Bringing the Apples Home to Almaty

9 September 2021

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.

Almaty apple, caper, courgette and rocket salad

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

Method

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.

 

Move Over Risotto, Here Comes Broccoli Orzotto!

23 September 2021

This time round on KCC we’re cooking up orzotto – the barley-based cousin of risotto. The name is taken from orzo, the Italian for barley with the ‘otto’ coming from the rice-fuelled risotto. There’s also a rice-shaped pasta called orzo, but for this recipe you’ll need pearl barley, not the pasta.

Broccoli Orzotto

Barley, a hardy crop that can be grown in challenging environments, was one of the first cereal crops to be cultivated around 10,000 years ago in the grasslands where Asia and Europe meet – modern day Central Asia, from where it spread into neighbouring areas and became a staple part of the diet.

Pearl barley is a grain that has been processed to remove the hull and some of the bran – this makes it easier to cook. It cooks in roughly the same time as rice, especially if you soak it for a few hours beforehand – you can kill two birds with one stone with our recipe for lemon barley water which can be drunk on its own or in cocktails.

We made our orzotto with broccoli and celery but you can substitute any vegetables you have to hand – mushrooms work well in this recipe, as do courgettes.

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

  • 200 g pearl barley
  • 300 g broccoli
  • One medium-sized onion
  • One stick of celery
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • Two teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • 125 ml dry white wine

Method

  • Soak the barley for a few hours in cold water – this will make it cook more quickly. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan on a low heat.  Add the cumin seeds and when they begin to pop add the diced onion and celery and cook for five minutes. Break the broccoli into small florets and finely chop the stem and then add to the pan. Cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the soaked barley and stir well to coat the individual grains. Pour on the white wine and stir occasionally. When the wine has been absorbed, add 125 ml of vegetable stock and when that is absorbed keep adding liquid until the barley is tender – you might not need to use all the stock. It will take about 30 minutes to cook the orzotto. Serve immediately with a green salad.

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.