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 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.

 

Grassy Green Samosas

19 September 2019

This time round we’ve filled some filo pastry triangles with some fresh leafy greens. Inspired by Central Asia’s kok samsa, a small, deep-fried pie filled stuffed with chopped up greens, our take on this popular street snack mixes some peppery radish leaves with some tart sorrel-like leaves, leek and carrot.

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A grassy, leafy green samosa

A few weeks ago, we left Datça’s weekly market laden down with a selection of leafy greens – called ot (grass) in Turkish, including a bunch of radishes complete with leaves and an unidentified bunch of greens with a tart, lemony taste.

Further inspired by Turkey’s otlu pide and otlu börek, we chopped up a leek and fried it in olive oil and then mixed in some grated carrot before adding the leafy greens and spices. To make these pies you can use any leafy greens – Swiss chard and spinach also work well here.

Then we wrapped the filling in filo pastry, which can be bought from your local supermarket or Middle Eastern grocery shop – or you can try and make your own – here’s some tips on how to do it.

Ingredients (makes 6-8 samosas)

  • 12 sheets of filo pastry (approx 15 cm x 15 cm)
  • One leek
  • One carrot
  • One bunch each of sorrel and  radish leaves (use spinach and/or Swiss chard if you can’t find these)
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon dried thyme
  • One teaspoon sumac
  • One teaspoon cumin
  • Sprinkling of nigella seeds

Method 

  1. To make the filling, heat 25 ml olive oil in a heavy-based pan and cook the chopped leek over a medium heat until translucent. Add the grated carrot and cook for five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the herbs and spices and the roughly chopped greens and cook until the leaves are wilting.
  2. Place a layer of filo pastry on a flat surface dusted with flour. Brush with olive oil and add another sheet, brush with oil and then add one more layer. Cut the layers of filo into two triangles along the diagonal.
  3. Place a generous dollop of the filling in the middle of each triangle. Fold the edges of pastry over, brushing with more oil, to create a triangle-shaped pie like a samosa. Repeat the process until all the filling is used up.
  4. Place the pies on a greased baking tray and brush with more oil and sprinkle nigella seeds over them. Place the tray into a pre-heated oven and bake at 200 °C  (gas mark 6) for 30 minutes or until the pies are golden brown in colour. Serve straight away with a salad of your choice.

Green Cheburekifest as KCC turns 3

28 March 2019

Wow, we can hardly believe it, but Knidos Cookery Club turns 3 this week! Our first post was published from Turkey on 31 March 2016, and since then we’ve brought you 94 editions of KCC, stuffed with veggie food from all over the world. We’d love to hear your feedback – what’s been your favourite post so far? Let us know in the comments section below.

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KCC’s spinach and celery pelmeni with sour cream

 

To mark this momentous occasion, we’ve prepared some mini chebureki filled with spring greens. We’re using chebureki in this context to refer to a crescent-shaped pie. Usually they’re deep-fried but we decided to turn them into more of a pelmeni by boiling them. It’s both healthier and quicker.

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KCC’s spinach and celery pelmeni – the full table

 

Chebureki and pelmeni are from the family of little pies that are made from an unleavened dough – their cousins are Italy’s ravioli,  Turkey’s manti, China’s wonton, Uzbekistan’s chuchvara and Kazakhstan’s tushpara, Ukraine’s varenyky and Poland’s pierogi – the list is endless.

Ingredients (makes up to 24)

For the pasta:

  • 200 g wholewheat flour
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 100 ml water
  • pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • One small onion
  • 150g spinach
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds

Method

  • Make the pasta by sifting the flour into a large mixing bowl and then add the oil, a pinch of salt and half of the water in a well in the middle of the flour. Mix inwards from the outside with a wooden spoon and then add the rest of the water until the dough has absorbed all the flour.
  • Knead for ten minutes or so and then leave the pasta dough to rest in the fridge for at least one hour. While the dough is in the fridge, prepare the filling. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the cumin seeds and then add the finely chopped onion. After cooking for five minutes, add thin slices of celery stick and the leaves and cook for three minutes. Now add the chopped up spinach and cook for another five minutes stirring frequently. Allow to cool before making the mini pies.
  • Roll the pasta out onto a lightly-floured surface to a thickness between 0.5 and 1.0 mm.Use a glass or a mug to cut out round shapes from the dough, add a teaspoon of cooled spring greens in the bottom half of the circle and moisten the inside edge around the filling with a little water and then fold the top over. Use a fork to seal the pasta pocket.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil and then add the little pies to the water and keep boiling over a low heat until they float to the surface. Remove  with a slotted spoon and serve hot – they’re good served with sour cream or melted butter or just plain.

A Passion for Pkhali

20 April 2017

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re returning to Georgia for some culinary inspiration in the form of pkhali, a type of starter made from walnuts, herbs, spices and whatever vegetable happens to be in season, such as spinach, beetroot, aubergine, cabbage or carrot.

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Walnuts are widely used in Georgian cooking – besides pkhali, they can be turned into  satsivi, a thick paste similar to hummus, and  bazha, a sauce made with the holy trinity of Georgian herbs – blue fenugreek, ground coriander (cilantro) and crushed marigold flowers. These combos can be mixed with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes as a salad dressing or stuffed into tongues of fried aubergine (eggplant).

