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 Lunch: Red-hot Hummus

16 April 2020

We’re now nearing the end of the third week of Almaty’s lockdown. Life has settled into a pattern of venturing out as little as possible and relying more on what we have stored away. After a delve in the cupboards, we came up with one of the stalwarts of the staple food world – a pack of dried beans.

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KCC’s Red-hot, red bean hummus

After soaking in cold water overnight, these red beans can be used in endless ways – from soups, stews and curries to burgers, salads and dips. We’ve gone for a easy-to-make red bean hummus; you’ll just need to add tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and some spices. Serve with flat bread and salad for a tasty lunch.

Don’t worry if you haven’t got any tahini on hand, you can make your own by toasting some sesame seeds and mixing them with olive oil – here’s a link to last year’s post on DIY tahini.

Ingredients (makes around 300 g)

  • 250 g cooked red beans (reserve 50 ml of the cooking water)
  • Two tablespoons tahini
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One lemon
  • One garlic clove
  • One teaspoon cumin seeds
  • One teaspoon sumac
  • Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • A few sprigs of coriander

Method

  • Mash the beans with a potato masher or a fork and add the tahini. Mix well then add olive oil and lemon juice and blend until you get a smooth consistency. If the hummus is too thick, use some of the cooking water, Add the minced garlic and spices and mix a bit more with the fork. Garnish with a few beans, a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and a sprig of coriander.

 

Lockdown Lunch: Beansprout Bonanza

2 April 2019

With movement getting ever more restricted in the lockdown — we’re now limited to not going more than 500 m from our flat in Almaty, which rules out big supermarkets for shopping trips, maintaining a supply of fresh ingredients is becoming more tricky – so this is the time when beansprouts come into their own…

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So, this time round we’ll be looking at some things you can do in the home, such as sprouting beans and lentils, to add a fresh, nutritious kick to your salads and stir-fries. We’ve gone for mung beans which are easy to sprout – your first crop will be ready in a matter of days and all you need is a glass jar and some mesh netting (we re-purposed a yoga mat bag by recycling the nylon mesh for our sprouter).

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KCC’s sprout-powered salad with carrot, chickpeas, spring onions and radish.

Here are the steps for germinating mung beans:

  • Select clean, undamaged mung beans and wash them thoroughly.
  • Sterilise your glass jar and mesh lid with boiling water and/or in a hot oven.
  • Fill the jar about a quarter of the way with washed beans.
  • Soak the beans in cold water in the jar for at least four hours.
  • Drain off all the water and put the jar in a cool, dark cupboard.
  • Rinse the mung beans a few times a day with cold water and drain the liquid off.
  • After two or three days, your first crop will be ready for eating.
  • When the sprouts are around 2-3 cm long, put them in the fridge until using.

Warning: Raw bean sprouts can lead to food poisoning if not prepared in sterile conditions and regularly washed with clean water.

  • If the sprouts look slimy or smell strange, throw them away.
  • Once sprouted, store the sprouts in the fridge and try to use them as quickly as possible.
  • And don’t forget to wash your hands frequently, especially when preparing food.

Lockdown Lunch: Tbilisi Calling

26 March 2020

For this week’s lockdown lunch we had a root around the cupboards and came up with some dried red beans, last autumn’s walnuts and a bottle of Turkish pomegranate sauce (Nar Ekşili Sos) – perfect ingredients for taking us on a culinary away day to Tbilisi for a bowl of lobio, Georgia’s signature bean dish.

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Take a trip to Georgia with KCC’s Lobio lockdown lunch

Lobio can be more like a soup, a stew, a salad or even re-fried beans depending on which region of Georgia it’s prepared in – we’ve gone for lobio nigvzit which is somewhere between a soup and a stew. Serve the lobio in a clay pot with white cheese and a hunk of fresh mchadi (corn bread – recipe link here) or any other bread for an authentic taste of Georgia.

To help pass the time during lockdown, here’s something on the etymology of lobio from @thomas_wier on twitter:

Ingredients (makes four servings)

  • 500 g cooked red beans
  • 50 g walnuts
  • One medium onion
  • Two garlic cloves
  • One teaspoon coriander seeds
  • One teaspoon blue fenugreek (use fenugreek or cumin seeds if you can’t find this)
  • One teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • One small bunch fresh coriander
  • Three bay leaves
  • 50 ml cooking oil
  • 50 ml pomegranate sauce
  • 250 ml water the beans were cooked in or vegetable stock

Method 

  • If cooking dried beans, then soak 250 g of beans overnight. Change water and cook for one hour or so until the beans are just cooked but not yet falling apart. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the coriander seeds and blue fenugreek. Cook for a few minutes and then add the diced onions, mashed garlic and chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes over a low heat and then add the crushed walnuts and the pomegranate sauce. Cook for another five minutes.
  • Now add the drained beans, bay leaves and reserved cooking water. Leave to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon – don’t worry if the beans start to fall apart – they taste better like this and absorb more sauce.
  • Add the chopped fresh coriander and serve hot with bread and white cheese. It tastes even better if left overnight and reheated, but only add the fresh coriander after re-heating the mix.

