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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Putting on the Piyaz: Turkey’s Versatile White Bean Salad

2 August 2019

Knidos Cookery Club has just arrived back at its home base on the Datça Peninsula in Turkey. We’re going to soak up some more culinary inspiration from the place where the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas meet around the ancient Greek settlement of Knidos.

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Piyaz – Turkish White Bean salad

To celebrate being back in Turkey, we’ve prepared a piyaz salad, one of the favourite dishes of Turkish cooking, that combines small white beans with some readily available staples of the local kitchen; namely tomatoes, onions, green peppers, parsley and lemons.

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Turkey’s çarliston peppers aka banana peppers

The secret of this dish is in getting the beans just right – not too mushy but not too firm either. They need a good, long overnight soak and some slow cooking to achieve the required consistency.

The dressing used varies across Turkey from the basic lemon, olive oil and apple vinegar one favoured in Istanbul to the tahini-infused one from Antalya, paying tribute to the Arabian influence from the Middle East on the city’s cuisine. We have opted for the creamy, nutty taste of the latter.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 200 g dried haricot beans or other small white beans soaked overnight
  • 1 medium-sized plum tomato
  • 1 long, green pepper (e.g. çarliston pepper – see photo above)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 lemons
  • Small bunch of parsley
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 50 ml apple vinegar
  • 25 ml tahini
  • 2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • Optional: Two boiled eggs or one avocado

Method

  • Cook the beans over a low heat until tender but not starting to go mushy. When cooked, drain off the cooking water, reserving 100 ml to make the dressing. Pour the vinegar and sprinkle the thyme over the beans and leave to cool.
  • After leaving for a few hours, add the vinegar the beans were soaking in to the reserved bean juice and then blend with the olive oil, tahini and the juice of one lemon to make a smooth sauce.
  • Finely dice the tomato, slice the pepper and onions into rings and chop the parsley finely. Add these to the beans.
  • Cover the salad and put it in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with wedges of the second lemon and sprinkle the red chilli flakes over the salad.
  • Just before serving, pour the dressing over the bean salad and season with black pepper and gently mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon.
  • You can garnish with quarters of boiled egg if you wish or, for a vegan twist, you can garnish the salad with slices of avocado.

Vine Leaves Stuffed to Perfection

16 August 2018

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re stuffing again to make one of favourite summertime snacks – dolma (stuffed vine leaves).

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These stuffed vine leaves are great as part of a barbecue spread or to add some rice oomph to a selection of dips and mezes.

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Ready to roll…

Rolling the leaves can be a bit fiddly at first, but you’ll soon find yourself getting into the rhythm. it’s best to make a big batch of these little stuffed marvels so you’ve got some ready-made snacks giving your more time at the beach.

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Layer the cylinders tightly in the pan

If you have any vine leaves left over, then hang on to them as we’ll be featuring another vine leaf recipe next time round on KCC.

Ingredients (makes 48 dolmas)

One onion

200 g long grain rice

50 ml olive oil

750 ml water

One lemon (zested and juiced)

50 g chopped almonds

two teaspoons dried thyme

one teaspoon cinnamon

one teaspoon cumin

10 g fresh mint

Pack of preserved vine leaves (or fresh leaves if you can get them)

Method

Fry the finely chopped onion in 25 ml of oil for five minute over a medium heat. While this is cooking, wash the rice until the water runs clear. Now soak the vine leaves for 30 minutes and then rinse well to remove any taste of brine or other preserving agents.

Add the thyme, cinnamon and cumin to the onion and stir. Now add the rice, mixing well to coat the grains. Cover with 375 ml of water and cook until the water is absorbed. The rice does not need to be fully cooked at this stage. When ready, add the chopped almonds, lemon zest and mint and mix well.

Now it’s time to stuff. Take a vine leaf, cut off the stalk and place a teaspoonful of rice mix on the leaf (see picture above). Tuck in the sides of the leaf and roll into a tight cylinder.

