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.

 

 

 

KCC’s Lockdown BBQ – a char-grilled chapati feast

14 May 2020

After a couple of months of lockdown, a bit of garden envy is setting in as we hear about people getting outside and having barbecues. With no open space in the flat other than an enclosed balcony,  it was time to get inventive in order to get some char-grilled food.

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It’s barbecue time!

We’re fortunate to have a gas hob, so with some creative use of tin foil (some of it salvaged from last week’s chocolate fest!) and a rack from the oven, KCC came up with an improvised BBQ grill.

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A char-grilled platter

Use whatever vegetables are available – we had courgettes and green peppers, and cook them over the open flame, turning regularly. We grilled some halloumi as well. We cooked the jacket potato in the oven and made our own chapati, a flatbread from the Indian sub-continent, to serve with the indoor barbecue.

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KCC’s chapati: ideal for a BBQ

Chapati recipe (makes 4):

  • 150 g wholemeal flour
  • 75 ml water
  • 50 ml oil ( we used olive oil, but you can use whatever you have handy)
  • A pinch of bicarbonate of soda

Method

  1. Sieve the flour into a large, ceramic mixing bowl and add the oil and bicarbonate of soda. Combine with a wooden spoon or your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Slowly add the water until you have a fairly elastic dough – not too wet and not too dry. Knead for ten minutes and then leave covered with a tea towel for an hour or so.
  2. Heat up a non-stick frying pan or a cast iron pan. Divide the mixture into four and form into balls. Flatten with your hands and then use a rolling pin to roll the dough into 1 mm thick rounds. Cook over a high heat on both sides until the chapatis take on a leopard-spotted look as in the picture above.

 

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.

 

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.

KCC’s Nutty Festive Fare

22 December 2019

Seasoned greetings from Knidos Cookery Club – we’d just like to take this opportunity to thank all our readers, old and new, in 2019 and wish you a great holiday season and all the best for the New Year.

With the winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year all upon us, we’d like to share this nutty lentil bake recipe with you. It makes a great centrepiece for a festive feast.

We served it with roast potatoes, charred cauliflower and smashed pumpkin and then poured a rich pomegranate sauce over everything.

Ingredients (for 6 servings)

  • 150 g green lentils
  • One carrot
  • One medium-sized onion
  • One stick of celery
  • 75 g walnuts
  • 75 g coarse bulgur
  • Two tablespoons tomato paste
  • Two teaspoons cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • One teaspoon chilli powder
  • Half a teaspoon cloves
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 250 ml vegetable stock
  • 25 g chickpea flour
  • Pomegranate seeds

Method

  • Cook the lentils in the vegetable stock until most of the liquid has been soaked up. The lentils should still be firm, not mushy. Stir in the bulgur and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy based pan and add the spices. Cook for a few minutes and then add the chopped onions, grated carrot and thin slices of celery and cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Combine the vegetable mix with the lentils. Stir in the tomaro paste. Toast the chopped walnuts for 5 minutes then add to the lentil mix. Finally add the chickpea flour to thicken the mix.
  • Pack the mix into a greased baking dish and cook for 30 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 c. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and then cut the loaf into 6 slices and serve.

Battered Halloumi = Pakora Paradise

5 December 2019

Over the last few days, we’ve been experimenting with perfecting a batter to make pakora – a deep-fried snack from the Indian sub-continent.  After testing a few recipes we’ve hit on a formula that can be used to coat a variety of vegetables from cauliflowers to carrots, parsnips to peas, and also cheese!

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Halloumi pakora with potato wedges and peas

While on a recent visit to the UK, we came across battered halloumi on many menus – the squeaky cheese from Cyprus that stays firm when cooked. We’ve discovered that it makes a perfect partner for our pakora batter when deep-fried.  We recommend you try it with this spicy Yemini sauce, zhug.

But you’ll need to be quick, as halloumi has been a victim of its own success. Severe global shortages of this versatile cheese are predicted as demand far outstrips supply. Luckily for us here in Kazakhstan, a local producer has started making a version of this cheese. We’re pleased to report that it tastes pretty good, so for now the crisis has been averted in our winter base.

Ingredients (makes enough batter for a  sliced up 250 g block of halloumi)

  • 100 g chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan)
  • One small onion
  • 1 cm knob of ginger
  • One garlic clove
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • One tablespoon of fresh coriander
  • 50-100 ml cold water

Method  

  • Mix all the ingredients together with a fork or a whisk, adding water until you get a smooth consistency that is neither too runny not too thick with no lumps. Cover the batter with clingfilm and let it stand for an hour or so before using.
  • Heat a litre of cooking oil, we used sunflower oil but any will do, in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat until it reaches 180 c. To test the temperature, dip a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil – if the oil starts to bubble vigorously,  then it is at the right temperature.
  • Slice a 250 g block of halloumi into eight pieces. Coat the halloumi slices in the pakora batter and drop into the oil. When the pakora rise to the surface and are a golden-brown colour, remove with a slotted metal spoon and drain on kitchen towel.
  • Serve hot with potato wedges or roast potatoes and minted peas. The pakora goes well with a coriander and coconut chutney – this site has a good recipe for this sauce, or with our zhug sauce.

 

 

KCC’s Corn and Coconut Chowder

 

 

17 October 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re cooking up a chowder, a creamy soup crammed with fresh, seasonal vegetables that’s ideal for the chillier nights of autumn.

