The Life of Briam

21 May 2020

There were signs this week of life slowly beginning to return to some sort of normal.  Cafes and terraces are set to open once again in Almaty from next week and the streets are busier. We’re not planning on changing too much at the moment and, in the meantime, we’re content to continue our armchair culinary travels.

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Half-way there – assembling the briam…

Greece has been in the headlines this week with the news that its beaches are reopening and it’s preparing to open its borders to tourists next month. This news brought back memories of holidays in the Greek islands and the great food in the tavernas. One of our favourite dishes is briam (pronounced bree-AM) – a delicious stew of oven-roasted seasonal vegetables.

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Briam – good enough to eat

As usual, we’ve taken a few liberties with the recipe, omitting aubergines (usually a key ingredient) as they are not quite in season in Almaty yet, so foodie purists please look away. We’ve added carrot and spinach to the usual potatoes and courgettes and then cooked it slowly in a tomato sauce. We’ve also topped it with some breadcrumbs to enclose our briam.

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The name briam has an interesting history – it is a borrowed word – there is no letter ‘b’ in the Greek alphabet, instead this sound is represented by combining the letters ‘μ’ (m) and ‘π’ (p) – ‘μπ’. Many Greeks call this casserole tourlou tourlou (all mixed-up), so briam could have come from Greeks who lived in Anatolia until the mass population exchanges in the early 20th century.

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Briam and salad

 

In the Ottoman era, there was a word biryan, spelt büryan in modern Turkish, which refers to a side of lamb cooked slowly over charcoal in a pit in the ground – a speciality of Siirt in the Kurdish area on the borders with Iraq and Syria. This in turn could come from Persian, where biryan means roasted (notice the similarity with India’s biriyani). Whatever the name’s origin, it tastes great!

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the bake:

  • Two courgettes (approx 300 g)
  • Four potatoes (approx 300 g)
  • One carrot (approx 100 g)
  • 200 g spinach
  • 75 g breadcrumbs

For the tomato sauce:

  • One red onion
  • 250 g tomatoes
  • One bunch of parsley
  • 20 capers
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 250 ml vegetable stock or water

Method

  1. Make the tomato sauce first. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop add the chopped onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. After five minutes reduce the heat and add the chopped tomatoes. Stir and simmer for ten minutes then add the stock, chopped parsley and capers. Cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
  2. Cook the spinach for a few minutes until it is beginning to wilt and then set aside. Cut the potato, courgette and carrot into 1 mm slices and put a layer of potatoes, then courgettes and then carrots into a greased baking dish. Add the spinach and pour half the tomato sauce over the vegetables. Add another layer of potatoes and courgettes and then pour the remainder of the tomato sauce over the layers. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top.
  3. Cover with tin foil and bake in an oven at 180 c for around 1.5 hours. After an hour, remove the foil and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the breadcrumbs go start to go a golden brown colour. Keep an eye on it to make sure the breadcrumbs aren’t burning. Serve immediately with a fresh salad – it’s also great when it’s cooled down a bit.

 

 

 

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.

The Turk-Mex Chronicles: A Crazy Cactus Salad

5 September 2019

This week we’re cooking up a cactus salad with the main ingredient foraged from some wild prickly pear bushes in Turkey. In an earlier post we reported on some of the similarities between Turkish and Mexican cooking – they both love hot chilli peppers in their food, there’s plenty of beans used, fresh white cheese is a key ingredient and wrapping food in flat bread is popular.

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A prickly pear cactus growing wild in Datça, Turkey

A key area of difference is the use of cacti, a staple of Mexican cuisine. In Mexico the prickly pear paddles, known as nopales or napolitoes (from the Spanish for cactus), are used in a variety of dishes. They can be found in salads, as a taco or tortilla filling, simply grilled or scrambled up with eggs. They have a crunchy taste similar to green beans.

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Kaktuslu acili ezme

Whilst the prickly pear cactus grows all over southern Turkey, only the fruit – the prickly pears, are usually eaten and sometimes used in cocktails! We’re about to change all that with the first of one of our irregular ventures into the world of Turk-Mex cuisine…

How to deal with a thorny problem…

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We harvested a few cactus paddles from a secret location in Datça, Turkey. After harvesting, we put on our marigolds and removed the thorns with a sharp knife, sliced the pads up and then boiled them. Next we mixed then in with a spicy tomato sauce, aka acili ezme, to create this Crazy Cactus Salad.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

Four prickly pear cactus paddles (roughly hand-sized)

For the sauce:

  • One medium-sized onion
  • Three medium-sized plum tomatoes
  • One medium-sized green pepper
  • One garlic clove
  • One teaspoon capers
  • One bunch of parsley
  • One teaspoon dried mint
  • Three teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • Two teaspoons sumac
  • One teaspoon flavoured vinegar (such as apple or fig)
  • Three teaspoons pomegranate sauce

Method

Remove all the thorns from the pads with a sharp knife. Slice into 1 cm strips and then cut into 2 cm pieces. Boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but still crunchy – cook them too long and they can go a bit slimy. Drain and rinse in cold water and then mix with the acili ezme salad (instructions below).

For the sauce:

  • Peel the tomatoes and de-seed (to peel: plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds then place in cold water – the skin should now come off easily). Chop the tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and parsley as finely as you can.
  • Put all the ingredients into a bowl, add the herbs and spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and mix well. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.

 

 

 

A Badass Peach and Halloumi Salad

23 August 2019

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!

