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.

Can the 3 Cs, Carrot, Coconut and Coriander, help combat Coronavirus?

12 March 2020

With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic showing no sign of abating, we’ve come up with a soup that is full of nutritious ingredients that can boost your immune system. A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is recommended to help strength your body’s ability to fight off infection.

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KCC’s 3 Cs soup – Carrot, Coconut and Coriander

While our 3 Cs soup may not offer you guaranteed protection from coronavirus, it can certainly enhance your health. Its combination of anti-oxidant-packed carrots, garlic and onions, fibre-rich coconut and coriander and the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric and ginger, should leave you feeling bolstered up and ready to face the crisis with renewed vigour.

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KCC’s homemade coconut milk

Zero Waste Tip: Coconut milk is easy to make at home – you don’t need to buy it in tins. Take 50 g of dried (desiccated) coconut  and cover with 200 ml of hot water. Leave to stand for an hour or so. Liquidise with a hand blender or in a liquidiser on a low setting.

Pour the resulting mix through a fine sieve, pressing the coconut to produce more liquid – you should end up with about 200 ml of milk. Use the leftover coconut mass in soups, burgers, dhals, cakes, or smoothies. The coconut milk will keep for three to four days in the fridge – shake well before use as the cream will settle on the top.

Ingredients (for 4 servings)

  • 500 g carrots
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • 50 g dried coconut
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cm knob of ginger
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • Fresh coriander to garnish

Method

  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and then add chopped onion, garlic ginger, turmeric and ground coriander seeds. Stir and cook for five minutes over a medium heat and then add the finely grated carrots. Reduce the heat and cook for 5 more minute, stirring frequently.
  • Stir in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Now add the dried coconut and the rest of the stock. Allow the soup to simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes and then blend to a smooth consistency in a liquidiser or with a hand blender. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves before serving.
  • Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food.

 

Red Bean Hotpot

6 February 2020

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club, we’re turning our attention to a winter classic from the UK – the Lancashire Hotpot. Our spiced up, veggie-friendly version replaces the meat traditionally used with red beans and red lentils and is topped off with sliced potatoes, helping to retain the hearty, comforting hit of the original.

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This casserole originated in the north-west of England as a dish that could be left  cooking slowly in the oven over a low heat while families worked from home spinning thread.

The term hotpot is thought to derive from the mixture of ingredients used, although it’s also claimed to be named after the clay pot originally used to cook the dish.  It’s not to be confused with the Chinese Hotpot that uses a steaming pot of stock placed in the centre of the table to cook ingredients.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 125 g red lentils
  • 250 g cooked red beans
  • 3 medium potatoes
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 600 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon each of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes, turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a casserole dish or an ovenproof pan. Fry the onions, garlic, ginger and spices all together for five minutes or so over a medium heat. Add the diced carrot and celery and cook for five more minutes. Add the lentils and 300 ml of stock and cook over a low heat until the water is absorbed and the lentils are cooked but not mushy.
  • While this is cooking, boil the potatoes (cut into 1/2 cm thick slices) for 10 minutes, pour off the water and cover with cold water. Add the cooked beans and the rest of the stock to the lentils and stir well. Place the potato slices in layers over the top of the stew and pour some olive oil over them.
  • Put the casserole dish or pan into an oven heated to  200 c and cook for 30 minutes at this temperature until the potato slices are starting to go a golden brown colour. Serve immediately in individual bowls with a hunk of bread.

The Golden Soup of Samarkand

23 January 2020

This week’s offering – a soup made from chickpeas and carrots, was inspired by a recent visit to a funky Central Asian restaurant called Saksaul in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. This soup appeared on the menu, but unfortunately there wasn’t any left that day. Spotting yellow carrots on sale in the market after returning home, we decided to cook up our own version.

KCC’s Golden Soup of Samarkand featuring yellow carrots and chickpeas

Our soup contains two ingredients that are common in the cookery of Samarkand in Uzbekistan – chickpeas and yellow carrots. Not all carrots are orange in Central Asia, you can even find black ones on occasion, but we find these yellow ones particularly sweet and tasty.

