August 29, 2010 at 9:52 am | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

The home of Borat.   I can’t think of a single other thing about Kazahkstan.     However, as this cooking event is fundamentally about educating the kids about other countries, I can’t really lead with a parody.

Kazakhstan is another ex-Soviet republic, but one that’s not in the doldrums.  They’ve got an economy that works and a political system that sort of works (a democracy is generally unlikely to return a leader with 90% of the vote).  They’re considered the dominant nation of Central Asia.    Remarkably, the land is larger in area than Western Europe but is only populated by 16m people.     It’s also one of those slightly odd countries where the ‘official’ language is  spoken by less than 2/3 of the population – Russian is the common language.

Kazakhstan is also notable in that it has a rich demographic breakdown.  The population includes dozens of ethnic groups – Tatars, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Belarusians, Uyghurs, Azerbaijanis, Poles, Lithuanians, Koreans, Germans all live peacefully in the country.    A slightly uncomfortable reason for this cultural diversity is that Kazakhstan was also home to many of the Russian Gulags, and lots of people were deported to Khazakstan.

The  Plan

Beshbarmak is the national dish of Kazakhstan, which means ‘5 fingers’.   It’s essentially a plate of lots of varied types of boiled meat, and horse feature features prominently.   I started a variation which was mostly boiled lamb in stock with noodles but it looked too unappetising so I turned that experiment into a curry.

Instead, I’ve gone for shashlyk, something that  may not be strictly Kazakhstani, but certainly is favoured by the Khazaks and certainly comes from the region.   When you select the meat for this, it’s important that you don’t have lean meat:  as the marinade is dry, you’ll need some fat for the meat to remain moist.


  • 400g beef, cubed
  • 400g lamb (cut from the leg or shoulder), cubed
  • 2 diced onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • lemon juice
  1. Place the meat in separate bowls.  Divide the onions and garlic and lemon juice evenly between each bowl and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight
  2. Soak some wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes.
  3. Thread the meat onto the skewers.  Don’t mix the meats up.
  4. Grill for around 12-20 minutes.    Remove from the heat and slice the meat from the skewers.   Serve over boiled rice.

The  Event

This is not exactly a novelty – skewered meat is a common BBQ event for us.  However, I’d not used lamb from a leg before and it was markedly better than the average skewer.

The  Outcome

Liam:  “I would beg and beg to have this again”

Jacq:  “I loved the whole dish”

Chris:  “Lamb is good”

Me:  I’ll do this again, but with lamb.   Thicker pieces of meat is best.



August 28, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

The 3rd stan in a row!  We’re in Turkmenistan now – a country which, well, doesn’t spring to mind too often.   Mostly because it’s more-or-less a completely closed nation, ranking 3rd worst in terms of press freedom only after North Korea and Burma.   A former part of the Soviet Union, it was one of the last Asian territories  to secede.   It seems that possibly the reason for secession – apart from the crumbling USSR – was the fear of glasnost:  the country is fundamentally backward, inward looking and prehistoric in it’s thinking.    The former leader banned:

  • Beards
  • Opera
  • Recorded music
  • Libraries
  • Playing video games
  • Ballet
  • Long hair
  • The Hippocratic Oath
  • Makeup on TV presenters
  • Circuses

He had me with opera but what cruel barbarous dictator bans the circus!

The  Plan

There’s not a lot of unique recipes floating around:  I discovered that the Ishlekly has some notoriety as a national dish, which is essentially a pie. I took this from the World Cookbook for Students.



  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of sour cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 200g of mince
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • melted butter
  1. Mix the flour, butter, milk, sour cream, egg, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.    Once you have a thick dough, knead for 15 minutes on a floured surface.
  2. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth and leave for 15 minutes.
  3. Mix the onions, mince and tomatoes.
  4. Take 2/3 of the dough and roll flat.   Lay on an oiled pizza dish
  5. Spread the meat mixture on the dough, leaving a 2cm gap from the edge.
  6. Roll out the remain dough flat and place over the top.
  7. Cook for 30 minutes at 200c.
  8. Remove from the oven and spread soft butter over the top.

The  Event

Very easy to make – lots of fun making dough with the kids.  I was a bit worried about how plain and tomato-y the mixture was going to be.  Also worried that we had no spices to add.

The  Outcomes

Liam: “This is gross”

Jacqueline:  ”Yep.  Horrible”

Chris:  ”It’s er, well, pastry with some filling.”

Me:  Turkmenistan’s tight political control over their country has meant little of their culture has left the country.   From a cuisine point of view, I think that’s a good thing.


August 22, 2010 at 9:18 am | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Our next ‘stan’ is Uzbekistan.    The Uzbeks, right next door to the Tajiks, the Kyrgyz, the Turkmen and the Afghanis, hold the dubious honour of being one of only two doubly-land-locked nations in the world:  these guys need at least two visas to go see a beach.

