up, veggie-friendly version replaces the meat traditionally used with red beans and red lentils and is topped off with sliced potatoes, helping to retain the hearty, comforting hit of the original.
This casserole originated in the north-west of England as a dish that could be left cooking slowly in the oven over a low heat while families worked from home spinning thread.
The term hotpot is thought to derive from the mixture of ingredients used, although it’s also claimed to be named after the clay pot originally used to cook the dish. It’s not to be confused with the Chinese Hotpotthat uses a steaming pot of stock placed in the centre of the table to cook ingredients.
Ingredients (serves 2)
125 g red lentils
250 g cooked red beans
3 medium potatoes
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
1 stick of celery
1 garlic clove
50 ml olive oil
600 ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon each of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes, turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
Heat the olive oil in a casserole dish or an ovenproof pan. Fry the onions, garlic, ginger and spices all together for five minutes or so over a medium heat. Add the diced carrot and celery and cook for five more minutes. Add the lentils and 300 ml of stock and cook over a low heat until the water is absorbed and the lentils are cooked but not mushy.
While this is cooking, boil the potatoes (cut into 1/2 cm thick slices) for 10 minutes, pour off the water and cover with cold water. Add the cooked beans and the rest of the stock to the lentils and stir well. Place the potato slices in layers over the top of the stew and pour some olive oil over them.
Put the casserole dish or pan into an oven heated to 200 c and cook for 30 minutes at this temperature until the potato slices are starting to go a golden brown colour. Serve immediately in individual bowls with a hunk of bread.
This week’s offering – a soup made from chickpeas and carrots, was inspired by a recent visit to a funky Central Asian restaurant called Saksaul in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. This soup appeared on the menu, but unfortunately there wasn’t any left that day. Spotting yellow carrots on sale in the market after returning home, we decided to cook up our own version.
Our soup contains two ingredients that are common in the cookery of Samarkand in Uzbekistan – chickpeas and yellow carrots. Not all carrots are orange in Central Asia, you can even find black ones on occasion, but we find these yellow ones particularly sweet and tasty.
This famed Silk Road city of Samarkand provided further inspiration for our golden potage with spices such as cumin, coriander and turmeric that are still bought and sold along this ancient trade route.
Ingredients (makes 4 portions)
500 g yellow carrots
500 g chickpeas
Two yellow onions
Two garlic cloves
Two teaspoons mustard seeds
Two teaspoons chilli powder
Two teaspoons cumin seeds
Two teaspoons coriander seeds
Two teaspoons turmeric
50 ml vegetable oil
One litre vegetable stock
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the chopped onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the other spices and mix well.
Next add the diced carrot and stir to coat the carrot with the mix. Cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and stir well, then add the stock and reduce to a low heat and simmer the soup for 30 minutes or so.
Using a stick blender, liquidise the soup. Pour into bowls and garnish with chickpeas and a sprinkling of cumin seeds. Serve with bread – we used a flatbread but any crusty bread will work just as well.
On these chilly, wintry nights there’s nothing better than a bowl of dhal, the Indian subcontinent’s beloved lentil-based comfort food, to warm you up. We’ve added some chunks of roasted pumpkin that blend perfectly with the red lentils, whilst adding a hint of sweetness to the rich, spicy blend.
In Sri Lanka, where Knidos Cookery Club has just been on a foodie fact-finding mission, dhal (also spelt dal or daal) is a mainstay of the island’s signature curry and rice dish. It’s served any time of the day – it was particularly good served with string hoppers, little nests of steamed rice noodles, and coconut sambol (grated coconut with chillies and lime juice) – a popular breakfast on the island.
Dhal can be a meal on its own when served with rice or flatbreads, or try it alongside a selection of your favourite vegetable curries. It’s a dish that tastes even better the next day when the spices have been left over night, allowing the different flavours to mix and mingle.
Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings)
125 g red lentils
200 g roasted pumpkin
250 ml water or vegetable stock
50 ml coconut milk
200 g tomatoes
One medium onion
One teaspoon each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves and chilli flakes
Two teaspoons turmeric
1 cm knob of ginger
One garlic clove
One cinnamon stick
One star anise
One bunch fresh coriander
50 ml olive oil
Roast the chunks of pumpkin in a hot oven at 200 c for 20 minutes. While the pumpkin is cooking, heat the oil in a heavy based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, turn the heat down and add the chopped onions, ginger and garlic and the other spices and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat.
Wash the lentils until the water runs clear and then add them to the onion mix with the vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes, stir and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the pumpkin chunks and coconut milk. Cook over a low heat until it starts to bubble. When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick and star anise. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve with rice and/or a flat bread such as chapati or pita.
With football’s World Cup kicking off in Russia today, this time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ve decided to take on that classic French soup – Vichyssoise, as we have a sneaking suspicion that after 20 years this could be France’s year to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
The usual flavouring of this soup can be a bit bland to our Asian influenced taste buds, so we’ve spiked it with some chilli powder and mustard seeds to give it a bit of oomph. We’ve called this punked-up creamy combo of leek and potato, that can be eaten hot or cold, Sid Vichyssoise, excuse the pun, after the late, great Sex Pistols bassist.
As we said, this soup can be served hot or cold, making it perfect for the long, balmy nights of mid-June when chilled or as hearty winter fare when served hot in colder times. Just make sure you clean those leeks properly. as you don’t want any grit in the end product.
Ingredients (for 4 servings)
50 ml olive oil
200 g leeks
200 g baby carrots
200 g new potatoes
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons red chilli flakes
300 ml vegetable stock
Dash of soy sauce
Heat the olive oil and mustard seeds in a heavy-based pan until the seeds begin to pop. Next, add the leeks, sliced into 1 cm rounds, the cumin seeds, black pepper and red chilli flakes and cook for five minutes. Then add the finely diced carrots and potatoes and cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now add the stock and the soy sauce, stir well and let it simmer over a low heat until the potatoes are beginning to fall apart. Remove from the heat and blend with an electric hand whisk to create a smooth, creamy soup and then leave to chill in the fridge before serving with another sprinkling of red chilli flakes.