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.

Khorovats – Armenia’s Grilled Veg Star

27 May 2021

With the barbecue season in full swing, we’ve been sent this photo from a reader in Uzbekistan that reminded us that a while back we promised a recipe for Armenia’s favourite warm vegetable salad — khoravats, made from grilled aubergines, peppers and tomatoes.

Grilled veggies ready to be turned into khorovats

Khoravats is a fixture on the menu in many post-Soviet countries — it’s name comes from the Armenian verb khorovel, which simply means to grill. With an abundance of seasonal vegetables appearing in the markets and sunny days and long evenings (in Kazakhstan at least!), it’s time to fire up your grill and get making some khoravats.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sized aubergines (eggplants)
  • 3 medium-sized green peppers (bell peppers)
  • 3 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 bunch parsley or coriander (cilantro)
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon

Method

  • Wash the vegetables and prick the aubergines with a fork in a few places (to stop them exploding!). Grill the vegetables until the skins start to char, then keep turning so that the whole vegetable is cooked evenly. The tomatoes will cook first, then the aubergines and peppers. Remove from the grill and put in a paper bag to cool down — this will make it easier to peel the vegetables.
  • After 15 minutes or so, remove from the bag and peel. Then chop into chunks and mix together in a big bowl. Dress the chunks with the olive oil and lemon juice and season with black pepper and then add the finely chopped onion, parsley or coriander (cilantro) and serve with flat bread warmed up on the grill.

Bhaji Burger BBQ in a time of Glamping

13 May 2021

It’s official – the 2021 Kazakhstan barbecue season has opened with a glamping grillfest in the hills near Talgar, a short drive from Almaty.

After receiving the second dose of the Sputnik V vaccine, we’re taking some tentative steps back to life in the world beyond Almaty. First stop was Bubble Gum View – a newly-opened glamping (glamour camping for the uninitiated) spot with four socially distanced pods in an apple orchard, perfect for a contact-free break. Each pod comes with its own barbecue area so it was time to kick off the 2021 season in style.

We’ve been working on a burger that will hold up to being put on the grill and this one, which combines potato, green lentils, onion and green leaves, uses chickpea flour to bind the mix together. We served it along with some grilled halloumi and some char grilled carrot slices. For a bit more variety, when courgettes and aubergines are in season, then put some of these on the grill.

Ingredients (makes 8 burgers)

  • 250 g  potato
  • 100 g green lentils
  • 50 g chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan)
  • One medium onion
  • 100 g mixed green leaves (we used radish leaves but you can use any you have handy)
  • One teaspoon turmeric, cumin seeds, chilli pepper and cinnamon
  • 25 ml olive oil

Method

  • Soak the lentils for a few hours and then cook in 400 ml water until they begin to go mushy and have soaked up all the liquid. Cook the potatoes in a separate pan and when ready drain and mash in a large bowl. 
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the cumin seeds and, when they start to pop, add the finely chopped onion and cook over a medium heat until translucent. Add the chopped mixed leaves and cook over a medium heat until they start to wilt.
  • Add the turmeric, chilli pepper and cinnamon and then add the cooked lentils to the mashed potato and then add the onions and leaves to the potato-lentil mix and stir well. Add the chickpea flour and combine all the ingredients.
  • Form the mix into golf ball sized rounds, flatten with your hand and then cook on the grill, turning after five minute or so when the burger is beginning to char. Serve immediately with other grilled vegetables, halloumi if you eat cheese and a salad of your choice.

In Praise of Pakora

22 April 2021

The anniversaries are coming thick and fast here at Knidos Cookery Club and to celebrate our 150th post we’re bringing you a hassle-free recipe for pakora, a spicy fritter from the Indian subcontinent, that can be prepared in under 30 minutes.

Pakora are a great snack that you can eat at any time of the day and are easy to make – just coat vegetable or paneer cheese slices with a spiced chickpea flour batter and then deep-fry them. For a more user friendly and healthier take on this street food classic, you can bake them in the oven as we did with this batch.

We’ve used cauliflower to make pakora this time round, but you can use onion, carrot, potato, peppers, mushrooms or combinations of more or less any vegetable you have handy. Paneer cheese (or halloumi) also works well with this versatile batter. We like to serve the pakora straight from the oven with a yogurt-based cucumber raita to dip them into.

