With Almaty’s lockdown showing tentative signs of easing – we’re now allowed out to exercise as well as shop, a bit of a celebration is called for and a root around the cupboards produced a splendid horde of country-themed, Central Asian chocolate .
We unearthed some bars of chocolate named after Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – perfect for a blindfold taste-test to see what Central Asia’s finest chocolate tastes like. To keep it interesting, we entered a wildcard – chocolate infused with kurut (a wind dried fermented milk product) from Kyrgyzstan.
Here are the blindfold taster’s notes:
Dark but not too bitter, a bit orangey, quite like a hare – nice!
Unusual, something Englishy, something a bit like a fox, not very sweet, nice!
Sweeter than the others, like a soft horse, chunkyish feel.
Tobleroneish, darkish, a little bit bitter and chewy; like a naughty monkey.
Can you guess which description goes with which bar?
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.
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.
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
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.
This week KCC is in London for the literary event of the year – the launch of Joanna Lillis’s compelling book Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we have invented the Dark Shadows cocktail: a blend of one part vodka (Kazakhstan’s favourite tipple), three parts cloudy cider (apples are from Kazakhstan!), and a splash of blood-like Grenadine (or pomegranate syrup or juice) to convey something of the secretive nature of Kazakhstan. It makes the perfect companion when reading this gripping saga.
Based on 13-years of on-the-ground reporting, this book lifts the veil to take a glimpse at what’s really going on in this Central Asian oil and gas powerhouse, making it the ideal stocking-filler for Kazakhstan fans. you can order a copy from the publisher, I.B.Tauris or look for a copy signed by the author in Foyles in London.
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.
To celebrate this spring equinox festival, we’ll be serving up kok samsa, deep-fried pies filled with a selection of spring greens.
Originating in Persia some 3,000 years ago, Nowruz, or New Day, is a celebration of the end of winter and the start of a new year on the date when day and night are equal in the Northern Hemisphere. This date usually falls on or around 21 March.
The holiday is still widely celebrated in Iran and Iraq, across Central Asia, Russia, Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, in eastern Turkey and in parts of Syria, India, Pakistan and China. Food plays an important role in these celebrations – in Iran the table is set with seven items, as explained in this article from Iran Wire:
A few weeks before Nowruz, Iranians begin setting up their haft sin, or “seven Ss,” a ceremonial display of symbolic items whose names begin with the Persian letter “sin” or “s.” They include “sabzeh,” or green sprouts grown from lentils, which symbolize rebirth; “samanu,” a sweet pudding that represents affluence, “senjed,” or dried wild olives, which symbolize love; “seer,” or garlic, which symbolizes medicine; “seeb,” an apple, which represents health; “somaq” or sumac fruit, which symbolizes the color of sunrise, and “serkeh,” or vinegar, which symbolises maturity.
We’ve developed our own take on the kok samsa using the Iranian magic number of seven ingredients: parsley, spinach, coriander, celeriac leaves, spring onion, garlic and mint. As fully signed-up members of Dillwatch, we omitted that scurrilous weed, dill, from this recipe.
Ingredients (makes 8-10 pies)
For the Pastry
300 g plain flour
75 ml olive oil
Pinch of salt
Up to 75 ml cold water
Two – three teaspoons of sesame seeds
2. For the Filling
150 g spring onions
2 garlic cloves
50 g fresh coriander
50 g fresh parsley
150 g spinach
25 g the leafy bits from the top of a celeriac
15 g fresh mint
Two teaspoons of cumin seeds
25 ml olive oil
3. For Deep Frying
1 litre sunflower oil (for deep frying)
1.For the Pastry
Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt. Pour in the olive oil and stir with a fork. The mixture should form into small clumps of flour and oil. Pour some of the cold water and continue mixing. Continue adding water until the mixture forms into a large ball shape. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
2. For the Filling
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the chopped spring onions and minced garlic. Fry for five minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the coriander and parsley and cumin and fry for two to three minutes. Add the torn up spinach leaves, chopped celeriac leaves and mint and continue cooking until the spinach has wilted, about 10 more minutes or so, stirring every now and then.
3. For Deep Frying
Heat the sunflower oil in a heavy-based pan. For deep frying you need to get the oil to around 180 c – to check the temperature use this tip from Delishably:
When the oil has preheated, dip the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick into the oil. If the oil starts steadily bubbling, then the oil is hot enough for frying. If the oil bubbles very very vigorously, then the oil is too hot and needs to cool off a touch. If no or very few bubbles pop up, then it’s not hot enough.
While the oil is heating, prepare the pies. Form the pastry into 8-10 walnut-sized balls. Put the pastry ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a 1 mm thick circle. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and turn the circle over.
Place three teaspoons of filling on half of the pastry round and then close the other half over the top of the filling. Use a fork to mould the edges of the pie together. Prick the pie’s top to allow air to escape.
Place two or three pies at a time in the hot oil and fry for around 8 minutes or until the pie is golden brown in colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen roll. Serve the kok samsa either hot or cold.
This week on Knidos Cookery Club we’re looking to Central Asia for inspiration in the form of the noodle, which, Marco Polo legends aside, is thought by some to have originated in this part of the world.
While the question of who first came up with the idea of combining wheat flour, water, egg and salt to make pasta is still being debated, one thing is certain – the dish (most likely) came from somewhere in Asia!
The noodle probably came into Turkey with the nomadic tribes who swept across the Eurasian steppe, located between China and Eastern Europe, in the wake the Mongol invasions of Anatolia from the 13th century onwards. Pasta dishes in Turkey include manti, small meat-filled dumplings and erişte, thin strips of pasta dressed with cream and walnuts or added to soups and stews to add body.
Another name for erişte is kesme – this caused some confusion when researching this article as kesme can be a negative (do not cut) or the ‘-me‘ ending can turn the word into a noun – in this case it’s the latter as the name refers to a large sheet of pasta cut into strips. Erişte, by the way, is from the Persian reshteh, which means string or thread.
We’ve decided to stick with the Persian vibe – a popular dish in Iran is ash reshteh, a vegetable and noodle soup, and make a version of this hearty soup cum stew with chickpeas, pumpkin, tomato and noodle strips.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
For the noodles:
If you have time and want to make your own noodles, follow this link, otherwise use about 100 g of shop-bought dried egg noodles, broken up into 2 cm strips.
For the stew:
100 g egg noodles, broken into 2 cm strips
400 g pumpkin
200g dried chick peas, soaked overnight and cooked for an hour or so until tender but not mushy
25 ml olive oil
one medium-sized onion
three medium-sized tomatoes
500 ml vegetable stock or reserved cooking water form the chick peas
one clove of garlic
one teaspoon coriander seeds
one teaspoon red chili flakes
one teaspoon cumin seeds
salt and black pepper to taste
dollop of sour cream
Cut the pumpkin into 2 cm chunks and roast in a baking dish in an oven pre-heated to 220 c /gas mark 7 for 30 minutes or so. If you have any seeds from the pumpkin, place these on tin foil and roast alongside the pumpkin until turning brown.
Chop up the onion and fry in the olive oil in a heavy-based pan with the garlic and spices on a medium heat until beginning to brown. Turn down the heat, add the chopped up tomatoes and stir.
Cook for five minutes and then add the chick peas and 200 ml of the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Add the roasted pumpkin and the rest of the stock and bring to the boil again. Add the broken-up noodles and cook for five minutes until the noodle pieces are cooked.
Serve in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and sprinkle some roasted pumpkin seeds over the top.