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.
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 cookbookRed 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)
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.
There has been heated debate in the UK recently over whether or not a Scotch egg (a boiled egg covered with sausage meat and breadcrumbs) could be considered to be a “substantial meal”, a status that would allow pubs in parts of the country affected by COVID-19 restrictions to serve alcohol alongside this hearty snack.
This has inspired Knidos Cookery Club to try out its own test to see if the Scotch egg’s vegetarian cousin, the falalfel egg, makes for a substantial meal or a light snack. We first came across this combination in Harissa, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the falafel covered egg arrived after many other courses had been served and it did prove to be too substantial for dessert.
To test the theory again, we knocked up a batch of millet falafel mix, boiled some eggs and then combined the two and baked them in the oven. The result was indeed quite a substantial feast, so feel free to accompany your falafel egg with a glass or two of your favourite tipple!
Ingredients (makes 4 falafel eggs)
150 g millet
300 ml water or vegetable stock
25 ml olive oil
one small onion
one garlic clove
one bunch of parsley
one teaspoon cumin
one teaspoon coriander
one teaspoon chilli powder
Rinse and then soak the millet in a pan for four hours. Drain the millet and put to one side.
Boil the eggs for five minutes and then allow to cool completely.
Fry the finely chopped onion, minced garlic and spices in the olive oil for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the millet. cover with water or stock and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Stir regularly as the millet will stick to the bottom of the pan if not watched carefully.
Finely chop the parsley, both leaves and stalks and mix into the cooked millet. When the millet has cooled, peel the eggs and then form the falafel mix evenly around the egg. Place on a baking tray and oven bake for 20 minutes at 200 c or until the falafel case turns a golden-brown colour.
Serve with salad and sauces of your choice. These falafel eggs will keep in the fridge for a few days.
It’s that time of year again when millions of pumpkins will be turned into jack o’ lanterns for Halloween — in the UK alone the environmental charity Hubbub estimates that some 24 million pumpkins will be carved this year but more than half, around 12.8 million, will go uneaten.
A scary 58% of the people surveyed by Hubbub were unaware that you can eat pumpkins. This October, we’ve been highlighting squash recipes on Knidos Cookery Club in the hope that more pumpkin ends up on our plates rather than on the rubbish tip.
Mix the flour and oil together and then slowly add the cold water and knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge while preparing the filling.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle add the finely chopped onion. Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds (save these to put on the samsa) and cut into 1 cm cubes.
Fry the onion for five minutes and then add the pumpkin cubes. Stir fry for five more minutes and then add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked. Allow to cool and then mash to a smooth paste with a fork or a potato masher.
Roll the dough to a 2 mm thickness and then fold it over to produce a cylinder of dough. Break this dough into six pieces. Flatten the dough ball into a disc with the palm of your hand until you have a 1 mm thick circle.
Put a triangle of filling in the middle of the circle and then fold over the edges to make a triangle shape. Brush with olive oil and arrange the pumpkin, sesame and poppy seeds on top of the samsa. Bake in the oven at 200 c for 25 -30 minute until the samsa turns a darker brown colour.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re taking an armchair culinary trip to Egypt to sample koshari, the country’s tasty street food staple – a hearty combo of lentils, rice and pasta, all topped off with a spicy tomato sauce and crispy, caramelised onions.
Koshari was brought to Egypt in the late 19th during the period when the country was part of the British Empire. Previously rice and pasta were not widely used in Egyptian cooking, but this combination caught on locally after occupying soldiers brought the dish with them from another part of the empire, the Indian sub-continent.
Our version uses pearl barley in place of the rice as we have been using a lot of barley to make a lemon, ginger and barley tonic drink to mix with fizzy water or put in cocktails. The barley cooks at the same rate as the green lentils so they can be cooked together in the same pan.
With tomatoes cheap and in abundance at the moment, we’ve been making large amounts of a spicy sauce that goes well with this dish. It can be used with pasta or potatoes – we’ve been freezing any leftover sauce to use in the winter when tomatoes are much more pricey and not half as tasty, to spice up the staples.
Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
150 g pearl barley
150 g green lentils
300 ml vegetable stock
One large onion
50 g vermicelli pasta
50 ml olive oil
For the spicy tomato sauce:
500 g plum (Roma) tomatoes
100 g onion
One garlic clove
One stick of celery
One teaspoon mustard seeds
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon chilli powder
2.5 cm knob of ginger
Two bay leaves
50 ml olive oil
Method (Spicy tomato sauce)
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the spices. When the oil is sizzling, add the finely chopped onion, diced garlic and sliced celery and stir fry until the onions go translucent. Turn down the heat.
Cut the tomatoes in half and grate into the onion and celery mix. Throw the tomato skins into a pot with the onion skins and 500 ml water to make vegetable stock. Add the bay leaves and cook over a low heat until the amount of liquid has halved and then pour over the barley and lentils. You can store any leftover sauce in a glass jar in the freezer.
Method (Lentils and barley)
Fry the onion in the olive oil over a low heat until crispy and caramalised and put aside – this can take up to an hour. Cook the barley and lentils in the same pot with the vegetable stock for 20-30 minutes over a low heat until all the liquid is absorbed.
