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.
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
1 cm cube of grated fresh ginger
Two teaspoons chilli flakes
25 ml olive oil
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.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be taking an armchair culinary tour to the Middle East and looking at the origins of the humble falafel. Arguments abound as to where this street snack par excellence originated, but most likely it was Egypt according to the evidence.
The Egyptian version of this tasty bite is usually made with fava beans, known as fūl in Arabic, which is thought to be the base for the name falafel , whilst in other parts of the Mediterranean region chickpeas are preferred.
With both chickpeas and fava beans in short supply in Almaty at the moment, it was back to the drawing board to look for an alternative base for our falafel. While stocking up during lockdown in our local shop we came across a pack of millet and a spot of googling revealed that this would work just fine as the base for our take on the falafel.
We baked them in the oven rather than deep-fried them as it’s a lot less hassle. Be sure to use plenty of parsley, cumin, coriander and chilli powder to spice up the millet. The resulting falafel were crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy in the centre, just as they should be.
Be careful when cooking millet as it has a tendency to stick to the pan if you don’t keep an eye on it and stir regularly. We found it best to rinse and soak it for a few hours before cooking as this reduces the time needed to cook it.
Ingredients (makes 12-16 falafel)
150 g millet
300 ml water or vegetable stock
one garlic clove
one bunch of parsley
one teaspoon cumin
one teaspoon coriander
one teaspoon chilli powder
Sesame seeds to coat the falafel
Rinse and then soak the millet in a pan for four hours. Drain the millet and cover with water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then 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, mince the garlic clove and add to the cooked millet. Add the spices – if you want to give your falafel more oomph, double the amount. Mix well and then form into balls. Roll the balls in the sesame seeds and then place on a tray and oven bake for 20 minutes at 200 c, or until the falafel turn a golden-brown colour.
Serve in pita bread with salad and sauces of your choice or as part of a salad – we made one from cucumber, tomato, spring onion, celery, red cabbage and radish. These falafel will keep in the fridge for a few days so you can cook a large batch at the same time.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
25 ml pomegranate sauce
Few sprigs of parsley
One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon sumac
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.
With movement getting ever more restricted in the lockdown — we’re now limited to not going more than 500 m from our flat in Almaty, which rules out big supermarkets for shopping trips, maintaining a supply of fresh ingredients is becoming more tricky – so this is the time when beansprouts come into their own…
So, this time round we’ll be looking at some things you can do in the home, such as sprouting beans and lentils, to add a fresh, nutritious kick to your salads and stir-fries. We’ve gone for mung beans which are easy to sprout – your first crop will be ready in a matter of days and all you need is a glass jar and some mesh netting (we re-purposed a yoga mat bag by recycling the nylon mesh for our sprouter).
Here are the steps for germinating mung beans:
Select clean, undamaged mung beans and wash them thoroughly.
Sterilise your glass jar and mesh lid with boiling water and/or in a hot oven.
Fill the jar about a quarter of the way with washed beans.
Soak the beans in cold water in the jar for at least four hours.
Drain off all the water and put the jar in a cool, dark cupboard.
Rinse the mung beans a few times a day with cold water and drain the liquid off.
After two or three days, your first crop will be ready for eating.
When the sprouts are around 2-3 cm long, put them in the fridge until using.
Warning: Raw bean sprouts can lead to food poisoning if not prepared in sterile conditions and regularly washed with clean water.
If the sprouts look slimy or smell strange, throw them away.
Once sprouted, store the sprouts in the fridge and try to use them as quickly as possible.
And don’t forget to wash your hands frequently, especially when preparing food.
In the dog days of summer, a persistent tap-tapping sound can be heard resounding around the Datca Peninsula. Look for people huddled over piles of green shells to find the source of the tapping. This summer’s almond crop is in and the best way to get to the badass nuts is by hammering the shell open – labourious but ultimately worthwhile work!
The almond, badem in Turkish, is an important crop on the peninsula – check out this post from a few years ago on the many uses for almonds. We got hold of some of this year’s crop and combined them with some grilled peaches and halloumi cheese to make a super-tasty summer salad.
