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
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.
We’re back in action after another glamping trip to Bubble Gum View near Almaty. This peaceful spot, located a 45-minute drive from the city centre, is situated in an orchard and consists of four pods. This time round we were treated to an upgrade to the en-suite pod that has a kitchen and an upstairs bedroom too.
Kazakhstan, Almaty region in particiular, is widely acknowledged as the place where the ancestors of today’s apples evolved. The name Almaty translates from the Kazakh as ‘the place of apples.’ With autumn approaching, the apples are beginning to ripen and we picked a few to bring back to Almaty.
With summer making a last stand – the mercury is still hitting the 30s here in Almaty, we used the apples in a salad based on one we had in Greece one time. The Greek version used pears and lettuce, but we’ve swapped in rocket and our homecoming apples. We served it in a wrap with some fresh, homemade hummus and crispy falafels, but it works equally well wherever you’d normally eat salad.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
125 g courgette
100 g apple
75 g rocket
20 g capers
1 teaspoon chia seeds
Juice of half a lemon
15 ml olive oil
Roughly chop the rocket leaves and put at them at the bottom of your salad bowl. Grate the courgette over the rocket leaves. Now grate the apple over the courgette layer, add the capers and sprinkle the chia seeds over the top. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil and mix well.
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
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.
This time round on KCC we’re returning to mücver, Turkey’s versatile courgette fritter, with our take on that brunch staple Hash Browns. This mücver variation adds potato and garlic scapes to the mix to give us a fritter we’ve dubbed Hash Greens.
These fritters are super-easy to prepare and cook and are great as part of a breakfast or brunch. They can also be served in a roll to make it closer to a veggie burger.
We came across garlic scapes, the edible stem that grows from the bulb, on a recent visit to the local greengrocer while looking for green beans. This flavoursome peduncle gives a milder garlicky kick to soups, pestos and stir fries. It’s not an overpowering flavour as it adds a subtler, roasted garlic undernote to these dishes.
Ingredients (Makes 6-8 fritters)
One medium courgette (zucchini) (approx 200 g)
One medium potato (approx 200 g)
One small onion (approx 100 g)
50 g garlic scapes
100 g chickpea flour
25 g mixed fresh herbs
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon chilli flakes
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon black pepper
50 ml olive oil
Grate the potato and courgette and mix together in a large bowl. Finely chop the garlic scapes and add to the bowl. Stir in the chickpea flour and add the herbs (use and fresh herbs you have e.g. parsley, coriander, mint) and spices and mix well so you have a smooth that’s neither too dry and crumbly nor too wet and sloppy.
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Form the mix into golf-ball sized patties and then put in the pan and flatten with a fish slice or spatula. Fry until golden-brown on both sides. Serve as part of a breakfast or brunch or in a bun as a burger with toppings of your choice.
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.
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.
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.
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
100 g halloumi
50 ml olive oil
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.
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.
In Italy the slices of bread are toasted on abrustolina, a 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.
Put the brustolina over the flame
A brustolina in action
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
25 ml olive oil
One teaspoon mustard seeds
250 ml vegetable stock or water
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.
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.
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.
After a couple of months of lockdown, a bit of garden envy is setting in as we hear about people getting outside and having barbecues. With no open space in the flat other than an enclosed balcony, it was time to get inventive in order to get some char-grilled food.
We’re fortunate to have a gas hob, so with some creative use of tin foil (some of it salvaged from last week’s chocolate fest!) and a rack from the oven, KCC came up with an improvised BBQ grill.
Use whatever vegetables are available – we had courgettes and green peppers, and cook them over the open flame, turning regularly. We grilled some halloumi as well. We cooked the jacket potato in the oven and made our own chapati, a flatbread from the Indian sub-continent, to serve with the indoor barbecue.
Chapati recipe (makes 4):
150 g wholemeal flour
75 ml water
50 ml oil ( we used olive oil, but you can use whatever you have handy)
A pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Sieve the flour into a large, ceramic mixing bowl and add the oil and bicarbonate of soda. Combine with a wooden spoon or your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Slowly add the water until you have a fairly elastic dough – not too wet and not too dry. Knead for ten minutes and then leave covered with a tea towel for an hour or so.
Heat up a non-stick frying pan or a cast iron pan. Divide the mixture into four and form into balls. Flatten with your hands and then use a rolling pin to roll the dough into 1 mm thick rounds. Cook over a high heat on both sides until the chapatis take on a leopard-spotted look as in the picture above.
When combined with spices such as turmeric, cumin, ginger and black pepper, the mung bean can do a lot to help flush out unwanted material from your body. While some practitioners recommend following a detox diet based on mung bean soup for 7-10 days to really cleanse yourself, it’s quite a powerful process so we’d recommend a bowl or two every week as being beneficial to your general well-being.
Ingredients (Makes 3-4 servings)
200 g mung beans
One stick of celery
1 litre water
Four tablespoons tomato paste
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon cumin
One teaspoon chilli powder
1cm fresh ginger
Wash and then soak the mung beans for at least four hours (the longer you soak them, the quicker they’ll cook). Then put them in a pan, cover with the water and add the turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and chilli powder.
Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes, add the tomato paste, grated carrot and courgette, the thinly-sliced celery and the minced ginger, stir well and simmer for another ten minutes or so. The mung beans should just be beginning to go soft. Pour into bowls and serve with a generous grind of black pepper.
This week we’ll be making our take on couscous, that staple of North African cooking. Our version uses fine bulgur wheat in place of the more usual durum wheat semolina base as bulgur wheat is easier to find on the supermarket shelves where we are based.
In our opinion, bulgur works just as well as semolina as a base to soak up the juices from the roasted vegetables and our chickpea chutney. Purists may disagree, but our philosophy is more about adapting recipes by using the ingredients you have at hand.
Ingredients (serves 2)
300 g pumpkin
2 medium carrots
2 medium courgettes
25 ml olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
25 ml olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 small red onion
2 small tomatoes
50 g currants
250 g chickpeas
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 teaspoon black pepper
100 g fine bulgur wheat
200 ml vegetable stock
Pre-heat the oven to 200c, cut the vegetables into large chunks and put into a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and add the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick and stir to coat the vegetable chunks. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are cooked.
While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the chickpea chutney. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the finely chopped onion and cook over a low heat for five minutes. Add the spices and the chopped tomato and cook for five more minutes. Then add the currants and chickpeas and cook for fifteen minutes or so.
Bring the vegetable stock to the boil and then cover the bulgur wheat with it and leave it to soak up the liquid for 30 minutes or so, drain off the excess liquid (if there’s any) and than add a dash of olive oil and fluff up with a fork.
Put a layer of couscous on a warmed plate, arrange the roasted vegetables in a circular, wheel-spoke pattern and put a generous dollop of chickpea chutney in the centre and serve immediately.