String Hoppers à la Qazaq

9 July 2020

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.

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String Hoppers à la Qazaq with mung bean dhal and coconut and carrot sambol

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).

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.

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
  • One lemon

Method

  • 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.

Pisco Spritz: A Cocktail for a Post-Quarantini World

4 June 2020

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:

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Choices, choices…

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.

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.

 

 

KCC’s Lockdown BBQ – a char-grilled chapati feast

14 May 2020

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.

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It’s barbecue time!

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.

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A char-grilled platter

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.

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KCC’s chapati: ideal for a BBQ

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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Brunch: Bubble and Squeak

30 April 2020

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.

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Bubble and squeak: the great British hangover cure

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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

Lockdown Lunch: Get Stuffed!

23 April 2020

Nearing four weeks of lockdown in Almaty and supplies are holding up surprisingly well, especially now that spring greens are beginning to come on tap. This week our local veg shop had rocket, celery and sorrel – all the makings of a peppery green salad to perk up the lunch menu.

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Spring greens coming on tap in Almaty

We’re coming to the end of our super-sized cabbage, which was bought in the early days of lockdown, so we decided to use the remaining leaves to make cabbage rolls, a popular dish in eastern and southern Europe.

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KCC’s Stuffed Cabbage Leaf

We stuffed the leaves with some rip-red risotto, a recipe we made a few years back that combines coarse bulgur wheat with beetroot and walnuts (if you want a gluten-free option, you can use arborio rice or pearl barley instead).

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Simmer the stuffed cabbage parcels in a tomato and herb sauce for thirty minutes for a winning lockdown lunch. It makes for a tasty veggie take on that beloved Ukrainian / Russian dish, golubtsi, or ‘little doves’, or dolma as they are dubbed in some parts of the Mediterranean and into the Caucasus.

Ingredients (serves 3-4 people)

  • Four large cabbage leaves or eight smaller ones
  • (See here for the stuffing: rip-red risotto)

For the tomato sauce:

  • Three medium tomatoes
  • Three spring onions
  • Three sprigs of parsley
  • One stick of celery
  • One tablespoon tomato paste
  • One teaspoon mustard seeds
  • two or three basil leaves
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • 100 ml water

Method

  1. Separate the leaves carefully from the cabbage. Place in boiling water for five minutes to soften. Put the leaves in cold water and then drain. Cut out the tough, lower bit of the stalk (about 2-3 cm). Place a tablespoon of filling above the cut and then fold and roll the leaves into cigar shapes.
  2. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped spring onions, celery and parsley. Cook for five minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and water , stir well and bring to the boil.
  3. Lay the stuffed leaves in an ovenproof baking dish and pour the hot tomato sauce over them. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake at 200 c for thirty minutes. Sprinkle the cooked cabbage leaves with basil leaves before serving with a green salad.

Lockdown Lunch: Red-hot Hummus

16 April 2020

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.

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KCC’s Red-hot, red bean hummus

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.

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 lemon
  • One garlic clove
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon sumac
  • Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • A few sprigs of coriander

Method

  • 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.

 

Lockdown Lunch: Kicking off with Kısır

9 April 2020

We’re heading towards the end of the second week of serious lockdown here in Almaty. Our local shops remain well-stocked with basics (we’re not supposed to go further than 500 metres form home) and the greengrocer’s reopened after closing for a week, so fresh vegetables are readily available.

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Basic kısır with radish

For this week’s Lockdown Lunch we’re making kısır, Turkey’s bulgur wheat salad answer to the Middle East’s tabbouleh salad. Kısır is one of those dishes that everyone has their own recipe for, but the basic ingredients are fine bulgur wheat, onion, chilli pepper, tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and pomegranate sauce.

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Kısır with olives and tomatoes

We’ve added some radishes, tomatoes, spring onion and black olives to the standard package above that can be eaten as a main meal (you might want to add some nuts or beans for a protein punch) or as a side salad. If you are on a gluten-free diet, then you can use millet in place of bulgur wheat.

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A fresh kick for your kısır

Kısır is easy to prepare and it benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight – leaving more time for all those Zoom parties and, of course, the Tajik football season, which kicked off last weekend.

