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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

Julienne Funchoza’s Noodle Extravaganza

18 July 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re looking at some ways to beat the heatwave with a noodle-based salad that can be whipped up with the minimum of fuss.

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Funchoza is a popular salad across Central Asia that combines glass noodles, which can be produced from various forms of starch such as rice or mung bean, with julienned raw vegetables and a spicy dressing. The noodles just need to be cooked in boiling water for a few minutes so it’s a cinch to prepare on a hot summer’s day.

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These noodles are a staple of Uighur cuisine, but have been adopted by the Central Asia’s Korean community who have made funchoza famous to a wider audience across the former Soviet Union and beyond.

The Uighurs are Turkic-speaking  muslims living mainly in Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China, where they face increasing persecution by the Chinese authorities, under the pretext of a crackdown on terrorism.

To this end, thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Chinese muslims have been interred in ‘re-education’ camps and, as the Guardian put it in a recent editorial, “Those who are nominally free in fact exist in a digital gulag of constant surveillance.”

Earlier this month, 22 states – including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and Japan – signed a letter to UN human rights officials in condemnation of China’s treatment of Uighur and other minorities there.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 150 g dried glass noodles
  • 10 g dried seaweed
  • 2 small cucumbers
  • 2 radishes
  • 8 spring onions
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 carrots
  • Coriander seeds

For the dressing:

  • 4 teaspoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons apple vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate sauce (Nar Eksisi)
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder

Method

  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the noodles in the water according to the pack instructions. Remove and put in a pan of cold water until needed.
  • Soak the dried seaweed in cold water for 15 minutes, drain the water. While the seaweed is soaking,  cut the spring onions into 1 cm slices, remove the seeds for the cucumber and then julienne along with the other vegetables into long, thin slices (use a grater  or chop finely if you don’t have a julienne peeler). Chop the seaweed into 5 cm strips.
  • Remove the noodles from the cold water and cut into 10 cm strips and put in a large bowl. Add the julienned vegetables and mix all the ingredients together. Put all the dressing ingredients into a glass jar with a screw top and shake well, then pour over the salad and mix well. Grind some coriander seeds over the salad.
  • Serve cold – let the flavours mingle by keeping the salad in the fridge for a couple of hours.

 

Hummus to the Power of Turmeric

30th May 2019

Welcome back to Knidos Cookery Club, or KCC to those in the know. This time we’ll be whipping up some hummus spiked with the super-spice turmeric – it’s easier than you think and once you’ve tasted homemade hummus we’ll be surprised if you settle for a shop bought one again.

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Turmeric-infused hummus all ready to go with carrot and cucumber slices

There are a lot of claims around the eastern end of the  Mediterranean Sea as to where hummus originated, but  ownership of this dip has now become truly international – we first came across this turmeric-infused version in Mexico earlier this year.

You’ll need some tahini (sesame seed paste) to make this recipe, but don’t worry if you can’t track any down – it’s simple to prepare your own batch of this nutty-tasting spread. Toast 50 g of sesame seeds in a frying pan (without oil) over a low heat and shake continuously until they turn from white to a golden colour. Then mix with 50 ml of olive oil in a blender and, hey presto, you have tahini. Add more oil for a runnier consistency.

Ingredients (makes around 300 g)

  • 250 g cooked chickpeas
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 25 ml chickpea water
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 0.5 teaspoon cumin or caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika or chilli powder

Method 

  • Place all the ingredients into a bowl, except for the paprika and cumin (or caraway) seeds. Mix with the blender setting or with a hand blender. Keep mixing until you have a creamy, smooth paste. If needed, add  more of the reserved chickpea water or lemon juice to achieve a smoother consistency.
  • Allow to chill in the fridge for a few hours then mix in the cumin (or caraway) seeds. Sprinkle the paprika over the top and serve with slices of cucumber and carrot.

 

 

 

 

Papa Jack’s Refried Avocado

31 January 2019

We’re continuing in our Mexican groove to make a vegetable take on the refried beans concept. It was meant to be a burger, but it didn’t hold together too well, so here is our refried avocado.

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Refried beans are a Mexican staple and served on tortillas or as a side dish – the beans  are mashed up and fried with garlic and spices. We’ve combined mashed potato, with a smashed up avocado, a diced jalapeño pepper and some yaka, or jackfruit. Potatoes are called papas in Mexican Spanish, hence the name for this dish: Papa Jack’s Refried Avocado.

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Jackfruit, a giant tropical fruit with a hard green spiky shell, that can grow up to 40kg, is widely available in Mexico. The fruit is a strong tasting yellow fleshy bulb that is somewhere between pineapple and banana.

We served the refried avocado on toast with our own salsa made with tomatoes, courgettes, carrots and chilli peppers.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

For the refried avocado:

  • Three medium-sized potatoes
  • One avocado
  • One jalapeño pepper
  • One lime
  • One jackfruit bulb
  • 25ml olive oil

For the salsa:

  • Two medium-sized tomatoes
  • One carrot
  • One courgette
  • One jalapeño pepper

Method

  • Cook the potatoes until they can be mashed easily with a fork. Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and add the flesh to the potato. finely dice the pepper and jackfruit (remove the stone first) and add to the mix, along with the lime juice. Mash everything together with a fork or potato masher.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Heat the mashed avocado through in the hot oil and serve on toast with a salsa made of tomato, carrot and courgette – simply dice the tomatoes and cook the chopped up carrot, courgette and jalapeño pepper in the tomato liquid over a low heat for 20 minutes or so.