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.

The Path to Perfect Pizza

26 November 2020

With much of 2020 spent at home there has been plenty of time this year to hone our baking skills here at KCC. Over the past few months we have been experimenting with the base for an old favourite, pide (Turkey’s take on the baked dough and cheese combo), with an eye to creating a perfect pizza base that is soft and springy but with a crispy crust and we’re well pleased with our latest efforts.

After testing bases made from plain wheat flour, wholemeal flour or rye flour but found that these resulted in a denser base so we tried a more finely-milled flour, similar to Italy’s 00 standard, and found that this gave the best results with a fluffy but crispy base.

With tomato supplies running low (and being too lazy to brave the icy conditions outside), we improvised with crushed avocado in place of tomato sauce and hit upon a winning combination. Add some melty mozzarella, chunks of artichoke and slices of tomato to complete the taste sensation!

Ingredients (makes an eight-slice, 30 cm pizza)

  • 150 g pizza flour (00 grade) 
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • Dried yeast (use according to pack instructions)
  • 75 ml water

Toppings

  • One avocado
  • One medium tomato
  • Artichoke hearts
  • 150 g mozzarella 
  • One teaspoon dried mixed herbs (of your choice)

Method

  • Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the dried yeast (according to the instructions on the pack) and then slowly add the water, mixing all the while.
  • Use your hands to form the dough into a ball and knead gently for ten minutes or so. Leave to rise in a warm place in an oiled bowl with a damp tea towel over the top for an hour or so.  After 30 minutes, turn the oven on and heat to 200 c. 
  • Roll the dough into a 30 cm round on a lightly-floured surface and then spread crushed avocado over the base. Arrange strips of mozzarella on top of the avocado. Put tomato slices on top of this and then add chunks of artichoke. Sprinkle with mixed herbs if using.
  • Bake the pizza on the top shelf of the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown and the edges of the crust turn a golden brown colour.

Ready Steady Pumpkin Chilli

15 October 2020

The Knidos Cookery Club kitchen was forced to decamp to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan this week as an unfolding political crisis rocked this Central Asian state that neighbours Kazakhstan.

Making a meal out of it…

In the spirit of the recently revived 90s TV cookery show, Ready Steady Cook, we grabbed a selection of items after a quick dash around the nearest supermarket and came up with a red bean and pumpkin chilli, continuing our October Squashfest theme.

We had to opt for a bit of convenience this time as it’s hard cooking in a strange kitchen, so we bought a jar of a spicy tomato sauce called Cobra, and used ready cooked red beans. If you have more time on your hands, then substitute the Cobra with KCC’s very own spicy tomato sauce and soak some dried beans overnight.

Ingredients (Makes 3-4 servings)

  • 500 g pumpkin
  • 250 g spicy tomato sauce
  • 250 g cooked red beans
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and then add the pumpkin, chopped into 2 cm x 1 cm cubes, and stir fry for five minutes over  a medium heat.
  • Add the spicy tomato sauce, stir well and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the pumpkin is cooked but firm.
  • Add the red beans and stir well and heat through. Serve with boiled rice and some crusty bread.

KCC’s October Squashfest

1 October 2020

With the temperatures tumbling in the second half of September, thoughts turned to the opening of the pumpkin season, which traditionally starts on 1 October in the world of Knidos Cookery Club.

There’s a definite chill in the air and we’ve even got the heating coming on two weeks ahead of schedule here in Almaty, Kazakhstan. So, it’s certainly time for some autumn comfort food.

We’ve combined the first butternut squash of the season with the summer’s last stand of courgettes and tomatoes and some minty halloumi cheese to come up with a roast that conjures up the pale green, orange and red hues of the falling leaves synonymous with this time of year.

Ingredients (serves 3-4 people)

  • 300 g Butternut squash 
  • 300 g Courgettes (Zuchinni)
  • Three plum (Roma) tomatoes
  • 200 g halloumi
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • Cut the butternut squash into 2 cm cubes – you can peel the butternut or leave the skin on if you wish. Cut the courgette into 1 cm slices and cut in half to make semi-circles.
  • Put them in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle the cumin seeds and pour the olive oil over the vegetables and mix well. Cover the dish with tin foil and cook in the oven at 150 c for one hour. Give the veggies a stir after 30 minutes
  • Remove the foil and stir well. Add the tomatoes, sliced into six wedges and the halloumi, cut into 2 cm cubes. Place these on top of the squash and courgettes and bake at 150 c for another 30 minutes or until the cheese starts to look charred.
  • Serve with a flat bread such as pita or chapati. You can bake some jacket potatoes in the oven with the roast veggies to make the meal more substantial or serve with pasta, rice, bulgur wheat or pearl barley.

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.

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.

Brush up your Bruschetta Skills

2 July 2020

This week were honing in on a favourite Italian starter, bruschetta – slices of toasted bread served with a range of different toppings. We’ve opted for a heartier version using chunky slices of bread that can double up as a main meal when you add a salad of your choice.

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In Italy the slices of bread are toasted on a brustolinaa device made from sheet metal with holes on the bottom and a wire rack on the top (see pictures below taken from the Grand Voyage Italy website). This is placed over the heat source on your stove top and can be used to make toast, grill polenta and roast peppers, courgettes or aubergines.

Being unable to make it to Italy to pick up a brustolina at this point in time due to the pandemic, we’ve had to make do with our oven to toast the bread. Brush your thickly cut  slices with olive oil and a rub of garlic and cover one side with a topping of your choice.

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We went for capers, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives with thin slices of courgette and basil leaves for the first option and home-made guacamole, topped once again with thin slices of courgette and basil leaves, for option two. Simply leave in a hot oven (200 c) for ten minutes or so until the bread just begins to burn at the edges. Serve immediately with your favourite salad.

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.

The Life of Briam

21 May 2020

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.

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Half-way there – assembling the briam…

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.

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Briam – good enough to eat

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.

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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.

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Briam and salad

 

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
  • 20 capers
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 250 ml vegetable stock or water

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.