Ingredients (makes enough for 3-4 people)

  • 100 g chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan)
  • 100 ml water
  • 250 g cauliflower broken into florets
  • One teaspoon each of: chia seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, ginger, chilli powder, black pepper

Method

  • Heat the oven to 200 c. Put the chickpea flour in a large bowl and add the seeds and spices. Slowly add the water and mix to form a batter that is neither too dry nor too runny. Stir in the cauliflower florets and coat thoroughly.
  • Place the individual florets on a baking tray and cook in the top half of the oven for 20 minutes or so – keep an eye on them and if they start to char a bit then they are ready.
  • Serve them straight away with a raita sauce made from yogurt, cucumber and mint.

Lashings of Laghman as KCC Turns 5

31 March 2021

Today we’re celebrating KCC’s 5th anniversary with a hearty plate of laghman, hand-pulled wheat noodles, one of Central Asia’s favourite dishes. These thick, chewy noodles are often served with a rich, spicy sauce but we decided to make a drier version with spring greens and chickpeas.

We can’t believe that it’s been five years since we started our culinary journey in Datça, Turkey. KCC’s first recipe was this asparagus risotto, inspired by the fresh produce on sale in the town’s weekly market.

Over the last five years, we’ve branched out from Turkey and sought out dishes from around the globe with gastronomic excursions to Greece, Georgia, Russia, Albania, Italy, India, Sri Lanka, Central Asia and Mexico among others.

Since the start of the pandemic KCC has been confined to Almaty, Kazakhstan, so we’ve been trying out new recipes based on locally sourced ingredients which brought us to laghman.

When it came to making this dish we cheated a bit – Gulzada, our local greengrocer, now offers home made noodles along with whatever fruit and vegetables are in season.

If your local grocer doesn’t stock noodles and you have the time to pull your own noodles, then check out this recipe to make the key ingredient for your laghman.

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)

  • 150 g noodles per person
  • 200 g mixed greens – we used cauliflower and radish leaves but you can use anything you have handy
  • 200 g leek
  • 50 g garlic chives (jusai)
  • 50 g celery
  • 350 g cooked chickpeas
  • 100 ml chickpea cooking water (aquafaba)
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the cumin seeds. Wash the leek thoroughly and then chop in half lengthways and then cut into 1 cm slices. Use as much of the leek as you can including the leafy green bits. When the cumin seeds begin to pop, reduce the heat to a low setting and add the leek to the pan and stir fry for five minutes.
  • Add the red chilli flakes, celery, garlic chives and chopped radish and cauliflower leaves to the leek and cook until the the leaves start to wilt. Stir in the chickpeas and the aquafaba and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and you have a fairly thick sauce.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Put the noodles in the pan and leave for 2-3 minutes to warm them through. Arrange on a plate and pour the sauce on top and serve.

Memories of Maiori: Zesty, Lemony Chickpea Pasta

11 March 2021

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.

SAMSUNG CSC
Zesty, lemony chickpea pasta

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
  • 20 capers
  • 1 cm cube of grated fresh ginger
  • Two teaspoons chilli flakes
  • One lemon
  • 25 ml olive oil

Method

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.

Börek with a Celtic Twist

25 February 2021

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)

Filo Pastry

  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 20 ml white wine vinegar 
  • 150 ml warm water

Leek Filling

  • 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

Method

  • 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.  

Lunar New Year Noodlefest

11 February 2021

With the Lunar New Year ushering in the Year of the Ox on 12 February, we’re turning our attention to the world of noodles – a dish eaten at this time of the year across Asia to bring health and prosperity in the months ahead.

In southern China, longevity noodles symbolise a long life and they are traditionally made from a single, long noodle strand. In Japan, a dish usually eaten on the eve of the new year is Toshikoshi Soba, which translates as ‘year crossing buckwheat noodle’.

According to the Japan Talk website, “the long shape of the noodle symbolises the crossing from one year to the next” and as the “noodles are easily cut, they symbolise letting go of the regrets of the past year.” As we prepare to enter the Year of the Ox, there are plenty of regrets built up from the past crazy year of the COVID-19 pandemic that need leaving behind, so soba noodles it is!

