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: Kicking off with Kısır

9 April 2020

We’re heading towards the end of the second week of serious lockdown here in Almaty.  Our local shops remain well-stocked with basics (we’re not supposed to go further than 500 metres form home) and the greengrocer’s reopened after closing for a week, so fresh vegetables are readily available.

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Basic kısır with radish

For this week’s Lockdown Lunch we’re making kısır, Turkey’s bulgur wheat salad answer to the Middle East’s tabbouleh salad. Kısır is one of those dishes that everyone has their own recipe for, but the basic ingredients are fine bulgur wheat, onion, chilli pepper, tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice parsley and pomegranate sauce.

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Kısır with olives and tomatoes

We’ve added some radishes, tomatoes, spring onion and black olives to the standard package above that can be eaten as a main meal (you might want to add some nuts or beans for a protein punch) or as a side salad. If you are on a gluten-free diet, then you can use millet in place of bulgur wheat.

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A fresh kick for your kısır

Kısır is easy to prepare and it benefits from sitting in the fridge overnight – leaving more time for all those Zoom parties and, of course, the Tajik football season, which kicked off last weekend.

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)

  • 100g fine bulgur wheat
  • 200 ml vegetable stock or water
  • One medium onion
  • One medium tomato
  • One spring onion
  • One garlic clove
  • Ten black olives
  • Two tablespoons tomato paste
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One lemon
  • 25 ml pomegranate sauce
  • Few sprigs of parsley
  • One teaspoon chilli pepper flakes
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon sumac

Method

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin seeds and fry until they start to sizzle. Add the finely chopped onion and mashed garlic and cook for a few minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli pepper and sumac and stir.
  • Add the fine bulgur wheat and stir to cover the grains then add the stock or water, Add the tomato paste, pomegranate sauce and the juice of half the lemon. Stir and bring to the boil. When boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave to stand for 30 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Fluff up the grains with a fork and add the grated radish, sliced spring onion and chopped parsley. Mix together and put in a salad bowl. Before serving, garnish with lemon and/or tomato slices and black olives.

Put a Bit of Zhug in your Life

14 November 2019

On a recent flying visit to Glasgow, KCC dropped into Ox and Finch in the city’s West End for a bite to eat. This Sauchiehall Street eatery offers a range of tapas-style sharing plates – we opted for the giant couscous with grilled halloumi, a plate of braised leeks, beetroot hummus, grilled baby gem lettuce and, with this being Glasgow, chips of course. 

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A spicy bowl of zhug sauce

This time round, we’ll be recreating the giant couscous dish, made with ptitim, toasted pearls of wheat and semolina, first cooked up in Israel in the 1950’s when rice was in short supply in the early days of the Israeli state. This couscous relative was dubbed Ben-Gurion rice after Israel’s first prime minister. After scouring our local supermarkets, ptitim proved to be in short supply so we’ve replaced them with mung beans!

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Mung beans, zhug, halloumi, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds

Key to this salad is the dressing, a piquant sauce called zhug,  which was brought to Israel by emigrées fleeing persecution in Yemen in the late 1940s. This spicy cousin of Italy’s milder pesto and Mexico’s equally fiery salsa verde, is served often alongside falafel and hummus. The name is said to be derived from mas-chag, the name of the grinding stone traditionally used to crush the spices and herbs into a paste.

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

  • 100 g mung beans
  • 125 g halloumi
  • Sprinkling of pomegranate seeds
  • Sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds

For the zhug sauce:

  • One bunch fresh coriander
  • One bunch fresh parsley
  • One garlic clove
  • Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • One teaspoon black peppercorns
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • One teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 25 ml olive oil

Method 

  • To make the zhug sauce, put all the ingredients except for the olive oil in a blender and give it quick blitz. Don’t overdo the blending as you want a slightly chunky texture. Now slowly add the olive oil, blitzing until it is mixed in with the other ingredients. Put in a glass jar – it should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
  • Cook the mung beans until tender. While the mung beans are cooling, grill the halloumi until a golden-brown colour. Then mix the cooled mung beans with a tablespoon of zhug, arrange the grilled halloumi on top, sprinkle with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and serve with a selection of your favourite meze dishes.

 

Spice it up with Sumac!

21 September 2017

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’ll be looking at a spice called sumac that is ubiquitous in Turkish cooking. Sumac comes from the flowering plants of the genus Rhus and its powdered purple-reddish berries give a tart but tangy boost to everything from soups and dips to grilled vegetables and kebabs. It also gives a rich dark burgundy hue to the dishes it flavours.