Yellow (and a bit green!) carrots on sale in Kazakhstan

This famed Silk Road city of Samarkand provided further inspiration for our golden potage with spices such as cumin, coriander and turmeric that are still bought and sold along this ancient trade route.

Ingredients (makes 4 portions)

  • 500 g yellow carrots
  • 500 g chickpeas
  • Two yellow onions
  • Two garlic cloves
  • Two teaspoons mustard seeds
  • Two teaspoons chilli powder
  • Two teaspoons cumin seeds
  • Two teaspoons coriander seeds
  • Two teaspoons turmeric
  • 50 ml vegetable oil
  • One litre vegetable stock

Method

  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the chopped onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the other spices and mix well.
  • Next add the diced carrot and stir to coat the carrot with the mix. Cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and stir well, then add the stock and reduce to a low heat and simmer the soup for 30 minutes or so.
  • Using a stick blender, liquidise the soup. Pour into bowls and garnish with chickpeas and a sprinkling of cumin seeds. Serve with bread – we used a flatbread but any crusty bread will work just as well.

Pump up the Dhal

20 February 2020

On these chilly, wintry nights there’s nothing better than a bowl of dhal, the Indian subcontinent’s beloved lentil-based comfort food, to warm you up. We’ve added some chunks of roasted pumpkin that blend perfectly with the red lentils, whilst adding a hint of sweetness to the rich, spicy blend.

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KCC’s pumpkin enriched red lentil dhal

In Sri Lanka, where Knidos Cookery Club has just been on a foodie fact-finding mission, dhal (also spelt dal or daal) is a mainstay of the island’s signature curry and rice dish. It’s served any time of the day – it was particularly good served with string hoppers, little nests of steamed rice noodles, and coconut sambol (grated coconut with chillies and lime juice) – a popular breakfast on the island.

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Breakfast Sri Lankan style – string hoppers with coconut sambol and red lentil dhal in the background

Dhal can be a meal on its own when served with rice or flatbreads, or try it alongside a selection of your favourite vegetable curries. It’s a dish that tastes even better the next day when the spices have been left over night, allowing the different flavours to mix and mingle.

Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings)

  • 125 g red lentils
  • 200 g roasted pumpkin
  • 250 ml water or vegetable stock
  • 50 ml coconut milk
  • 200 g tomatoes
  • One medium onion
  • One teaspoon each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves and chilli flakes
  • Two teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 cm knob of ginger
  • One garlic clove
  • One cinnamon stick
  • One star anise
  • One bunch fresh coriander
  • 50 ml olive oil

Method

  • Roast the chunks of pumpkin in a hot oven at 200 c for 20 minutes. While the pumpkin is cooking, heat the oil in a heavy based pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, turn the heat down and add the chopped onions, ginger and garlic and the other spices and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat.
  • Wash the lentils until the water runs clear and then add them to the onion mix with the vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes, stir and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Add the pumpkin chunks and coconut milk. Cook over a low heat until it starts to bubble. When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick and star anise. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve with rice and/or a flat bread such as chapati or pita.

KCC’s Buckwheat Cottage Pie

31 October 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re using buckwheat, a cereal (or rather a pseudocereal) that has thus far been neglected on our site.  Buckwheat’s name is misleading as it’s not really wheat, but rather a plant that is more closely related to sorrel, knotweed and rhubarb, which makes it suitable for those of you on a gluten-free diet.

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KCC’s Buckwheat Cottage Pie

Buckwheat, or grechka, is wildly popular across the countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe – you can find whole aisles in supermarkets dedicated to it. The groats are used to make porridge and the flour to make pancakes. In Japan, the flour is  used to make soba noodles.

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Row upon row of buckwheat groats in a supermarket in Almaty, Kazakhstan

We’ve taken that classic British comfort food, Cottage Pie, and replaced the meat with a mix of the nutty-tasting buckwheat and vegetables all topped with a thick slab of mashed potato – perfect fodder for the colder autumn and winter evenings and ready to eat in around an hour.