Put a layer of unstuffed vine leaves on the bottom of the pan to stop the stuffed ones sticking to the bottom. Layer the dolmas tightly in a heavy-based pan, putting another layer on top if you run out of space. Pour 25 ml of olive oil, the juice of the lemon and 375 ml of water over the vine leaf parcels.

Put a plate on top of the vine leaves and then put the lid on the pan and cook over a low heat for 45 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Allow to cool before serving. If left in the fridge for a few hours, the stiffed vine leaves will firm up nicely.

Mezemania: Funky Lentil Pâté

26 July 2018

In our ongoing series on mezeler, or starters, we’ve come up with a funky little lentil spread to add to the collection.

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Funky Lentil Pâté

In the past on Knidos Cookery Club we’ve featured the following mezes: two types of fava (Turkish and Greek),  these little numbers (smoky aubergine dip, Psimeni Raki and feta dip and tsatsiki) inspired by the Greek island of Amorgos, fiery red pepper-fuelled muhammara and acili ezme and a creamy almond and courgette dip as part of our esteemed meze collection.

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Amorgoan Delight: smoky aubergine dip, Psimeni Raki and feta dip and tsatsiki

You can serve this simple to prepare red Lentil Pâté alongside these other dishes for a great spread of mezeler for a light feast that’s perfect for sharing with friends  on a balmy summer’s night.

Ingredients (makes around 200g)

125 g red lentils

One bayleaf

300 ml cold water

Two tablespoons fine bulgur wheat

4 or 5 spring onions

10 g fresh parsley

25 ml olive oil

One teaspoon mustard seeds

One teaspoon cumin seeds

Two teaspoons paprika

One teaspoon ground coriander seeds

One teaspoon black pepper

Half a teaspoon turmeric

Method

Clean the lentils in cold water and then put them in a pan with the bayleaf. Pour 300 ml of water over the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are beginning to go mushy and most of the water has been absorbed.

Remove the bayleaf and add the fine bulgur wheat to the lentils and mix well. Leave covered for 30 minutes. heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Fry for a few minutes and then add the paprika, coriander, black pepper and turmeric, cook for a minute stirring constantly and then add the finely chopped spring onion and parsley and cook for five more minutes over a medium heat.

Stir this into the lentil and bulgur mix and leave to stand for a few hours in the fridge. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and serve with crusty bread.

One Pot Wonder: A Trip to Knidos

23 November 2017

Knidos Cookery Club recently entertained Professor Fox, that doyen of the Christchurch Antiquarians, who came over to Turkey to check out the ruins of Knidos and some archaeological sites in the Datça area such as Burgaz (Old Knidos).

Here’s a slideshow of our visit to Knidos:

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After the trip we needed something quick and filling so this time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be cooking pasta in a tasty sauce using only one pan.

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KCC’s one pot wonder in progress

This one pot wonder saves time, energy and washing up, both important  considerations in the world of KCC after a busy day on the archaeological trail.

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KCC’s one pot wonder – the finished product

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

Three medium-sized tomatoes (approx 150 g)

50 g olives (any you have handy will do, we used some green ones)

150 g cooked chick peas

200 g pasta (penne, fusilli or spaghetti works well)

500 ml hot water

15 g capers

One garlic clove

25 ml olive oil

One teaspoon dried thyme

One teaspoon sumac

One teaspoon chilli flakes

Method 

Chop the tomatoes into quarters and add to a large, heavy-based pan with the olives, chick peas, minced garlic, olive oil, thyme, sumac and chilli flakes. Pour the water over the top, add the pasta, stir and bring to a boil.

Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the pack over a medium to high heat – you need to keep it bubbling away and stir occasionally. Keep cooking until the most of the liquid is boiled off, leaving the cooked pasta in the sauce.

The type of pasta we used took around 15 minutes to cook – try it as you go to get the type of taste you prefer. Don’t forget to stir in the washed capers to the pasta and sauce when it is cooked.

Serve straight from the pan and garnish, if you want, with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese.