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.
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
1 cm cube of grated fresh ginger
Two teaspoons chilli flakes
25 ml olive oil
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.
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)
300 g all-purpose flour
100 ml olive oil
20 ml white wine vinegar
150 ml warm water
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
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.
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
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.
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)
50 ml olive oil
600 ml vegetable stock
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon ginger
One bay leaf
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.
If you’re feeling down after all the partying in December, then never fear as Russian Christmas is here! To help celebrate it in style we’ve opened up our Vodkatopf (a slavic cousin of the Rumtopf) and used the fruit that’s been stewing in the vodka since summer to make a booze-infused fruitcake.
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on 7 January – the Orthodox Church still follows the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar whereas Russia switched to the latter in 1917. The switch created a 13-day lag between the calendars so, for followers of the Orthodox faith, Christmas Eve falls on 6 January and 13 January marks the end of the old year
To make the vodkatopf we poured vodka over layers of different fruits as they appeared over the summer. The apricots, cherries and raspberries of early summer were followed by peaches and plums to make a great , fruity vodka for shooting or mixing. As an added bonus, the preserved fruit went into a the fruitcake mix. We decorated the cake with melted white chocolate and crushed almonds and used pumpkin and pomegranate seeds as the finishing touch.
Ingredients (for 6 – 8 servings)
325 g vodka-soaked mixed fruit (soak overnight in 250 ml vodka or other spirit if using dried fruit)
90 g olive oil
100 g honey (or golden syrup for a vegan cake)
175 g plain flour (we used rice flour for a gluten free cake)
50 g mixed nuts
100 ml coconut milk
25 g desiccated coconut
One teaspoon baking powder
One teaspoon each of cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
25 ml vodka
100 g melted white chocolate
pumpkin and pomegranate seeds to decorate the cake
Line a 15cm cake tin with a double layer of parchment paper, this will help stop the cake from burning
Sieve the flour and combine with 30 g of chopped nuts, desiccated coconut, baking powder, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon and stir together to make a thick batter
Melt the honey into the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and stir.
Combine the honey and oil mix with the batter.
Stir in the soaked fruits into the batter, along with any leftover liquid.
Layer the batter into the prepared tin and use a spatula to spread it level.
Melt the white chocolate in a glass or ceramic bowl over a pan of boiling water.
Spread the chocolate evenly over the top of the cake, sprinkle some mixed nuts over the icing and then decorate with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds.
There has been heated debate in the UK recently over whether or not a Scotch egg (a boiled egg covered with sausage meat and breadcrumbs) could be considered to be a “substantial meal”, a status that would allow pubs in parts of the country affected by COVID-19 restrictions to serve alcohol alongside this hearty snack.
This has inspired Knidos Cookery Club to try out its own test to see if the Scotch egg’s vegetarian cousin, the falalfel egg, makes for a substantial meal or a light snack. We first came across this combination in Harissa, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the falafel covered egg arrived after many other courses had been served and it did prove to be too substantial for dessert.
To test the theory again, we knocked up a batch of millet falafel mix, boiled some eggs and then combined the two and baked them in the oven. The result was indeed quite a substantial feast, so feel free to accompany your falafel egg with a glass or two of your favourite tipple!
Ingredients (makes 4 falafel eggs)
150 g millet
300 ml water or vegetable stock
25 ml olive oil
one small onion
one garlic clove
one bunch of parsley
one teaspoon cumin
one teaspoon coriander
one teaspoon chilli powder
Rinse and then soak the millet in a pan for four hours. Drain the millet and put to one side.
Boil the eggs for five minutes and then allow to cool completely.
Fry the finely chopped onion, minced garlic and spices in the olive oil for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the millet. cover with water or stock and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Stir regularly as the millet will stick to the bottom of the pan if not watched carefully.
Finely chop the parsley, both leaves and stalks and mix into the cooked millet. When the millet has cooled, peel the eggs and then form the falafel mix evenly around the egg. Place on a baking tray and oven bake for 20 minutes at 200 c or until the falafel case turns a golden-brown colour.
Serve with salad and sauces of your choice. These falafel eggs will keep in the fridge for a few days.
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
One medium tomato
150 g mozzarella
One teaspoon dried mixed herbs (of your choice)
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.
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.
Prepare the farinata batter
Pancake puffing up
Toss it over to finish it off
Serve with the topping of your choice
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 teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon coriander seeds
One teaspoon chilli powder
One teaspoon cinnamon
One teaspoon turmeric
50 ml olive oil
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.
It’s that time of year again when millions of pumpkins will be turned into jack o’ lanterns for Halloween — in the UK alone the environmental charity Hubbub estimates that some 24 million pumpkins will be carved this year but more than half, around 12.8 million, will go uneaten.
A scary 58% of the people surveyed by Hubbub were unaware that you can eat pumpkins. This October, we’ve been highlighting squash recipes on Knidos Cookery Club in the hope that more pumpkin ends up on our plates rather than on the rubbish tip.
Mix the flour and oil together and then slowly add the cold water and knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge while preparing the filling.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle add the finely chopped onion. Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds (save these to put on the samsa) and cut into 1 cm cubes.
Fry the onion for five minutes and then add the pumpkin cubes. Stir fry for five more minutes and then add the stock and simmer for 20 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked. Allow to cool and then mash to a smooth paste with a fork or a potato masher.
Roll the dough to a 2 mm thickness and then fold it over to produce a cylinder of dough. Break this dough into six pieces. Flatten the dough ball into a disc with the palm of your hand until you have a 1 mm thick circle.
Put a triangle of filling in the middle of the circle and then fold over the edges to make a triangle shape. Brush with olive oil and arrange the pumpkin, sesame and poppy seeds on top of the samsa. Bake in the oven at 200 c for 25 -30 minute until the samsa turns a darker brown colour.
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.
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
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.