Uzbekistan, while historically dominated by nomadic cultures, became a significant agricultural contributor after it effectively drained the world’s four largest lake and poured it on the desert.  Today, it’s the second largest cotton producers in the world, and also owns one of the worst environmental disasters in the world:  the Aral sea is less than 10% of it’s original size, with the ‘port’ of  Muynak now 100km away from the water’s edge.

The  Plan

Uzbekistan is fundamentally about meat and pilaf, or plov.  We did a plov for Tajikstan so we’re going for a Shurpa – lamb broth or mutton soup.

Qovurma Shurva – Mutton Soup


  • 500g of lamb
  • 1/4 of a cup of oil, or a number of pieces of lamb fat
  • 500g potatoes
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 4 onions
  • 1 bunch of coriander
  • 1 apple
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. Fry the lamb fat until you have a thin layer of melted fat in the pan.  Remove the unmelted fat – you should have around 1/2 cm deep fat at most.
  2. Fry the diced lamb meat
  3. Add the onions and tomatoes and saute for 5 minutes
  4. Add the diced potatoes
  5. Add 2 litres of water and bring to a boil
  6. Add the coriander, bay leaf and salt
  7. Add a peeled and cored apple.
  8. Simmer for an hour.

The  Event

I actually wanted to use a stock as a starter,  but unfortunately while the stock and pan was in the sink cooling, Jacq washed her hands over the top of it.

The Uzbek’s clearly have very little spices, more the shame.

The  Outcomes

Liam: “”

Jacqueline:  ”I don’t like the meat”

Chris:  ”It’s not bad but I wouldn’t seek it out.   Too fatty”

Me:  This needed to be made with a stock first.   And Chris was right about the excessive fat.


August 15, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Moving to Eastern and Central Asia, we’re into a tough stretch:  8 meals from a meagre 12 countries, five of them ending in “stan”.    Tajikstan is our first spot.

I must admit knowing little about ‘the stans”.   Turns out Tajikstan is one of the more unusual countries in central Asia.  The language is very similar to Persian (spoken in Iran) yet the national language for a long time was Russian (due to the less-than-spectacular period of alignment with the USSR).    It’s another significantly impoverished countries, mostly due to said Russian ‘help’ but also because of civil war, an absence of natural resources and just being a long way away from anywhere.

Interestingly though, Tajikstan is on the Silk Road, so benefited greatly during the Silk Road (which explains it’s adoption of Indian spices).   It’s proximity to the the Eastern and out-of-way-ness was also clearly benefit to  spy writers – if you’re watching an awful 80’s Cold War film chances are that the drop is being made in Tajikstan.

Oh, and Tajikstan’s also bloody high – half the country is over 3,000m (50% further up than Kosciuszko).

The  Plan

Tajikstan favours mutton as a principal ingredient, cumin as the principal spice, rice as the stable and tea as the drink.  The national dish is qurutob, which is a concoction of flat bread, yoghurt, onions and tomato and eaten with one’s fingers.   However, I went for Tajik Osh, the Tajik version of pilaf – apparently served at weddings.


  • 2 cups of rice
  • Oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Beef stock
  • 1 kg of beef, preferably chuck, or mutton
  • 2 or 3 teaspoons of cumin
  • a bag of carrots, julienned
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 onions


  1. Slice the meat into big chunks, and fry in oil in a large saucepan.
  2. Once the meat is browned, add garlic and onion and stir vigorously.   Add the cumin
  3. Add the carrots.  At this point, turn down the heat a bit as you don’t the meat to burn
  4. Once the carrots have softened, add the stock and enough water to just cover meat.  Simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Wash and soak the rice
  6. After 30 minutes of the meat simmering, add the chickpeas and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add the cumin and salt as required.
  7. Remove the meat and dice.  Return to the pot
  8. Drain the rice and add to the pot.  Stir into the mix and add enough water to cover the mixture by about one inch.  The rice will absorb the remaining water.
  9. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Serves at least 6.

The  Event

For the first time in my life, I ran out of carrots.  I substituted with two scoops of red lentils.   I also ran out of cumin, so garam masala had to be a last minute substitute

The  Outcomes

Liam: “its good!  But I want to know if this is near the country that worships cows?”

Jacqueline:  “Great food dad.”

Chris:  “This is good!  But I’m quite glad you didn’t garnish this with strips of lamb fat”

Me:  Good, nice, if somewhat predictable pilaf.


August 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Posted in Western & Southern Africa | Leave a comment

Ghana is our last stop in Western and Southern Africa.   This time we have something entirely not stew-ish at all, and not an ounce of peanut butter.   However, first a bit on a Ghana.

Ghana is the origin of  the other Gold Coast, known for actual gold (as opposed to just real estate profits).    Ghana can be  proud to say they the 53rd  least failed state in the world – which, in African terms places them second from the top.    Coups are down in Ghana and last year they proudly proved they were a democracy with the second successful transition of power from one legitimately elected leader to another.    Coups are down in Ghana.