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)

  • 100g fine bulgur wheat
  • 200 ml vegetable stock or water
  • One medium onion
  • One medium tomato
  • One medium radish
  • One spring onion
  • One garlic clove
  • Ten black olives
  • Two tablespoons tomato paste
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One lemon
  • 25 ml pomegranate sauce
  • Few sprigs of parsley
  • One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon sumac

Method

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to sizzle. Add the finely chopped onion and mashed garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli pepper and sumac and stir.
  • Add the fine bulgur wheat and stir to cover the grains then add the stock or water, Add the tomato paste, pomegranate sauce and the juice of half the lemon. Stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to stand for 30 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Fluff up the grains with a fork and add the grated radish, sliced spring onion and chopped parsley. Mix together and put in a salad bowl. Before serving, garnish with lemon and/or tomato slices and black olives.

Lockdown Lunch: Tbilisi Calling

26 March 2020

For this week’s lockdown lunch we had a root around the cupboards and came up with some dried red beans, last autumn’s walnuts and a bottle of Turkish pomegranate sauce (Nar Ekşili Sos) – perfect ingredients for taking us on a culinary away day to Tbilisi for a bowl of lobio, Georgia’s signature bean dish.

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Take a trip to Georgia with KCC’s Lobio lockdown lunch

Lobio can be more like a soup, a stew, a salad or even re-fried beans depending on which region of Georgia it’s prepared in – we’ve gone for lobio nigvzit which is somewhere between a soup and a stew. Serve the lobio in a clay pot with white cheese and a hunk of fresh mchadi (corn bread – recipe link here) or any other bread for an authentic taste of Georgia.

To help pass the time during lockdown, here’s something on the etymology of lobio from @thomas_wier on twitter:

Ingredients (makes four servings)

  • 500 g cooked red beans
  • 50 g walnuts
  • One medium onion
  • Two garlic cloves
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • One teaspoon blue fenugreek (use fenugreek or cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • One small bunch fresh coriander
  • Three bay leaves
  • 50 ml cooking oil
  • 50 ml pomegranate sauce
  • 250 ml water the beans were cooked in or vegetable stock

Method 

  • If cooking dried beans, then soak 250 g of beans overnight. Change water and cook for one hour or so until the beans are just cooked but not yet falling apart. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the coriander seeds and blue fenugreek. Cook for a few minutes and then add the diced onions, mashed garlic and chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes over a low heat and then add the crushed walnuts and the pomegranate sauce. Cook for another five minutes.
  • Now add the drained beans, bay leaves and reserved cooking water. Leave to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon – don’t worry if the beans start to fall apart – they taste better like this and absorb more sauce.
  • Add the chopped fresh coriander and serve hot with bread and white cheese. It tastes even better if left overnight and reheated, but only add the fresh coriander after re-heating the mix.

 

 

Lunching in a Time of Lockdown – A Simple Bean Salad

19 March 2020

Lockdown has arrived in KCC’s current base of Almaty, Kazakhstan as the battle against the spread of COVID-19 rages on. Entry to the city is being restricted, cinemas, bars, restaurants and many shops have been shuttered and food shops are only allowed to operate between 10.00 and 18.00.

While we haven’t seen much of the panic buying, except for runs on buckwheat, reported in other parts of the world ourselves, with city-wide quarantine looming it was a good opportunity to make sure our cupboards were well stocked up.

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The basic ingredients for KCC’s store cupboard bean salad – white beans, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and red chilli flakes

Besides the usual bags of pasta, pulses, bulgur and rice and tins of tomatoes, beans and peas and packs of dried crackers, we’ve found the following items useful to have in supply: jars of olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes, olive oil, soy sauce, herbs, spices, mung beans, nuts, dried fruit and seeds.

Here’s a simple store cupboard bean salad to get us started. You’ll need a tin of beans, some sun-dried tomatoes, capers and olives. Add any fresh ingredients that you can get your hands on and dress with olive oil and vinegar or soy sauce.

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Voila – KCC’s store cupboard bean salad

With the staples listed above you can produce a healthy meal even if you have no way of cooking food as all the ingredients are ready to eat straight away (although the mung beans will of course need a few days to be sprouted into an edible form).

Zero Waste Tip: Don’t throw your spring onion roots away, instead use them to produce more leafy stems by following this tip from The Micro Gardener so you’ll have a ready-to-pick supply on your window sill to add to salads and soups:

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Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 250 g cooked white beans
  • 50 g capers
  • 10 black olives
  • 3 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes (pul biber)

Method

  • Drain and rinse the beans, if using canned ones, and put in a salad bowl. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes and olives into small chunks and then add to the beans with the capers. Dress the salad with olive oil and soy sauce and sprinkle with red chilli flakes. Serve with bread or crackers.