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.
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.
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
Two juicy medium-sized tomatoes
One small red onion
A sprinkling of capers
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!
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club, we’ll be cooking with jusai, one of the few leafy greens to make it past the strict controls of Kazakhstan’s carnivore police.
The fare in Kazakhstan is a salad-dodger’s delight – it’s very meat heavy with potatoes or carrots only occasionally making an appearance – Kazakhs like to joke that they are second only to wolves in their meat consumption, so jusai is a welcome addition to this diet.
Jusai’s official name is allium tuberosum, and it’s a member of the onion family – you might know it as Chinese chives or garlic chives in English. Jusai originated in China but it’s now grown all over Kazakhstan. It imparts a mild garlic flavour to dishes and is used as a filling for pasties and dumplings in Kazakh kitchens.
We decided to cook it up in some cider with some brown rice, onion, lemon and walnuts to make a pilau, or a loose take on risotto. It pairs well with some oven-baked seasonal vegetables or a seasonal salad.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
300 g brown rice
50 ml olive oil
one medium-sized onion
100 g toasted walnuts
200 g garlic chives
250 ml dry cider
750 ml vegetable stock
one teaspoon mustard seeds
one teaspoon cumin seeds
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the mustard seeds – when the seeds start to pop, put the finely diced onion in and fry for five minutes over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and stir well and then add the rice, stirring for a minute to coat the grains with oil.
Reduce the heat and pour in the cider, stirring occasionally as the mix simmers so the rice doesn’t stick to the pan. When the liquid is absorbed, add 250 ml stock and continue to simmer and stir every now and then. Add more stock when this is absorbed and keep going until the rice is almost cooked. Add more stock if needed – the rice should be al-dente.
Remove for the heat and mix in the finely chopped garlic chives (leave some to garnish the pilau), the lemon zest, toasted, chopped walnuts and the lemon juice and mix well. Cover the pan and leave to stand for five minutes.
Serve with oven-roasted vegetables or a leafy green salad and garnish with the remaining garlic chives.
Knidos Cookery Club is just back from a foodie fact-finding mission to uncover some new recipes along the Silk Roads. While on the expedition, we inadvertently fell foul of Kazakhstan’s strict zero tolerance laws while munching on a local delicacy, sunflower seeds.
It turns out that eating this tasty little snack in public is an offence, classified as “petty hooliganism”, and punishable by watching a video of Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev railing against this social evil and the payment of a fine (4 x the Monthly Calculation Index (MCI) that is used to calculate benefits and fines – approx £25).
After this contribution was made to the Shymkent Police Nauryz party fund, the situation was resolved amicably and we were all able to go on our merry way, suitably chastised!
The road trip also took in a visit to Uzbekistan, which has inspired KCC to attempt Mastava a traditional Uzbek rice and chunky vegetable soup – it’s usually prepared with lamb or beef but we’ve used lentils and red beans instead of meat to add the protein in our version.
Mastava uses whatever seasonal vegetables are to hand – we had carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin and some red peppers for our version. We’ve liberally spiced it with cumin, coriander seeds, red chilli flakes and black pepper as well as some fresh coriander to garnish the soup.
Ingredients (makes around 4 – 6 servings)
150 g green lentils or similar
250 g red beans
150 g pumpkin
150 g rice
200 g cherry tomatoes
Four small potatoes
One large carrot
One red pepper
Six spring onions
30 ml olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 litre vegetable stock
One teaspoon cumin seeds
One teaspoon coriander seeds
One teaspoon black pepper
One teaspoon red chilli flakes
One bunch fresh coriander
Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and add the crushed black pepper, cumin and coriander seeds and chopped spring onions. fry for five minutes over a medium heat and then add chunks of carrots, tomatoes and red pepper. Cook for 10 minutes and then add the vegetable stock, red chilli flakes, potatoes and rice and bring to a boil.
Simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes, and then add the cooked green lentils and red beans and chunks of pumpkin. Keep simmering until the rice is cooked, stirring occasionally. Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh coriander.