We got the idea for the grilled peaches from a salad we had in Kaş, Turkey. We grilled the peach and halloumi slices on the barbecue until they took on the required charred appearance. The combination of the sweetness of the peach with the saltiness of the cheese is a winning one.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
250 g halloumi
One large peach
One large tomato
One bunch of rocket leaves
Two green peppers
Four spring onions
One teaspoon capers
One teaspoon dried thyme
Cut the peach into eight slices and grill until just starting to char. Cut the halloumi cheese into eight pieces and grill until it goes a golden-brown colour.
Roughly chop the rocket leaves and slice the cucumber and green peppers and mix together with the capers. Dress with the thyme, olive oil and pomegranate sauce.
Slice the tomato into wedges and arrange with the peach and halloumi slices on top of the green salad. Just before serving, place an almond on top of each halloumi slice and put four in the middle.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re looking at some ways to beat the heatwave with a noodle-based salad that can be whipped up with the minimum of fuss.
Funchoza is a popular salad across Central Asia that combines glass noodles, which can be produced from various forms of starch such as rice or mung bean, with julienned raw vegetables and a spicy dressing. The noodles just need to be cooked in boiling water for a few minutes so it’s a cinch to prepare on a hot summer’s day.
These noodles are a staple of Uighur cuisine, but have been adopted by the Central Asia’s Korean community who have made funchoza famous to a wider audience across the former Soviet Union and beyond.
The Uighurs are Turkic-speaking muslims living mainly in Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China, where they face increasing persecution by the Chinese authorities, under the pretext of a crackdown on terrorism.
To this end, thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Chinese muslims have been interred in ‘re-education’ camps and, as the Guardian put it in a recent editorial, “Those who are nominally free in fact exist in a digital gulag of constant surveillance.”
Earlier this month, 22 states – including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and Japan – signed a letter to UN human rights officials in condemnation of China’s treatment of Uighur and other minorities there.
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
150 g dried glass noodles
10 g dried seaweed
2 small cucumbers
8 spring onions
2 red peppers
For the dressing:
4 teaspoons tahini
2 tablespoons apple vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons pomegranate sauce (Nar Eksisi)
2 teaspoons chilli powder
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the noodles in the water according to the pack instructions. Remove and put in a pan of cold water until needed.
Soak the dried seaweed in cold water for 15 minutes, drain the water. While the seaweed is soaking, cut the spring onions into 1 cm slices, remove the seeds for the cucumber and then julienne along with the other vegetables into long, thin slices (use a grater or chop finely if you don’t have a julienne peeler). Chop the seaweed into 5 cm strips.
Remove the noodles from the cold water and cut into 10 cm strips and put in a large bowl. Add the julienned vegetables and mix all the ingredients together. Put all the dressing ingredients into a glass jar with a screw top and shake well, then pour over the salad and mix well. Grind some coriander seeds over the salad.
Serve cold – let the flavours mingle by keeping the salad in the fridge for a couple of hours.
While shopping at Datça market recently, this spectacular-looking, knobbly, bright orange fruit grabbed our attention.
Subsequent googling revealed it to be a bitter melon, or bitter gourd, kudret narı in Turkish. Despute being popular in pan-Asian cooking, we couldn’t find too many Turkish recipes using bitter melon so we decided to mix it in with menemen, that breakfast fave in Turkey.
You’ll probably be able to track down bitter melons in your local Asian grocer’s. When picked they are yellow-green, resembling a bumpy cucumber, and when ripe they turn orange. Cooking helps remove some of the bitter taste of this curious-looking member of the squash family. Inside are bright red coloured seeds that can be removed and eaten.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
100 g bitter melon
60 g green peppers
2 spring onions
1 medium-sized tomato
1 teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano, black pepper and red chilli flakes
A dash of soy sauce
25 ml olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and when hot add the chopped spring onion. Cook for two minutes over a medium heat and then add the peppers and seeded bitter melon, cut into 1-2 mm strips.
Cook for another two minutes and then add the chopped tomato, herbs and spices and a dash of soy sauce. Fry for 5 minutes and then reduce the heat and break the eggs into the mix. Keep stirring until you achieve the desired consistency of scrambled egg to your taste.
“Waste not, want not” was a familiar refrain at mealtimes when I was growing up. My parents had grown up with the rationing of World War II, and the lean years after it, and they were instilled with a mentality that saw nothing going to waste.
Here at Knidos Cookery Club, we’re big fans of this philosophy as an antidote to our throwaway culture. We couldn’t resist this beetroot on sale with it stem and leaves in place – bits that are more usually removed and discarded before the root hits the supermarket shelves.
