Lentily Lecho Laghman

21 October 2021

Greetings from Tashkent, Uzbekistan where KCC has been based for the last three weeks on a foodie fact finding mission. Uzbekistan is the land of plov, but is also home to a wide range of pasta dishes such as manti (dumplings), laghman noodles and many cousins of ravioli.

The autumn pickling and preserving season is in full swing with vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and aubergines cheap and abundant. Our friend gave us a jar of her homemade lecho, a pepper, tomato and onion stew, with herbs and spices added according to your taste. Lecho originated in eastern Europe, so you should be able to track down a jar in your local Polish shop.

We decided to cook up this lecho with some courgettes and protein-rich red lentils to make a tasty laghman noodle sauce. One of the advantages of being in Central Asia is the ready availability of fresh, hand-pulled noodles in the shops, but if you don’t have access to laghman noodles where you are, then try making your own. Check out this laghman recipe here – it’s a bit time consuming but rewarding!

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 125 g fresh noodles per person
  • 2 small courgettes
  • 1 large red onion
  • 100 g red lentils
  • 250 g lecho
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes

Method

  • Wash the lentils until the water goes clear and then soak for around 30 minutes. While the lentils are soaking, fry the thinly sliced onion in the olive oil and add the cumin seeds. Cook over a medium heat for ten minutes and then add the courgette that has been grated or cut into 1 mm thick,  5 mm long slices. Cook for ten more minutes over a low heat.
  • Take the red peppers from the lecho and cut into thin slices and add to the pan with the onion and courgette mix. Cook for another ten minutes over a low heat and then drain the lentils and add to the pan along with the red chilli flakes and the liquid from the lecho. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are chewy not mushy.
  • Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and then turn off the heat and put the noodles in for a few minutes, Drain and then add the noodles to the sauce and stir well. Serve straight away with a flat bread of your choice.

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.

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.

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. 

A Pumpkin’s for Eating, not just for Carving!

29 October 2020

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.

We featured roasted butternut squash with courgettes and halloumi and a pumpkin chilli. This time we’re looking at pumpkin samsas, a classic Uzbek snack which are great as a Halloween treat!

Ingredients (makes 6)

For the filling:

  • 500 g pumpkin
  • One medium onion
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 100 ml vegetable stock
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • Sprinkling of sesame seeds and poppy seeds

For the samsa dough:

  • 200 g flour
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 75 ml cold water

Method

  • 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.

Double Radish Courgette Quiche

23 July 2020

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.

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Courgette, radish leaf and halloumi quiche

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.

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Horseradish sauce with beetroot

 

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.

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Going a bit crackers in lockdown

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
  • One egg
  • 100 g halloumi
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • 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.

A Central Asian Chocolate Odyssey

07 May 2020

With Almaty’s lockdown showing tentative signs of easing – we’re now allowed out to exercise as well as shop, a bit of a celebration is called for and a root around the cupboards produced a splendid horde of country-themed, Central Asian chocolate .

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The Tower of Central Asian Chocolate

We unearthed some bars of chocolate named after Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – perfect for a blindfold taste-test to see what Central Asia’s finest chocolate tastes like. To keep it interesting, we entered a wildcard – chocolate infused with kurut (a wind dried fermented milk product) from Kyrgyzstan.

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A cheesy wildcard with some great design work

Here are the blindfold taster’s notes:

  1. Dark but not too bitter, a bit orangey, quite like a hare – nice!
  2. Unusual, something Englishy, something a bit like a fox, not very sweet, nice!
  3. Sweeter than the others, like a soft horse chunkyish feel.
  4. Tobleroneish, darkish, a little bit bitter and chewy; like a naughty monkey.

Can you guess which description goes with which bar?

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Check in the comments below for the results…

The Golden Soup of Samarkand

23 January 2020

This week’s offering – a soup made from chickpeas and carrots, was inspired by a recent visit to a funky Central Asian restaurant called Saksaul in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. This soup appeared on the menu, but unfortunately there wasn’t any left that day. Spotting yellow carrots on sale in the market after returning home, we decided to cook up our own version.

KCC’s Golden Soup of Samarkand featuring yellow carrots and chickpeas

Our soup contains two ingredients that are common in the cookery of Samarkand in Uzbekistan – chickpeas and yellow carrots. Not all carrots are orange in Central Asia, you can even find black ones on occasion, but we find these yellow ones particularly sweet and tasty.

Yellow (and a bit green!) carrots on sale in Kazakhstan

This famed Silk Road city of Samarkand provided further inspiration for our golden potage with spices such as cumin, coriander and turmeric that are still bought and sold along this ancient trade route.

Ingredients (makes 4 portions)

  • 500 g yellow carrots
  • 500 g chickpeas
  • Two yellow onions
  • Two garlic cloves
  • Two teaspoons mustard seeds
  • Two teaspoons chilli powder
  • Two teaspoons cumin seeds
  • Two teaspoons coriander seeds
  • Two teaspoons turmeric
  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • One litre vegetable stock

Method

  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the chopped onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the other spices and mix well.
  • Next add the diced carrot and stir to coat the carrot with the mix. Cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and stir well, then add the stock and reduce to a low heat and simmer the soup for 30 minutes or so.
  • Using a stick blender, liquidise the soup. Pour into bowls and garnish with chickpeas and a sprinkling of cumin seeds. Serve with bread – we used a flatbread but any crusty bread will work just as well.

Welcoming Uzbekistan with a Royal Feast of Oyster Mushrooms with Buckwheat Noodles

16 May 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club were welcoming cookery fans in Uzbekistan who can finally enjoy unfettered access to our superior vegan and vegetarian recipes after the government unblocked a host of websites, including WordPress, last week.

To celebrate this unprecedentedly momentous occasion, we’ll be riffing on laghman, a classic noodle dish from Uzbekistan. A friend recently turned up at KCC’s Almaty HQ with a proliferation of King Oyster Mushrooms (see the photo below), providing us with a challenge to come up with something tasty.

A quick root around the kitchen cupboards produced a pack of soba (buckwheat) noodles and some sesame seeds so we put a pan of water on to boil and chopped up some leek, celery and tomatoes and added a dash of wine for a rapid-fire stir fry involving the funky-looking mushrooms.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 50 ml olive oil
  • two teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 100 g celery
  • 100 g leek
  • 600 g king oyster mushrooms
  • 400 g tomatoes
  • 25 ml soy sauce
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • Sesame seeds
  • 300 g Soba (buckwheat) noodles

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds. Cook over a medium heat for a minute and then add the diced leek. After a few minutes add the chopped celery and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Put the leek and celery mixture to one side and put the diced king oyster mushrooms into the frying pan, add the soy sauce and cook over a low heat for ten minutes or so. If the mushrooms start to go dry, add a dash of water and stir.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes to the mushrooms and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the leek and celery mixture and the wine and stir well. Braise everything for ten minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • While the mushroom mix is braising, put the soba noodles in a pan of boiling, salted water and simmer for four to five minutes. Drain the noodles and arrange on a bowl with the mushroom mix on top. Add a sprinkle of sesame seeds before serving.