Happy Lunar New Year to all our readers – wishing you all many culinary adventures in the Year of the Dog!
With both South and North Korea back in the headlines with the Winter Olympics in full swing in Pyeongchangand the ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula, this week Knidos Cookery Club will be making a dish that has become a hit in the former Soviet Union and beyond – spicy Korean carrots.
It’s a dish that’s not really from Korea, north or south – largely unknown outside of the countries of the former Soviet Union until recently, this simple dish has now gone full circle and can now be found on tables in South Korea.
It originated with the Koryo-saram, Korean people, who were deported en masse from the borderlands of Russia’s far east to Central Asia in the late 1930s. Fearing a Japanese fifth column in the Soviet Union via this Korean community, Stalin ordered the mass deportations in 1937.
The deportees adapted their cuisine to local conditions and replaced traditional ingredients with carrots to create a spicy, coriander-rich side dish and it remains a popular choice on dinner tables in Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which are still home to around 300,000 ethnic Koreans, descendants of the deportees from the 1930s.
There’s a Turkish connection with the Koreas as well. With Turkey on a war footing once again, wading into battle against the Kurds in northern Syria, a recent film has brought a mostly forgotten war involving Turkey from the 1950s back into the spotlight. Can Ulkay’s “Ayla: The Daughter of War” tells the story of a Turkish soldier who saves a young Korean girl during the Korean War of 1950-53.
Turkey sent troops as part of a United Nations led brigade to defend South Korea against North Korea in the war. The soldier finds himself unable to take the orphan back to Turkey so the pair lose touch after the war, but in a fairytale ending are reunited 60 years later. Put your feet up and enjoy the movie with a bowl of spicy Korean carrots!
Ingredients (serves around 4)
200 g carrots peeled into thin slices – use a julienne peeler or a sharp knife
One garlic clove minced
One small onion minced
One teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
Half teaspoon red chilli flakes
Dash of olive oil
Two teaspoons cider vinegar
Half teaspoon honey
Pinch of salt
One teaspoon sesame seeds
Mix the julienned carrots with the garlic and leave to marinate in a container with a tight-fitting lid (this carrot salad can get quite pungent, so this is important!).
Heat the olive oil and fry the onion until just beginning to brown. Mix the vinegar with the honey and salt and then pour over the carrots, add the coriander and chilli and the fried onions and mix well.
Leave the carrots to marinate in the air tight container in the fridge for at least four hours, the longer the better, to allow the flavours to blend fully.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve as a side dish with fritters such as our mücver.
This week on Knidos Cookery Club we’re going to be bucking the January detox trend with this super-rich, calorie-laden Iranian stew, Fesenjan (pronounced fesenjoon), that combines three of our favourite go-to ingredients – pomegranate, walnut and pumpkin.
Usually served as a thick stew with rice, we’ve decided to put it in a pie case to make a tasty walnut and pomegranate infused tart. Making this stew can be quite labour-intensive – shelling the walnuts, toasting them, crushing them, extracting the pomegranate seeds and so on, but the end result makes it well worth all the effort.
Look out for Nar Ekşisi (pomegranate syrup)or the sweeter Nar Ekşili Sos (pomegranate sauce) in your local Middle-Eastern shop or make your own. If using Nar Ekşisi, add a teaspoon or two of honey to the stew to make it a bit sweeter.
To save time you can use shop-bought pastry, but we think it tastes better with a homemade pie crust. To keep it vegan, we’ve used olive oil instead of butter to make our shortcrust pastry.
Ingredients (serves 4)
125 g shelled walnuts
one medium onion
500 g pumpkin or butternut squash
300 ml vegetable stock
30 ml olive oil
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup or sauce (Nar Ekşisi or Nar Ekşili Sos in Turkish)
0.5 teaspoon cumin seeds
0.25 teaspoon cinnamon and turmeric
Handful of pomegranate seeds
Bunch of fresh parsley
200 g shortcrust pastry
Toast the walnuts for 10 minutes over a low heat and then mince in a blender. Heat the olive oil and fry the onion in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat for ten minutes. Add the spices and then add the cubed pumpkin and stir to cover.