Cottage pie and two veg

Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

  • 150 g buckwheat groats
  • One carrot
  • One medium-sized onion
  • One green pepper
  • Three medium-sized tomatoes
  • Three medium-sized potatoes
  • Six small dried mushrooms
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • One teaspoon sumac
  • One teaspoon chilli flakes
  • Two teaspoons dried thyme
  • One bay leaf

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the minced onion. Cook for five minutes over a medium heat and then add the diced carrot and green pepper and cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sumac, chilli flakes and thyme and the chopped tomatoes and diced mushrooms.
  • Reduce the heat and cook for another 10 minutes then add the buckwheat and stir well. Pour the stock over the mixture, add the bay leaf and simmer for 20 minutes or so or until the moisture has been absorbed. While this is bubbling away, cook the potatoes, drain and then mash them.
  • Put the buckwheat mixture in the bottom half of a baking dish and then cover the mix with a layer of mashed potato. Run a fork across the top of the potato to get a ridged finish and than bake at 180 c for 30 minutes. Serve hot with roasted or  steamed, seasonal vegetables such as  cauliflower and pumpkin.

 

 

Chickpea and Courgette au Gratin – Autumn Comfort Food

27 September 2018

This week we’ll be cooking something for the chillier autumnal evenings, a tasty bake that combines chickpeas, tomatoes and courgettes with a breadcrumb topping.

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Chickpea and Courgette au Gratin

The autumn months are always a busy time in the KCC kitchen with not much time for shopping so we dug deep into the kitchen cupboard and found some dried chickpeas and then located a bag of breadcrumbs in the freezer. After some googling, we came up with a recipe for this gratin.

If you’re using dried chickpeas, then we suggest soaking overnight in cold water and then simmering for an hour or so in fresh water until they are beginning to soften. You can even try this method that was featured in the Guardian recently, which soaks the chickpeas for 48 hours to make them ultra soft.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • 75 ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • One medium-sized onion
  • 250 g tomatoes
  • 250 g chickpeas (cooked)
  • 100 ml chickpea cooking liquid (or vegetable stock)
  • 200 g courgettes

For the topping:

  • 125 g breadcrumbs
  • 15 g parsley
  • 2 teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • Black pepper

Method

  1. Heat 25ml of olive oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and finely chopped onion. Fry for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the peeled, chopped tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes and then add the chickpeas and stock and simmer over a low heat for 10 more minutes.
  2. While this is cooking, heat another 25ml of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the courgette (cut it into 0.5 cm rounds) over a medium heat, turn the courgette rounds over after five minutes so both sides are charred.
  3. Pour the chickpea and tomato mix into a greased oven dish, cover this with fried courgettes. Mix the breadcrumbs, the remaining oil and the herbs and spices together well and then cover the bake with this mixture.
  4. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 c for 30 minutes or so, until the mix is bubbling and the topping has gone a nice golden brown. Serve with a green salad and boiled or fried potatoes

 

Punked-Up Vichyssoise

14 June 2018

With football’s World Cup kicking off in Russia today, this time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ve decided to take on that classic French soup – Vichyssoise, as we have a sneaking suspicion that after 20 years this could be France’s year to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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The usual flavouring of this soup can be a bit bland to our Asian influenced taste buds, so we’ve spiked it with some chilli powder and mustard seeds to give it a bit of oomph. We’ve called this punked-up creamy combo of leek and potato, that can be eaten hot or cold, Sid Vichyssoise, excuse the pun, after the late, great Sex Pistols bassist.

As we said, this soup can be served hot or cold, making it perfect for the long, balmy nights of mid-June when chilled or as hearty winter fare when served hot in colder times. Just make sure you clean those leeks properly. as you don’t want any grit in the end product.

Ingredients (for 4 servings)

  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 200 g leeks
  • 200 g baby carrots
  • 200 g new potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • 300 ml vegetable stock
  • Dash of soy sauce

Method

  • Heat the olive oil and mustard seeds in a heavy-based pan until the seeds begin to pop. Next, add the leeks, sliced into 1 cm rounds, the cumin seeds, black pepper and red chilli flakes and cook for five minutes. Then add the finely diced carrots and potatoes and cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Now add the stock and the soy sauce, stir well and let it simmer over a low heat until the potatoes are beginning to fall apart. Remove from the heat and blend with an electric hand whisk to create a smooth, creamy soup and then leave to chill in the fridge before serving with another sprinkling of red chilli flakes.