The stems and leaves contain loads of nutrients and taste delicious when simply sautéed with a spring onion, a clove of garlic and a dash of soy sauce and lemon juice to make a great side dish.
Having been brought up to believe that beetroot was something that came pickled in jars and ready sliced, it was a revelation when I first came across the leaves and stems cooked in a similar way in Greece many years ago.
Heat the olive oil in a wok or large frying pan over a medium heat and add the sliced spring onion and chopped garlic. Cut the stems from the beetroot (reserve the root for another dish). Separate the leaves from the stems.
Cut the stems into 2 cm slices and add to the onion and garlic and stir fry for five minutes. Shred the beetroot leaves and add to the pan, stirring constantly. Cook for two minutes, or until the leaves begin to wilt. Add a dash of soy sauce, stir and serve straight away, pouring the lemon juice over the beetroot sauté.
To celebrate this spring equinox festival, we’ll be serving up kok samsa, deep-fried pies filled with a selection of spring greens.
Originating in Persia some 3,000 years ago, Nowruz, or New Day, is a celebration of the end of winter and the start of a new year on the date when day and night are equal in the Northern Hemisphere. This date usually falls on or around 21 March.
The holiday is still widely celebrated in Iran and Iraq, across Central Asia, Russia, Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, in eastern Turkey and in parts of Syria, India, Pakistan and China. Food plays an important role in these celebrations – in Iran the table is set with seven items, as explained in this article from Iran Wire:
A few weeks before Nowruz, Iranians begin setting up their haft sin, or “seven Ss,” a ceremonial display of symbolic items whose names begin with the Persian letter “sin” or “s.” They include “sabzeh,” or green sprouts grown from lentils, which symbolize rebirth; “samanu,” a sweet pudding that represents affluence, “senjed,” or dried wild olives, which symbolize love; “seer,” or garlic, which symbolizes medicine; “seeb,” an apple, which represents health; “somaq” or sumac fruit, which symbolizes the color of sunrise, and “serkeh,” or vinegar, which symbolises maturity.
We’ve developed our own take on the kok samsa using the Iranian magic number of seven ingredients: parsley, spinach, coriander, celeriac leaves, spring onion, garlic and mint. As fully signed-up members of Dillwatch, we omitted that scurrilous weed, dill, from this recipe.
Ingredients (makes 8-10 pies)
For the Pastry
300 g plain flour
75 ml olive oil
Pinch of salt
Up to 75 ml cold water
Two – three teaspoons of sesame seeds
2. For the Filling
150 g spring onions
2 garlic cloves
50 g fresh coriander
50 g fresh parsley
150 g spinach
25 g the leafy bits from the top of a celeriac
15 g fresh mint
Two teaspoons of cumin seeds
25 ml olive oil
3. For Deep Frying
1 litre sunflower oil (for deep frying)
1.For the Pastry
Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt. Pour in the olive oil and stir with a fork. The mixture should form into small clumps of flour and oil. Pour some of the cold water and continue mixing. Continue adding water until the mixture forms into a large ball shape. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
2. For the Filling
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the chopped spring onions and minced garlic. Fry for five minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the coriander and parsley and cumin and fry for two to three minutes. Add the torn up spinach leaves, chopped celeriac leaves and mint and continue cooking until the spinach has wilted, about 10 more minutes or so, stirring every now and then.
3. For Deep Frying
Heat the sunflower oil in a heavy-based pan. For deep frying you need to get the oil to around 180 c – to check the temperature use this tip from Delishably:
When the oil has preheated, dip the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick into the oil. If the oil starts steadily bubbling, then the oil is hot enough for frying. If the oil bubbles very very vigorously, then the oil is too hot and needs to cool off a touch. If no or very few bubbles pop up, then it’s not hot enough.
While the oil is heating, prepare the pies. Form the pastry into 8-10 walnut-sized balls. Put the pastry ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a 1 mm thick circle. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and turn the circle over.
Place three teaspoons of filling on half of the pastry round and then close the other half over the top of the filling. Use a fork to mould the edges of the pie together. Prick the pie’s top to allow air to escape.
Place two or three pies at a time in the hot oil and fry for around 8 minutes or until the pie is golden brown in colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll. Serve the kok samsa either hot or cold.