Ghana’s also the home of Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize winner.   They also produce lots of gold and cocoa.

The  Plan

I found a dish from the Congo Cookbook called Ashanti chicken, named after the capital.  This a de-boned chicken, stuffed with minced chicken.  Yes, I think we have found the origin of the turducken!

There’s no way I’m competent or time-rich enough to debone a chicken, so I bought one pre-de-boned.


  • one whole chicken, 1-1.5kg, de-boned
  • one pound  potatoes, or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 500g chicken meat, white or dark (no bones)
  • cooking oil for frying chicken
  • one small onion, chopped
  • one tomato, chopped (or a spoonful of tomato paste or tomato sauce)
  • a handful of parsley, chopped
  • a few mint leaves, chopped
  • salt and black pepper, to taste


  1. Boil the  potatoes (or sweet potatoes) until soft. Remove from water and mash.
  2. While potatos are cooking, fry the chicken meat (not the whole chicken) in a few tablespoons of oil. When nearly done add the onion and tomato. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fully cooked.
  3. Add the chicken-onion-tomato mixture to the mashed potato. Add parsley, mint, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
  4. Stuff the de-boned chicken with the yam-chicken mixture. Sew the chicken closed with a needle and cooking string. Rub with butter or oil, salt and pepper.
  5. Bake the stuffed chicken in an oven or in an outdoor grill until it is browned, then wrap it in foil to allow it to continue to cook until fully done. Either way, be sure to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Make sure to check the temperature of both the whole chicken and the stuffing

Serve with baked potatos, carrots and pumpkin

Serves 4 (easily).

The  Event

Sewing up a chicken is easy!  However, make sure you sew up the head cavity first:  if you make that tight, you can stuff the chicken really well.      With a pre-de-boned chicken, this isn’t that hard to prepare.

The chicken needed wrapping in foil after an hour or so to stop the legs burning.

The  Outcome

Jacqueline:  “I love it!”

Liam:  “Yum!”

Chris:  “More stuffing please”

Me:  This was Ok.   At the end of the day, it was meat stuffed with more meat, so somewhat indulgent.   I have to perfect the carving as it very quickly becomes a big mess of chicken.  Oh, and sweet potato would work better than plain old mash, and don’t skimp on the spices and herbs.


August 8, 2010 at 11:18 am | Posted in Northern & Eastern Europe | Leave a comment

Russia is a vast sprawling country that seems to be much more removed from the western cultures – more isolated than Africa, Asia or even the Middle East.  Very little immigration out of the country is obviously one factor, the political boundaries over the last  century but probably a key factor is fundamentally that it’s very size makes it somewhat impenetrable.    It’s a long way north (virtually all of it further north than London), the majority of it land locked, and for large chunk of the year it’s freezing:  -44°C in the capital.

Regardless, Russian culture is a bit unusual here in Australia:  we seem to have plenty of Russian IT contractors and every type of Russian vodka, but not a huge amount of Russian food.

The  Plan

The quintessential Russian dish would have to be the Borscht:  a thick soup made primarily from beetroot.  Googling around, there also seems to be more recipes for borscht than there are subdivisions in  Russia. I’m picking this one, from Simply Recipes, with some minor modifications.   Also included a hefty portion of garlic bread.


  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 4 beef bones
  • 300g chuck steak, cubed into large chunks (3cm)
  • 1 large onion, peeled, quartered
  • 2 large beetroot, peeled, chopped into small cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled, chopped into small cubes
  • 1 large  sebago potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Bring 4 cups of the beef broth, the beef bones, and onion to boil in large pot. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for around  an hour.
  2. Remove the bones, trim any meat remaining and return it to the pan.  Add the chuck steak and cook for another hour.
  3. Remove the meat from the stock.   Dice, and put to one side.
  4. Place the broth in the fridge for an hour or tow
  5. Skim the fat from the top of the chilled broth and discard.
  6. Return the pan to the stove, adding the beetroot, potato and carrots and the remaining stock.  This needs to be thick and hearty so don’t make it too watery.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  7. Add the meat, cabbage and most of the dill (reserve some for garnish).  Simmer for a further 15-20 minutes
  8. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill on each plate.

Serves 4 (just).

The  Event

This was a few steps –  making up the stock – but worth it.  It was only just enough for the four of us.

The  Outcomes

Chris:  “This is great!”

Jacqueline:  “Ergh.   I don’t like beetroot”  <adds much more sour cream> <adds more>  “Now its good”

Liam:  “it’s pink!  Oh no!  It’s gross!”  (still ate it)

Me:   I’ve had borscht, and not liked it.  This recipe though was great:  the sour cream and dill make it, and slowly drawing in bits of cream gave the dish different flavours.   Very nice.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.