We’re always up for a challenge here on KCC so we decided to try and make the noodles from scratch. After a plethora of almost perfect noodle posts on social media, including this one from Saida Mirziyoyeva, the Uzbek president’s daughter, making laghman – what could be easier…

Hmm, it turns out that making these buckwheat noodles wasn’t so easy as it looked. After some trial and error, we mixed the buckwheat flour with some 00 (pizza) grade wheat flour and came up with a passable noodle.

Whilst not doing much on the longevity stakes, our noodles proved easy to cut, ensuring that all those regrets were left securely in the past!

Ingredients (for 4 servings)

  • 160 g buckwheat flour
  • 40 g 00 (pizza) grade wheat flour
  • 200 ml water
  • 10 ml olive oil

Method

  • Sieve the flours together in a large bowl and then add the olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the water and mix until the dough starts to come together (You might not need all the water – don’t add too much as you don’t want the dough to get too sloppy).
  • Use your hands to mould the dough into a round shape and then knead it on a lightly-floured surface for 10-15 minutes. This will release the gluten in the wheat flour and help give the dough some elasticity. Wrap with clingfilm and leave to stand at room temperature for an hour.
  • Break off small pieces of dough and roll between your palms and then on a lightly-floured surface until you have a noodle around 10-15 cm in length. The first ones turned out quite short, but persevere and you’ll get there – the process got easier the more we rolled. Be careful not to leave any cracks in the noodle as this will cause it to break when cooking.
  • Cover the noodles with clingfilm and keep in the fridge until needed for cooking. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add salt if you wish, and then add the noodles and boil for up to five minutes – they should be al dente and still have a bit of bite to them.
  • Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked noddles into a pan of cold water to remove any starchy residues. Serve in a soup, as part of a stir fry or with a topping of your choice – here’s a mushroom-based topping that we made a couple of years ago that worked well with buckwheat noodles. 

Barleekie – a Barley, Leek and Lentil Soup for Burns Night

21 January 2021

We’re always on the look out at KCC for something to celebrate and this week we’re heading for Scotland. Coming up on 25 January is Burns Night, which marks the birthday of the country’s national bard, Robert Burns, with a night of poetry and songs accompanied by lots of drinking and feasting.

The celebration revolves around a hearty supper and commemorates the life and works of Scotland’s most famous poet with recitals of his work and comforting winter fare. It’s all washed down with a wee dram or two of whisky.

The first course of the supper is usually cock-a-leekie soup, this is followed by the main attraction, haggis, a savoury, offal-based dish that is similar to “a crumbly sausage, with a coarse oaty texture and a warming peppery flavour,” according to the BBC Good Food website. It’s usually served with neeps (mashed turnip) and tatties (mashed potato). Clootie dumpling, a steamed, dried fruit pudding, is served for dessert.

We’ve replaced the chicken usually found in the cock-a-leekie soup with green lentils to make our vegan version – Barleekie soup, named for its key ingredients of barley and leeks.

If you want to try your hand at haggis but are not keen on all those innards then check out this recipe from Emi’s Good Eating for a vegan take on Scotland’s national dish. As for the clootie dumpling, check out this recipe from the BBC.

Ingredients (for 3 – 4 servings)

  • 100 g pearl barley
  • 100 g green lentils
  • One leek (200 g)
  • One carrot (150 g)
  • One lemon
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 600 ml vegetable stock
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon turmeric 
  • One teaspoon ginger
  • One bay leaf

Method

  • Soak the barley and green lentils separately for 4 hours. Zest the lemon and mix this into the soaking barley.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and then wash the leek thoroughly and chop the white part into 1 cm rounds and roughly chop the green parts. Add the leek to the pan and then stir in the spices. Sweat the leek over a low heat until it is soft. 
  • Stir in the chopped carrot, barley and  green lentils and then add the vegetable stock and the juice of the lemon and the bay leaf. Simmer for 30 minutes or so over a low heat until the the lentils and carrots are cooked but the barley still has a bit of bite to it.
  • Serve hot with hunks of crusty bread or oatcakes if you have them.

Making a Substantial Meal out of a Falafel Egg

17 December 2020

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)

  • four 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

Method

  • 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.