It’s official – the 2021 Kazakhstan barbecue season has opened with a glamping grillfest in the hills near Talgar, a short drive from Almaty.
After receiving the second dose of the Sputnik V vaccine, we’re taking some tentative steps back to life in the world beyond Almaty. First stop was Bubble Gum View – a newly-opened glamping (glamour camping for the uninitiated) spot with four socially distanced pods in an apple orchard, perfect for a contact-free break. Each pod comes with its own barbecue area so it was time to kick off the 2021 season in style.
We’ve been working on a burger that will hold up to being put on the grill and this one, which combines potato, green lentils, onion and green leaves, uses chickpea flour to bind the mix together. We served it along with some grilled halloumi and some char grilled carrot slices. For a bit more variety, when courgettes and aubergines are in season, then put some of these on the grill.
Ingredients (makes 8 burgers)
250 g potato
100 g green lentils
50 g chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan)
One medium onion
100 g mixed green leaves (we used radish leaves but you can use any you have handy)
One teaspoon turmeric, cumin seeds, chilli pepper and cinnamon
25 ml olive oil
Soak the lentils for a few hours and then cook in 400 ml water until they begin to go mushy and have soaked up all the liquid. Cook the potatoes in a separate pan and when ready drain and mash in a large bowl.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the cumin seeds and, when they start to pop, add the finely chopped onion and cook over a medium heat until translucent. Add the chopped mixed leaves and cook over a medium heat until they start to wilt.
Add the turmeric, chilli pepper and cinnamon and then add the cooked lentils to the mashed potato and then add the onions and leaves to the potato-lentil mix and stir well. Add the chickpea flour and combine all the ingredients.
Form the mix into golf ball sized rounds, flatten with your hand and then cook on the grill, turning after five minute or so when the burger is beginning to char. Serve immediately with other grilled vegetables, halloumi if you eat cheese and a salad of your choice.
Today we’re celebrating KCC’s 5th anniversary with a hearty plate of laghman, hand-pulled wheat noodles, one of Central Asia’s favourite dishes. These thick, chewy noodles are often served with a rich, spicy sauce but we decided to make a drier version with spring greens and chickpeas.
We can’t believe that it’s been five years since we started our culinary journey in Datça, Turkey. KCC’s first recipe was this asparagus risotto, inspired by the fresh produce on sale in the town’s weekly market.
Over the last five years, we’ve branched out from Turkey and sought out dishes from around the globe with gastronomic excursions to Greece, Georgia, Russia, Albania, Italy, India, Sri Lanka, Central Asia and Mexico among others.
Since the start of the pandemic KCC has been confined to Almaty, Kazakhstan, so we’ve been trying out new recipes based on locally sourced ingredients which brought us to laghman.
When it came to making this dish we cheated a bit – Gulzada, our local greengrocer, now offers home made noodles along with whatever fruit and vegetables are in season.
If your local grocer doesn’t stock noodles and you have the time to pull your own noodles, then check out this recipe to make the key ingredient for your laghman.
Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)
150 g noodles per person
200 g mixed greens – we used cauliflower and radish leaves but you can use anything you have handy
200 g leek
50 g garlic chives (jusai)
50 g celery
350 g cooked chickpeas
100 ml chickpea cooking water (aquafaba)
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
50 ml olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the cumin seeds. Wash the leek thoroughly and then chop in half lengthways and then cut into 1 cm slices. Use as much of the leek as you can including the leafy green bits. When the cumin seeds begin to pop, reduce the heat to a low setting and add the leek to the pan and stir fry for five minutes.
Add the red chilli flakes, celery, garlic chives and chopped radish and cauliflower leaves to the leek and cook until the the leaves start to wilt. Stir in the chickpeas and the aquafaba and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed and you have a fairly thick sauce.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Put the noodles in the pan and leave for 2-3 minutes to warm them through. Arrange on a plate and pour the sauce on top 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 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.
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.
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.
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).
Green hot chilli peppers
Coconut and carrot sambol
Breakfast Sri Lankan style – string hoppers with coconut sambol and dhal in the background
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.
Kespe – noodles from Kazakhstan
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
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.
With lockdown mostly lifted here in Kazakhstan, a bit of a celebration was called for and what better way than with a cocktail – we had a root around the drinks cupboard and came up with this somewhat eclectic selection of spirits:
The tequila had taken a bit of hammering during lockdown, Tashkent Gold Whisky is something of an acquired taste, so it was left to Peru’s premier spirit, Pisco, to provide the base for the cocktail! A further root around kitchen produced some cinnamon, orange peel and sugar to provide the base for a syrup for our cocktail. A bottle of Moldovan sparkling wine left over from New Year provided the finishing fizzy touch.
