Innovations in Plov

8 July 2021

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be looking at some innovative uses for plov, Central Asia’s favourite rice dish. As you probably know, we don’t like wasting food at KCC, so we’ve come up with a couple of ways to make the most of any leftover plov you may have — plov fritters and the plov wrap.

Plov makes a great base for fritters – simply add some grated carrot, potato, beetroot or courgette and some flour or an egg to bind the mixture together. Fry or grill until golden brown on both sides and then serve in a burger bun or as part of a meal with salad and other side dishes.

While walking around the streets of Almaty recently, KCC came across a fast food kiosk specialising in local dishes such as plov, lagman noodles and manty dumplings. One dish that caught our eye was the plovash, a plov burrito if you like!

Plovash is a clever play on words — lavash is a paper thin flat bread commonly found in the Caucasus and Central Asia — simply filling the lavash with plov gives us the plovash.

Ingredients (makes 4-6 fritters)

  • 250 g leftover plov (recipe link here)
  • 100 g grated raw carrot (or potato, courgette or beetroot)
  • 50 g chickpea flour (or one egg)
  • 25 ml oil

Method

  • Combine the leftover plov with the grated carrot and then stir in the chickpea flour (or egg) and mix until all the ingredients are combined well. Make into 4 – 6 burger shapes. Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan and fry the fritters until golden brown on both sides. The fritters can also be grilled or cooked on the barbecue. Serve with a salad or on its own in a burger bun or pita. 

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.

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.

Farinata Fiesta

12 November 2020

It’s time for a bit more armchair culinary tourism and we’re off to Genoa in northern Italy, birthplace of the farinata, a chickpea flour pancake that is a popular snack along the coast of the Ligurian Sea, where it’s known as fainâ, and down into France’s Côte d’Azur, where it’s known as socca.

With Diwali, the Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus, coming up on 14 November this year, we decided to mark the occasion by topping our chickpea pancake with a dry, spicy Indian inspired combination of spinach, potato and roasted cauliflower.

These chickpea pancakes are usually baked in the oven but we didn’t have a suitable baking dish so we tracked down a recipe at Electric Blue Food for a pan–fried version. We replaced the water with aquafaba – the leftover liquid from cooking beans – to give the pancake a bit more oomph. This pancake proved really easy to cook compared with traditional ones made from flour, milk and eggs.

Farinata is often eaten plain with just a sprinkling of black pepper and rosemary, but it can also be served with other, more substantial, toppings. The taste of this chickpea pancake reminded us of a thicker version of southern India’s dosa, a much missed treat since the start of the pandemic. So we decided to top it with spicy vegetables to attempt an approximation of our favourite pancake.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the farinata:

  • 200 g chickpea flour
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 300 ml aquafaba

For the Saag Aloo Gobi topping:

  • 250 g spinach
  • 250 g cauliflower
  • 250 g potato
  • One onion 
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • One teaspoon chilli powder
  • One teaspoon cinnamon
  • One teaspoon turmeric
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

For the farinata:

  • Use a wooden spoon to mix the chickpea flour with the oil in a large bowl and then slowly add the aquafaba and switch to a hand whisk and blend until smooth (you can use a blender or a stick blender for this).
  • Leave to stand for 30 minutes. Heat a few drops of oil in a large frying pan (around 30 cm in diameter) and then pour in a quarter of the pancake batter. Swirl it around to distribute the batter evenly. 
  • The pancake will start to puff up – when this happens, slide a spatula underneath and turn it over and cook on the other side until it slides off the pan easily. Put on a plate and keep in a pre-heated oven (100 c) until ready to serve.

For the Saag Aloo Gobi:

  • Break the cauliflower into florets, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven at 180 c for 30 minutes or until they start to char slightly.
  • Slice the potatoes into four or eight pieces depending on how big they are. Put in boiling, salted water and cook for five minutes.  Drain and put in cold water.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and then add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add the chopped onion. Add the rest of the spices and stir well. After five minutes or so, add the potato and stir fry for five minutes. 
  • Now put the chopped spinach on top of the potatoes and add a few of teaspoons water. Cook until the spinach begins to wilt. Stir in the baked cauliflower and serve immediately on top of a farinata.

Under the Kosh of Egypt’s Street Food Star

3 September 2020

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.

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KCC’s flavour-packed koshari

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.

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Lemon, barley and ginger

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.

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KCC’s multi-purpose spicy tomato sauce

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.

Bring on the Bazhe – Georgia’s Versatile Walnut Sauce

6 August 2020

We’re turning our attention back to Georgia to take a look at how walnuts form the backbone of the nation’s cuisine. This versatile nut can be made into a sauce, bazhe, and slathered on slices of fried aubergine or poured over a cucumber and tomato salad. It’s also used liberally in the vegetable dip, pkhali, in the thicker satsivi paste and in the red bean dish, lobio.