 

 

Lunching in a Time of Lockdown – A Simple Bean Salad

19 March 2020

Lockdown has arrived in KCC’s current base of Almaty, Kazakhstan as the battle against the spread of COVID-19 rages on. Entry to the city is being restricted, cinemas, bars, restaurants and many shops have been shuttered and food shops are only allowed to operate between 10.00 and 18.00.

While we haven’t seen much of the panic buying, except for runs on buckwheat, reported in other parts of the world ourselves, with city-wide quarantine looming it was a good opportunity to  make sure our cupboards were well stocked up.

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The basic ingredients for KCC’s store cupboard bean salad –  white beans, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and red chilli flakes

Besides the usual bags of pasta, pulses, bulgur and rice and tins of tomatoes, beans and peas and packs of dried crackers, we’ve found the following items useful to have in supply: jars of olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes, olive oil, soy sauce, herbs, spices, mung beans, nuts, dried fruit and seeds.

Here’s a simple store cupboard bean salad to get us started. You’ll need a tin of beans, some sun-dried tomatoes, capers and olives. Add any fresh ingredients that you can get your hands on and dress with olive oil and vinegar or soy sauce.

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Voila – KCC’s store cupboard bean salad

With the staples listed above you can produce a healthy meal even if you have no way of cooking food as all the ingredients are ready to eat straight away (although the mung beans will of course need a few days to be sprouted into an edible form).

Zero Waste Tip: Don’t throw your spring onion roots away, instead use them to produce more leafy stems by following this tip from The Micro Gardener so you’ll have a ready-to-pick supply on your window sill to add to salads and soups:

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Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 250 g cooked white beans
  • 50 g capers
  • 10 black olives
  • 3 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes (pul biber)

Method

  • Drain and rinse the beans, if using canned ones, and put in a salad bowl. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes and olives into small chunks and then add to the beans with the capers. Dress the salad with olive oil and soy sauce and sprinkle with red chilli flakes. Serve with bread or crackers.

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 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.

 

 

The Turk-Mex Chronicles: Corny Courgette Fritters (aka Return of the Mücver Variations)

3 October 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re adding to the recipe bank of our Turk-Mex influenced cuisine. We’ve taken a Turkish favourite, mücver, a fritter made from grated courgettes, and added a Mexican staple, corn, to create our latest mücver variation.

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It’s believed that corn was first domesticated in southernMexico around 9-10,000 years ago. From there it slowly spread across the Americas before finding its way into Europe in the 16th century; brought back by the explorers who had landed in what became dubbed ‘The New World’.

These tasty fritters can be served like a burger in a bun, wrapped in a tortilla, stuffed into a pita bread or just plain with a jacket potato and some salad for a healthy snack that can be eaten at any time of the day.

Ingredients (makes around 8 large fritters)

  • Two courgettes
  • One corn cob
  • Three tablespoons wholemeal flour
  • 75 ml olive oil
  • Two teaspoons cumin
  • Two teaspoons red chilli flakes
  • Two teaspoons dried thyme
  • One teaspoon turmeric

Method

  • Bring a pan of water to boiling and then switch off the heat. Soak the corn cob in the boiled water for five minutes and then put in a pan of cold water. Remove the kernels by slicing downwards with a knife on the sides of the cob.
  • Grate the courgettes into a large bowl and mix with the flour, herbs and spices, reserving 25 ml of the olive oil for cooking. Add the corn kernels and mix well. Leave the mix to stand for a few hours in the fridge.
  • Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan. Take a golf ball sized scoop of the mix and put it into the pan and flatten it with a spatula. Cook over a medium heat for five minutes and then flip over and cook for another five minutes. Alternatively, you can bake the fritters in the oven for 30 minutes at 180c or grill on a barbecue.

 

Lemony Artichoke and Avocado Pasta

4 July 2019

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re serving up a lemony pasta that combines artichoke hearts with avocado slices in a tomato sauce.

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The earthy flavour of the artichoke goes well with the zingy lemon zest in this healthy and easy-to-prepare pasta dish.  We hadn’t tried artichoke and avocado in the same recipe before, but, on this evidence, we can assure you that it works perfectly!

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • Two green peppers
  • Six small tomatoes
  • 25 ml olive oil
  • One lemon
  • Four artichoke hearts
  • One avocado
  • 150 g dried pasta
  • 50 ml water

Method

  • Heat the olive oil over in a heavy-based pan a medium heat and fry the sliced green peppers for five minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for five more minutes. Add the water and reduce the heat so the sauce is simmering. Place the artichoke hearts on top of the sauce, cover the pan and steam for 30 minutes.
  • While the artichokes are steaming, cook the pasta according to instructions. Prepare the zest of one lemon by grating the skin. Squeeze the lemon into the pasta sauce. Remove the artichoke hearts when cooked. When the pasta is ready, drain it and mix with the sauce.
  • Put a layer of pasta and sauce in a bowl, place an artichoke heart in the middle, arrange avocado slices around the artichoke and sprinkle lemon zest over the dish before serving.