Add orange and cinnamon syrup
to a shot of
pisco and ice
add orange juice
top up with Moldovan sparkling wine
to make the Post-Quarantini
To make a Pisco Spritz: Put some ice cubes in a cocktail glass, mix 25 ml Pisco (or any other clear spirit) with 25 ml syrup (see recipe below) and then add 50 ml fresh orange juice. Top up with sparkling wine (Champagne, Cava or Prosecco will work fine if Moldovan spumante is not available!) add a slice of orange and, bingo, your post-quarantini cocktail is ready! Knock yourself up a glass or two and join us to celebrate entering our brave new post-lockdown world.
Orange and cinnamon syrup (makes around 250 ml)
200 ml boiling water
20 g sliced orange peel
50 g brown sugar or honey
One cinnamon stick
Put all the ingredients into a bottle, shake well and allow to cool. Give it a vigorous shake every 15 minutes or so. When it has cooled down, store it in the fridge – leave for a few days for best results.
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 .
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.
Here are the blindfold taster’s notes:
Dark but not too bitter, a bit orangey, quite like a hare – nice!
Unusual, something Englishy, something a bit like a fox, not very sweet, nice!
Sweeter than the others, like a soft horse, chunkyish feel.
Tobleroneish, darkish, a little bit bitter and chewy; like a naughty monkey.
Can you guess which description goes with which bar?
Nearing the fifth week of lockdown here in Almaty, Kazakstan. We’ve found that one of the ways of coping with this situation it to try and stick to as normal a routine as possible. This means logging on in the working week to see if there’s any work around and then trying to switch off from everything as much as possible at the weekend.
With this in mind, we’ve come up with a classic weekend, switching-off brunch featuring that classic British comfort food – bubble and squeak, or fried potato and cabbage cakes to the uninitiated. You really can’t beat a good fry-up after a hectic evening spent zooming and netflixing and supporting the local viniculture industry.
Bubble and squeak takes its name from the sizzling, spitting sounds the mixture makes when being fried. Its a great way to use up any leftovers you have – you just need the base of mashed potato and boiled cabbage. We’ve spiced it up with some coriander, cumin and turmeric and also added in some fresh spinach. Serve with baked beans and a fried egg to get your weekend off to a flyer.
Ingredients (makes four hearty cakes)
One large potato
100 g cabbage
50 g spinach
Two spring onions
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon turmeric
One teaspoon coriander
Oil for shallow frying
Cube the potato, cover with cold water and bring to the boil in a heavy-based pan. Simmer for five minutes and then add the finely chopped cabbage along with the coriander, turmeric and cumin seeds. Simmer for another five minute and than add the chopped spring onion and spinach.
Drain off any excess liquid then mash all the ingredients together with a fork or a potato masher. Season with salt and black pepper according to taste. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Form the mixture into golf ball-sized pieces and then place in the frying pan. Flatten the balls with a spatula or fish slice and fry on a medium heat. After five minutes, turn the bubble and squeak over and cook for another five minutes until a golden-brown colour on both sides.
We’re now nearing the end of the third week of Almaty’s lockdown. Life has settled into a pattern of venturing out as little as possible and relying more on what we have stored away. After a delve in the cupboards, we came up with one of the stalwarts of the staple food world – a pack of dried beans.
After soaking in cold water overnight, these red beans can be used in endless ways – from soups, stews and curries to burgers, salads and dips. We’ve gone for a easy-to-make red bean hummus; you’ll just need to add tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and some spices. Serve with flat bread and salad for a tasty lunch.
Toasted sesame seeds
Add olive oil, and you have tahini
Don’t worry if you haven’t got any tahini on hand, you can make your own by toasting some sesame seeds and mixing them with olive oil – here’s a link to last year’s post on DIY tahini.
Ingredients (makes around 300 g)
250 g cooked red beans (reserve 50 ml of the cooking water)
Two tablespoons tahini
25 ml olive oil
One garlic clove
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon sumac
Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
A few sprigs of coriander
Mash the beans with a potato masher or a fork and add the tahini. Mix well then add olive oil and lemon juice and blend until you get a smooth consistency. If the hummus is too thick, use some of the cooking water, Add the minced garlic and spices and mix a bit more with the fork. Garnish with a few beans, a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and a sprig of coriander.