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A warming bowl of KCC’s Corn and Coconut Chowder

These days chowder is a name given to any creamy soup that has been thickened with the addition of flour or crumbled crackers. The name of this soup is thought to come from chaudron, an old French word for a cauldron – it was originally brought to north America by sailors who made it as a fish soup thickened with ship’s biscuit and cream.

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The Holy Trinity of autumn soup veg

Some versions use a tomato base, but our version is based on the creamy base and uses coconut milk and chickpea flour to make the sauce. We’ve added some of the last of this year’s corn on the cob and some new season pumpkin, that vegetable that is a harbinger of the colder months of the year. Combined with the holy trinity of soup bases – onion, celery and carrot and a potato, this chowder, garnished with lemon zest and celery leaves, is a soup to savour.

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)

  • One large potato
  • Two large carrots
  • Three sticks of celery
  • One medium-sized onion
  • One corn-on-the cob
  • 200 g pumpkin
  • One lemon
  • One bay leaf
  • Two teaspoons dried thyme
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • Three tablespoons chickpea flour
  • One litre coconut milk (50 g desiccated coconut + one litre of water).

Method

  • Make the coconut milk first by blending the dried coconut with the water using a hand-held blender for two minutes. Strain through a sieve separate the liquid  from the leftover coconut, the latter can be saved and used to make energy balls, biscuits, cakes or added to your breakfast muesli.
  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and then add the sliced onion and fry for five minutes over a medium heat. Add the diced carrot and celery and cook for another five minutes. Now add the chickpea flour and dried thyme and mix well. Now add the pumpkin, potatoes and coconut milk and a bay leaf.
  • Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potato is just cooked. Add the juice of the lemon and half the lemon zest and stir well. Cook for a few more minutes and then remove the bay leaf and serve in bowls and garnish with the rest of the lemon zest and chopped celery leaves.

 

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.

 

 

Say Aloo to Broccoli

28 February 2019

After touring through North America and Mexico, we’re finally back at KCC’s winter HQ in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We’ve been craving for something spicy and Asian and, with broccoli in season, decided on this take on the Indian classic aloo gobi.

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Aloo broccoli, rice and dal

You’ll probably be familiar with aloo gobi, which combines potato and cauliflower in a spicy sauce, if you’re a fan of food from the Indian sub-continent. Having eaten the cauliflower version numerous times, we started to wonder why we’d never come across the dish made with broccoli instead.

It turns out that broccoli is a fairly recent arrival to the tables of India – it was first brought to the country in the early 1990s by a farmer called Jitendra Ladkat, according to this article. So, therefore, there’s no great surprise that it does not feature as a mainstay of Indian cooking.

We served up our aloo broccoli with a split pea dal, brown rice and some flat bread and can thoroughly recommend it as an alternative to the tried and tested aloo gobi.

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)

  • 400 g small potatoes
  • 400 g broccoli florets
  • One small red onion
  • 200 g tomatoes
  • 50 ml cooking oil
  • Spices: one teaspoon each of cumin seeds, coriander, chilli powder, turmeric, six cloves, one star anise.

Method

  • Cut the potatoes into quarters and put into a pan of boiling water and simmer over a low heat for five minutes, then add the broccoli, cover the pan and cook for another five minutes.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the cumin seeds, cloves, star anise and cinnamon stick. After five minutes add the chopped onion and cook over a medium heat. Add the coriander, chilli powder and turmeric and mix well.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes over a low heat and then add the cooked broccoli and potatoes. Mix well and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Serve with rice, dal and flat bread. The dish tastes even better if left overnight and reheated as this allows time for the flavours to blend.

Down Home Arizona Kızartma

14 February 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re swinging through Tucson, Arizona on the way back home. Whilst in Tucson, we met up with some old friends from Kazakhstan (via Turkey and the USA) and were treated to Tolga’s kızartma –  grilled peppers mixed in with fried aubergines and potatoes served in a garlic-infused tomato sauce and garnished with dollops of natural yogurt.

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Tolga’s classic down home Arizona kızartma

Tucson is located on the edge of the Sonora Desert which stretches up into Arizona from northern Mexico. It’s a surreal landscape of towering cacti called saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), which can grow to be more than 12 m tall.

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There’s a lot of cactus….

The desert is a fascinating place populated with bobcats, coyotes, a variety of snakes and scorpions along with hallucinogenic Sonoran Desert toads (if you’re brave enough to lick them… ).

Having observed the master chef at work closely, here’s KCC’s take on the Turkish classic kızartma.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • Two large potatoes
  • Three medium-sized tomatoes
  • Three garlic cloves
  • one small onion
  • One large aubergine
  • One avocado
  • Four peppers – a mix of green and red
  • Four jalapeño peppers
  • 75 ml olive oil
  • 100 ml natural yogurt

Method

  • Heat 25 ml of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cut the potato into 1mm slices and fry in the oil, turning occasionally, until they are a golden-brown colour on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a plate lined with kitchen towel.
  • Prick the peppers a couple of times with a fork and then roast them on a barbecue or over an open flame (here’s some tips on how to do this) until the skin is blackened all over. While the peppers are roasting, put 25ml oil in the pan and cut the aubergine into 1cm cubes and fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a plate lined with kitchen towel.
  • Add the rest of the oil to the pan, heat it up and then fry the finely chopped onion and garlic for five minutes over a medium heat and then grate the tomatoes into the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds and chop the roasted peppers roughly.
  • In a large bowl put a layer potatoes, aubergine and peppers alternately. Pour the tomato sauce over the top and garnish with dollops of yogurt. Serve with slices of avocado.