Memories of Maiori: Zesty, Lemony Chickpea Pasta

11 March 2021

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.

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Zesty, lemony chickpea pasta

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
  • 20 capers
  • 1 cm cube of grated fresh ginger
  • Two teaspoons chilli flakes
  • One lemon
  • 25 ml olive oil

Method

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.

Börek with a Celtic Twist

25 February 2021

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)

Filo Pastry

  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 20 ml white wine vinegar 
  • 150 ml warm water

Leek Filling

  • 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

Method

  • 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.  

Making a Substantial Meal out of a Falafel Egg

17 December 2020

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)

  • four 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

Method

  • 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.