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Aubergine slices stuffed with bazhe, Georgia’s versatile walnut sauce

We made some bazhe to roll up in slices of fried aubergine, a favourite from the days of visiting Georgian restaurants. These aubergine rolls, nigvziani badrijani in Georgian, are usually served at the start of the meal, especially at lengthy wine and chacha (a grape-based spirit akin to Italy’s grappa or Greece’s tsipouro) fuelled banquets, but we think they’re great to eat at anytime and they’re particularly handy for picnics or barbecues.

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Bazhe – Georgia’s versatile walnut sauce

To remove the bitter taste of the aubergine, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with kitchen roll. Make sure the oil is very hot when frying the slices – this will help them not to soak up too much fat while cooking.,

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Spread the sauce on the fried aubergine slice and then roll it up

Ingredients (for 16-20 aubergine rolls)

  • 3 or 4 large aubergines
  • 100 ml cooking oil
  • 100 g walnuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (red or white wine or apple)
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate sauce
  • 1 teaspoon blue fenugreek (use cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
  • 1 teaspoon marigold flower (use turmeric if you can’t find this)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 50 ml cold water
  • Salt to sprinkle over the aubergine slices
  • Fresh basil and coriander leaves to garnish

Method

  • Make the walnut sauce first. Crush the nuts using the back of a wooden spoon on a wooden chopping board. This method gives the sauce a more crunchy texture. Mince the garlic and mix with the nuts in a bowl. Add the spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and combine all the ingredients into a smooth paste. Add water until the sauce has a more runny consistency but is still quite thick.
  • While the sauce is chilling in the fridge, fry the aubergine. Heat 50 ml of oil in a heavy based pan. Top and tail the aubergine and slice off a thin layer of skin on both sides. Cut the aubergine into 0.5 cm slices lengthways and then fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
  • When the slices have cooled down, spread the walnut sauce onto the slice and then roll it up. Garnish with fresh herbs such as coriander and basil, and pomegranate seeds (if you have any – we’re not expecting any until autumn) and serve cold with other Georgian starters such as pkhali and crusty bread.

String Hoppers à la Qazaq

9 July 2020

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.

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String Hoppers à la Qazaq with mung bean dhal and coconut and carrot sambol

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).

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.

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
  • One lemon

Method

  • 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.

Falafel to the Fore

18 June 2020

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be taking an armchair culinary tour to the Middle East and looking at the origins of the humble falafel. Arguments abound as to where this street snack par excellence originated, but most likely it was Egypt according to the evidence.

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Millet falafel, anyone?

The Egyptian version of this tasty bite is usually made with fava beans, known as fūl in Arabic, which is thought to be the base for the name falafel , whilst in other parts of the Mediterranean region chickpeas are preferred.

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Falafel salad

With both chickpeas and fava beans in short supply in Almaty at the moment, it was back to the drawing board to look for an alternative base for our falafel. While stocking up during lockdown in our local shop we came across a pack of millet and a spot of googling revealed that this would work just fine as the base for our take on the falafel.

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Forming the falafel

We baked them in the oven rather than deep-fried them as it’s a lot less hassle. Be sure to use plenty of parsley, cumin, coriander and chilli powder to spice up the millet. The resulting falafel were crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy in the centre, just as they should be.

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Bake the falafel in the oven

Be careful when cooking millet as it has a tendency to stick to the pan if you don’t keep an eye on it and stir regularly. We found it best to rinse and soak it for a few hours before cooking as this reduces the time needed to cook it.

Ingredients (makes 12-16 falafel)

  • 150 g millet
  • 300 ml water or vegetable stock
  • one garlic clove
  • one bunch of parsley
  • one teaspoon cumin
  • one teaspoon coriander
  • one teaspoon chilli powder
  • Sesame seeds to coat the falafel

Method

  • Rinse and then soak the millet in a pan for four hours. Drain the millet and cover with water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then 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, mince the garlic clove and add to the cooked millet. Add the spices – if you want to give your falafel more oomph, double the amount. Mix well and then form into balls. Roll the balls in the sesame seeds and then place on a tray and oven bake for 20 minutes at 200 c, or until the falafel turn a golden-brown colour.
  • Serve in pita bread with salad and sauces of your choice or as part of a salad – we made one from cucumber, tomato, spring onion, celery, red cabbage and radish. These falafel will keep in the fridge for a few days so you can cook a large batch at the same time.

Lockdown Brunch: Bubble and Squeak

30 April 2020

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.

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Bubble and squeak: the great British hangover cure

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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.