A Nutcracker of Knidos beavering away in the summer haze in Turkey

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.

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A badass peach and halloumi 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)

  • 12 almonds
  • 250 g halloumi
  • One large peach
  • One large tomato
  • One bunch of rocket leaves
  • One cucumber
  • Two green peppers
  • Four spring onions
  • One teaspoon capers
  • One teaspoon dried thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Pomegranate sauce

Method

  • 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.

Heavenly Halloumi

13 September 2018

As promised a few weeks back on Knidos Cookery Club, here’s another use for those tasty vine leaves. While jetting down to KCC HQ in Datça recently, we spotted a Cypriot recipe in an airline magazine for halloumi cheese wrapped in vine leaves and we decided to adapt it by using some of the Datça Peninsula’s key ingredients:

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Yep, that’s almonds, olives, thyme, capers and lemon. We mixed all these up to make our 5-star Datça paste which we then used to coat slices of our favourite squeaky cheese. After applying the paste, wrap the cheese slices with the leaves and then bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so until they look like this:

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Ingredients (makes four servings)

200 g halloumi

12 vine leaves

75 g almonds

150 g olives

One lemon

two teaspoons dried thyme

25 g capers

Method

Soak and wash the vine leaves to remove any taste of brine, and then cut the stalk from the bottom of the leaf. You’ll need about three vine leaves for each slice of halloumi.

Now prepare the paste – stone the olives and place the bits of olive in a small dish. Soak the almonds in hot water for a minute or so and then put in cold water and peel off the skin. Break and add to the olives.

Add the capers and lemon juice and the thyme and use a hand blender to make a smooth paste. Cut the halloumi into four slices and smear each slice generously with the paste. Wrap the vine leaves around the cheese and then place in a baking dish or on a baking tray.

Bake in the oven at 180 c for thirty minutes or so and serve while hot with a seasonal salad and a selection of mezes.

 

Eating Albania

28 June 2018

Greetings from Albania, where, among other things, KCC has been on the trail of the byrek, the pie that fuels the Balkans.

From the capital Tirana to the resorts of the south via mountain strongholds such as Berat, we’ve tracked down some fine examples of this savoury pie. But more on this next time, as we haven’t yet had time to recreate this culinary delight at KCC H.Q.
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KCC’S Albanian feast
This time round we’ll have a look at some great salads that we’ve encountered on our travels. While in Tirana we visited a restaurant called Mullixhiu which cooks up some great dishes with organic Albanian ingredients.
At this time of year, the full array of fruit and vegetables are coming into season and we had a great salad made from thinly sliced courgettes and plums with a courgette flower sauce and another featuring beetroot, spinach and scattered fragments of dried filo pastry.
We’ve made a salad based on the first one that includes veggies and fruit: courgettes, pears, green peppers and capers served on a bed of lettuce to be precise.
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Waiting for a byrek to come along in Ksamil, Albania

With a spinach byrek sourced from one of the many byrektore shops in Ksamil a small resort on the Albanian Riviera, a tomato, pepper and onion salad, and some olives and white cheese, here’s our first Albanian feast.

Ingredients (serves 4)

One medium-sized courgette

One small pear

Two green peppers

One lettuce

Two juicy medium-sized tomatoes

One small red onion

A sprinkling of capers

Method

The key to the courgette salad is to make it just before eating – don’t let it sit around for too long. As for the tomato salad, make this one first and allow the flavours to mingle – the longer, the better.

Roughly chop the tomato and mix in a bowl with thin slices of red onion and green pepper. Set aside and let the flavours mix together while you make the courgette salad.

Shred the lettuce and line a serving bowl with it. Thinly slice the pepper and then the pear. Next slice the courgette as thinly as you can and then sprinkle the capers over the top. Add your preferred salad dressing and that’s it – you’re ready to go!

 

 

Piccata: a Zingy Sauce to Pique your Interest

31 May 2018

As the market stalls overflow with fresh spring produce, this time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ve selected some zingy greens to make a zesty, lemony piccata sauce to go with pasta and some other leafy greens.

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KCC’s Chick Pea Picatta on a bed of sorrel

The piccata sauce comes from Italy and is a lemon-fuelled accompaniment to a variety of dishes. The name derives form the Italian word for ‘annoyed’, piccato, and it is from the same root as the word used in English expressions such as ‘a fit of pique’ or ‘to pique your interest’.

We’ve used jusai, garlic chives, to add more flavour to the sauce, along with white wine, capers and lemon zest and juice to give it a picquant bite. Add some chick peas and serve on a mound of pasta placed on top of a bed of fresh sorrel leaves for a tangy treat.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

250 g cooked chick peas

25 ml olive oil

50 g garlic chives

2 tablespoons flour

100 ml white wine

500 ml vegetable stock

12 capers

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 teaspoon dried thyme

black pepper

250g dried pasta (we used spirals) cooked according to instructions on pack

Bunch of fresh sorrel

Method

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and then add the chopped garlic chives. Cook for five minutes and then add the flour and stir well. Pour in the wine and mix to a paste and then slowly add the stock, stirring all the while.

Simmer over a low heat until the sauce starts to thicken, then add the chick peas, capers and thyme and cook for three minutes. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta. Grind a generous amount of black pepper into the sauce along with the lemon juice and zest.

Tear up the sorrel leaves and scatter over a plate. Place a pile of pasta in the middle of the plate on the leaves, and then pour the piccata sauce over the pasta and serve immediately.