Fry the pasta in a little oil until golden brown and then scatter on top of a bowl of lentils and barley. Pour a generous glug of spicy tomato sauce over the barley and lentil base top with caramalised onions before serving.
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.
With no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic – infections continue to rise steadily here in Kazakhstan, averaging around 1500 new cases a day over the last week – it’s time for some more culinary escapism. We’re transporting our taste buds to Sri Lanka for our take on string hoppers, a super tasty noodle, dhal and chutney combo.
It’s usually served for breakfast on the island, but in our opinion it also works really well as a main meal. Our version features some locally sourced kespe, or noodles, as we couldn’t find red rice noodles in our local supermarket (!) and a dhal made with mung beans – check out KCC’s dhal recipe here (simply replace the red lentils and pumpkin with 200 g mung beans – soak the beans for 3 – 4 hours before cooking).
Green hot chilli peppers
Coconut and carrot sambol
Breakfast Sri Lankan style – string hoppers with coconut sambol and dhal in the background
The sambol, a quick and easy chutney, is an essential part of the string hopper experience. It saves on waste, as you can use the dried coconut left over from making the coconut milk for the dhal – click here for our coconut milk recipe.
Kespe – noodles from Kazakhstan
Carrot and Coconut Sambol
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
50 g desiccated (dried) coconut
150 g carrot
One small onion
One small tomato
One fresh green chilli
Grate the tomato and mix with the finely chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the dried coconut and the juice of the lemon and then add the grated carrot and combine all the ingredients together. Gradually add the finely chopped green chilli, tasting every now and then until you reach your chilli heat tolerance levels.
Serve alongside the mung bean dhal mentioned above and with noodles or spaghetti — use about 75 g of dried pasta per person, cooked according to the instructions on the pack.
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 the fifth week of lockdown here in Almaty, Kazakstan. We’ve found that one of the ways of coping with this situation it to try and stick to as normal a routine as possible. This means logging on in the working week to see if there’s any work around and then trying to switch off from everything as much as possible at the weekend.
With this in mind, we’ve come up with a classic weekend, switching-off brunch featuring that classic British comfort food – bubble and squeak, or fried potato and cabbage cakes to the uninitiated. You really can’t beat a good fry-up after a hectic evening spent zooming and netflixing and supporting the local viniculture industry.
Bubble and squeak takes its name from the sizzling, spitting sounds the mixture makes when being fried. Its a great way to use up any leftovers you have – you just need the base of mashed potato and boiled cabbage. We’ve spiced it up with some coriander, cumin and turmeric and also added in some fresh spinach. Serve with baked beans and a fried egg to get your weekend off to a flyer.
Ingredients (makes four hearty cakes)
One large potato
100 g cabbage
50 g spinach
Two spring onions
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon coriander
Oil for shallow frying
Cube the potato, cover with cold water and bring to the boil in a heavy-based pan. Simmer for five minutes and then add the finely chopped cabbage along with the coriander, turmeric and cumin seeds. Simmer for another five minute and than add the chopped spring onion and spinach.
Drain off any excess liquid then mash all the ingredients together with a fork or a potato masher. Season with salt and black pepper according to taste. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Form the mixture into golf ball-sized pieces and then place in the frying pan. Flatten the balls with a spatula or fish slice and fry on a medium heat. After five minutes, turn the bubble and squeak over and cook for another five minutes until a golden-brown colour on both sides.
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.
We’re heading towards the end of the second week of serious lockdown here in Almaty. Our local shops remain well-stocked with basics (we’re not supposed to go further than 500 metres form home) and the greengrocer’s reopened after closing for a week, so fresh vegetables are readily available.
For this week’s Lockdown Lunch we’re making kısır, Turkey’s bulgur wheat salad answer to the Middle East’s tabbouleh salad. Kısır is one of those dishes that everyone has their own recipe for, but the basic ingredients are fine bulgur wheat, onion, chilli pepper, tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and pomegranate sauce.
We’ve added some radishes, tomatoes, spring onion and black olives to the standard package above that can be eaten as a main meal (you might want to add some nuts or beans for a protein punch) or as a side salad. If you are on a gluten-free diet, then you can use millet in place of bulgur wheat.
Kısır is easy to prepare and it benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight – leaving more time for all those Zoom parties and, of course, the Tajik football season, which kicked off last weekend.
Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
100g fine bulgur wheat
200 ml vegetable stock or water
One medium onion
One medium tomato
One medium radish
One spring onion
One garlic clove
Ten black olives
Two tablespoons tomato paste
25 ml olive oil
25 ml pomegranate sauce
Few sprigs of parsley
One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon sumac
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to sizzle. Add the finely chopped onion and mashed garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli pepper and sumac and stir.
Add the fine bulgur wheat and stir to cover the grains then add the stock or water, Add the tomato paste, pomegranate sauce and the juice of half the lemon. Stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to stand for 30 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Fluff up the grains with a fork and add the grated radish, sliced spring onion and chopped parsley. Mix together and put in a salad bowl. Before serving, garnish with lemon and/or tomato slices and black olives.