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Staying on the walnut theme, on a recent visit to the former home of famous Kazakh writer Mukhtar Auezov in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the guide gave me a handful of walnuts from the gnarled old tree in the garden of the writer’s house. These nuts were used in the making  of today’s pkhali recipe.

Auezov was famous in Soviet times for writing The Path of Abai, an epic historical novel based on the life and teachings of Kazakhstan’s most famous poet and composer Abai Qunanbayuli, who had been a neighbour and friend of Auezov’s grandfather.

It was said in the Soviet era that all were equal, but some were more equal than others – and this was certainly the case for Auezov after he won the Lenin Prize in 1959 for his four-volume epic novel about Abai.

The prize came with a sackful of roubles which he invested in a two-storey house, which is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The house was lavish by the standards of the time and was designed by the architect who designed Almaty’s Abai Opera Theatre.

Ingredients (Makes around four generous servings of each pkhali – see photo above)

For the beetroot pkhali

300 g cooked beetroot

100 g walnuts

One garlic clove

5 g fresh parsley

5 g fresh coriander

One teaspoon blue fenugreek powder

One teaspoon black pepper

20 ml wine vinegar

A scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts

 

For the spinach pkhali

250 g fresh spinach

100 g walnuts

One small onion (around 75 g)

One garlic clove

5 g fresh parsley

5 g fresh coriander

One teaspoon blue fenugreek powder

One teaspoon black pepper

20 ml wine vinegar

A scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts

 

Method

For the beetroot pkhali:

Boil the beetroot for 30 minutes or so until you can pierce it with a knife easily.

Leave to cool and then peel and chop into small chunks.

Toast the walnuts over a low heat for 5-10 minutes and then add to the garlic and herbs and spices in a bowl. Add the vinegar and use a blender to make a smooth paste. Add the beetroot chunks and keep blending until you have a gloopy mixture.

Leave overnight in the fridge and then serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

Method

For the spinach pkhali:

Cook the spinach in boiling water for 5 minutes until it begins to wilt. Remove and place in cold water and then drain.

Finely chop the onion and put it in a mixing bowl with the garlic, herbs and spices. Toast the walnuts over a low heat for 5-10 minutes and then add to the bowl. Add the vinegar and use a blender to make a smooth paste. Add the spinach and keep blending until you have a gloopy mixture.

Leave overnight in the fridge and then serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

 

 

Seventh Heaven Samsas

 

23 March 2017

Happy Nowruz from Knidos Cookery Club!

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Nauryz (Nowruz) greetings from Almaty, Kazakhstan

To celebrate this spring equinox festival, we’ll be serving up kok samsa, deep-fried pies filled with a selection of spring greens.

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Seven tastes of spring: parsley, spinach, coriander, celeriac leaves, spring onion, garlic and mint

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.

Kok samsa, a close relative of India’s samosa, are prepared in Uzbekistan, where the holiday is called Navruz. These tasty pies are filled with fresh spring greens.

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.

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KCC’s Kok samsa with seven spring herbs inside

Ingredients (makes 8-10 pies)

  1. 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)

Method

      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.

 

 

 

Who Ate All the Pies?

9 June 2016

This week, Knidos Cookery Club is going to have a look at a local take on the pie – börek. 

This member of the baked, filled pastry club is made from thin layers of filo pastry, known as yufka in Turkey. It comes with a variety of fillings including spinach, white cheese, potatoes, grated courgettes, swiss chard, leeks or combinations of these fillings.

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Individual spinach börek ready for the oven

There are two main ways of preparing börek – in a large pan and then sliced after baking, or as an individual serving in a cigar-shape. Either way, the börek is a moreish treat so always make more than you think you’ll need!

Kindos Cookery Club will tell you how to make the individual servings today. To make the pan version, layer 3-4 sheets of filo pastry in a large, greased dish, brushing glaze between the layers (as in this recipe for a zesty leek, goat cheese and walnut tart). Next add the filling of your choice and then top it off with 3-4 more sheets of filo and sprinkle with nigella seeds. Follow the baking instructions below for the individual pies to cook the pan version.

Follow these steps to make some tasty individual white cheese and spinach börek.

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Ready to roll…

 

Ingredients (To make 5 individual pies)

15 sheets of filo pastry

500 g spinach

One medium-sized onion

100 g white cheese

50 ml olive oil

50 ml natural yogurt or milk

Fresh mixed herbs (mint, oregano, thyme,dill)

Salt and pepper

Nigella seeds

Method

To make the filling, heat some olive oil in a heavy-based pan and cook the chopped onion over a medium heat until translucent. Add the chopped, fresh herbs and washed and shredded spinach. Season with dashes of salt and pepper.

Cook until the spinach wilts and then add the crumbled white cheese. Mix well and allow to cool.

Make a glaze for the filo pastry by blending equal parts of olive oil and natural yogurt (or milk). Brush the glaze over one 15 cm x 15 cm sheet of filo (or triangle shapes if you can find them), then place another layer of pastry, glaze and finally one more sheet and glaze.

Put two generous dollops of filling onto the bottom edge of the layered filo sheets, leaving about 2 cm at each end. Roll the pie into a cigar shape and press the ends down.

Brush with glaze and sprinkle nigella seeds over the cigar.

Place on a greased baking tray and put into a pre-heated oven and bake at 200 °C (gas mark 6) for 30 minutes or until the pies are golden brown in colour.