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Sumac

We’ve decided to use it in acili ezme, a fiery tomato, onion and pepper dip that is delicious eaten on it’s own with bread,  used as a sauce to accompany dishes such as pide, Turkey’s take on pizza, as part of a meze plate with our carrot and walnut tarator and our  creamy almond and courgette dip or with mücver, Turkey’s courgette fritter.

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A fearsome acili ezme

The secret to a successful acili ezme is to chop the ingredients as finely as you can with the sharpest knife you have and to chill it for a few hours before serving so the flavours have a chance to blend.

We’ve added red chilli flakes and sumac to give it a kick and used mint and parsley to balance out the flavours. If you like your dips hot, then use green chillies in place of green peppers in this recipe.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

One medium-sized onion

Three medium-sized plum tomatoes

One medium-sized green pepper

One garlic clove

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

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 with flat bread.

Moussaka Mania

8 June 2017

As the UK continues its downward plunge to become the latest contender for the mantle of Europe’s most basket case economy, we’re turning our attention to the current holder of that title, Greece, for culinary inspiration this week in the form of moussaka, a great comfort food. We’ll be needing lots of comfort in the coming months as the lucky winner of today’s UK election navigates a course through the choppy waters of Brexit.

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Summer is here, and with Datça market overflowing with an array of fresh produce, Knidos Cookery Club is moving back to weekly posts for the foreseeable future. The aubergine is a vegetable that has had surprisingly little coverage in these pages, so it’s high time that was rectified.

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Moussaka is a perennial Greek favourite that is great fresh from the oven or eaten cooled down, allowing the flavours some time to collide. It combines layers of fluffy  potato and silky aubergine covered with a tomato-rich ragù, all topped with a creamy white béchamel sauce.

We’ve used black lentils in place of minced lamb to make our veggie take on moussaka, although any lentils should work well in this dish. It pairs excellently with a classic Greek salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, green pepper, olives and white cheese.

Ingredients (for 3-4 servings)

300 g aubergines

300 g potatoes

250 g tomatoes

100 g black lentils (or any other lentil)

3 spring onions

1 garlic clove

400 ml vegetable stock

100 ml red wine

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of dried sage

1 bayleaf

Pinch of black pepper

Pinch of red chili flakes

50 ml olive oil

For the white sauce:

50 ml olive oil

50 g flour

500 ml milk

5 peppercorns

1 bayleaf

75 g cheese (feta or  any crumbly white cheese)

Method

Heat 20 ml of olive oil in a heavy-based pan, chop the spring onions and garlic clove and add to the pan. Cook for five minutes then add the washed lentils and stir. Add the stock, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes or so until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 c / gas mark 6. Cut the potatoes into one cm slices and boil for five minutes in a pan of water. Drain immediately and allow to cool. While the potatoes are boiling, chop the aubergine into 1 cm slices. If you like, you can coat the aubergine slices with a little salt, leave to stand for 10 minutes and then rinse. This should make them less bitter and remove excess moisture.

Place the potato slices in an oven dish and coat with 15 ml olive oil and stir to coat thoroughly. Place the aubergine slices into a separate oven dish and pour 15 ml of olive oil over them. Put both the dishes into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are a golden brown colour and the aubergine slices beginning to char.

Add the peeled, chopped tomatoes, 100 ml red wine, bayleaf, cinnamon, sage and pepper to the lentils and cook over a low heat for 45 minutes until the sauce has reduced by about half.

While this is cooking, make the white sauce. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and stir in the flour to make a roux of a runny consistency. Slowly stir in the milk and add the peppercorns and bayleaf, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula or spoon or a whisk over a low heat. When the sauce begins to thicken, add the grated cheese and continue stirring until the sauce sets.

Now it’s time to assemble the moussaka. Pour half the lentil ragù over the potatoes to coat, add a layer of aubergines and pour over the rest of the ragù. Place the remaining aubergine slices over this and then pour the white sauce over these.

Sprinkle with red chili flakes and place in the oven and bake at 180 c /gas mark 5 for an hour or so – the top should be going a nice spotted brown colour as in the photo above.

Allow to cool and serve with a classic Greek salad made from tomato, cucumber, onion, green pepper, olives and white cheese, liberally dressed with olive oil and thyme.