Pour over the vegetable stock, add the pomegranate molasses and the minced walnuts and cook over a medium heat for 30 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked. Make sure the sauce is quite thick – if it’s runny, boil it until it starts to thicken.
Roll out the pastry and place it in a greased baking tray. Bake blind for ten minutes at 180c and then put the filling into the pie case. Cook for 40 minutes or so until the pastry starts to go golden brown.
Garnish the tart with chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds and serve with saffron rice and a green salad.
Happy 2018 to all our readers! Just when you thought the festive season was over, here’s a quick reminder that in some parts of the world Christmas is still to come. In Russia and parts of eastern Europe, the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar, leaving a 13-day lag between the two Christmases.
To mark the big day we’re making our version of borsch – a dish that varies considerably across eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The spelling also varies with both borshch and borscht in use.
In Ukraine, borsch forms an integral part of the Christmas Eve table, and it’s often veggie-friendly as this day is also the end of a period of fasting – meat and dairy products are not consumed in the run up to Christmas.
We’ve added some dried mushrooms to the beetrooty mix to give the stock more depth and put a bread topping over the pot to have something handy to tear up and dip into the borsch.
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
500 g beetroot
1 medium- sized onion
1 garlic clove
200 g potato
200 g carrot
250 g red or white cabbage
50 ml olive oil
50 ml tomato puree
5 dried mushrooms
1 litre vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
50 g fresh parsley
For the bread top:
150 g flour
100 ml warm water
15 ml olive oil
Pinch of salt
Clean the beetroot, wrap in tin foil and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 c for one hour. Pour boiling water over the mushrooms and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
While the beetroot is cooking, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and fry the chopped onion and garlic on a medium heat for ten minutes. Add the bay leaves and chilli flakes and then add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for five more minutes then add the tomato puree and the vegetable stock.
Bring to the boil and then add the diced potato and carrot and cook for 15 – 20 minutes over a low heat. After the beetroot has cooled, peel it and then dice it and add to the soup. Add the finely sliced cabbage, chopped parsley and lemon juice and cook for another 15 minutes.
Prepare the bread topping by combining the flour, water and oil and knead until you have an elastic mixture. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
Pour the borsch into individual serving bowls, place a disc of rolled out bread over the top of the bowl and cook in an oven pre-heated to 200 c until the bread is cooked and starting to go brown on top.
For non-vegans, add a dollop of sour cream after breaking through the bread cover. Use the bread to mop up the borsch.
Seasoned greetings to all our readers! To end the year on a high, we’ve come up with a thick and hearty pumpkin and pear soup sprinkled with pomegranate to add a colourful touch to your seasonal table.
Roasting pumpkin in the oven is a great way to prepare our favourite winter vegetable. After cubing the pumpkin, it’s just a matter of waiting about an hour or so for it all to cook leaving time to enjoy a few glasses of mulled wine or a snowball or
Knidos Cookery Club would like to say a big thank you for all our readers who voted for us in the Saveur food blog awards – unfortunately we didn’t win this time round…
Wishing you all a creative and tasty 2018 in your kitchen. Have a great time with whatever tickles your festive fancy in what’s left of 2017. See you next year!
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
500 g pumpkin cubed
100 g pear
One small onion (around 75 g)
One teaspoon cumin seeds
Half teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of black pepper
50 ml olive oil
250 ml vegetable stock
50 g pomegranate seeds
Chop the pumpkin into 2 cm cubes, quarter and slice the pear into 1 cm cubes and put in a baking dish. Sprinkle the sliced onion, cumin seeds and cinnamon over the pumpkin and pear and then slosh the olive oil over the top. Bake for 40 minutes at 180 c in a pre-heated oven.
While this is baking, boil up some vegetable stock. Add the pumpkin and other ingredients to the stock, blend with a hand blender and serve immediately in a bowl with a smattering of pomegranate seeds over the soup.