Netherlands

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a small densely populated country in Western Europe with three Island territories in the Caribbean – Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. The Netherlands consists of twelve provinces including North Holland and South Holland. In 2013, the United Nations World Happiness Report ranked the Netherlands as the fourth happiest country in the world, reflecting its high quality of life.

A few interesting facts:
More than a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level, 50% of its land lies less than one metre above sea level
The Dutch are the biggest licorice eaters in the world consuming 32 million kilos every year
The Netherlands is the second largest beer exporter in the world, after Mexico, with an export value of $2.1 billion
Dutch men are the tallest in the world, with an average height of 184cm. Researchers say it’s down to their DNA, nutrition and welfare
KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaartmaatschappij or “Royal Airline Company”), the Dutch national airline, is the oldest national airline in the world, founded in 1919
The Netherlands produces around 60% of the world’s supply of flower bulbs, and its trading companies account for 85% of the international trade

The Netherlands is known for a flat landscape of canals, tulip fields, windmills and cycling routes. The Vaalserberg is the highest point in the European part of the Netherlands, it’s only 322.7 meters high and is located in the province of Limburg. Amsterdam, the capital, is home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the house where Jewish diarist Anne Frank hid during WWII. Canal side mansions and a trove of works from artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer remain from the city’s 17th-century “Golden Age”.

Popular Dutch recipes include Gehaktballen (meatballs), Draadjesvlees (slow braised beef), Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch new herring served raw with onion & gherkins), Jachtschotel (“hunters dish” similar to shepherds pie), Bitterballen (breaded fried croquettes), Stroopwafels (syrup waffles), Duivekater (sweet festive bread) and Pruimenvlaai (plum tart). I opted to make Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs) which went down a treat!

Rating: 8/10

Makes 4 medium size (you can double or triple the quantity to make more) Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips (dark or milk)
1 tbsp water
1/2 cup whipped cream
2 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190c
Heat the water and the butter in a saucepan over medium heat
Bring to a boil, then take off the heat and add the flour stirting until it all comes together in a ball
Add a pinch of salt, stir in the egg and continue to stir until the dough has absorbed all the egg and is fully blended together
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, divide the dough intp four balls and place it on top of the parchment
Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden
Remove and cool on a rack
In the meantime, beat the whipping cream and the sugar until stiff
Fill a pastry bag with small tip, cut a small hole through the bottom of the cooled balls and fill with whipped cream
Heat the chocolate chips and a tablespoon of water in the microwave (30 seconds on medium), stir until the chocolate has melted and the sauce has come together
Then carefully take the cream-filled Bossche bollen and dip, head first, into the chocolate
Or leave them on a rack and slowly pour the chocolate over the top, one spoonful at a time
Cool in the fridge for about 20 minutes or until the chocolate is solid and everything has had a chance to firm up

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Ingredients for Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
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Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
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Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
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Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
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Tulips
amsterdam
Amsterdam
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Traditional windmill, Kinderdijk

United States of America

The United States of America is made up of 50 states, covering 3.8 million square miles with 9 time zones and a population of over 324 million people. It is home to the world’s largest immigration population at 46.6 million. The UK is 5th with 8.5 million.

Some interesting facts about America:
The current 50-star US flag was designed by a 17-year-old as a school project in 1958
The first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge and arrived at least 15,000 years ago
The US purchased Alaska from Russia for just US$7.2 million in 1867
The average US employee stays at each of their jobs for 4.4 years
Christmas was illegal in the US until 1836 as it was considered an ancient Pagan Holiday
The first Friday of June is National Donut Day in the US
GPS is owned and controlled by the U.S. Government. It can be ‘switched off’ at any time
The US uses less water now than it did in 1970
It takes a single one-page form and about 4 minutes to apply to become an official presidential candidate in the US
By law, only dead people can appear on US currency

Nine of the world’s most visited tourist attractions are in the US. The Las Vegas Strip tops the charts with 40 million visitors each year. It is a 4.2 mile stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard in Clark County, Nevada known for it’s casinos and hotels. Fourteen of the world’s 25 largest hotels by room count are on the Strip, with a total of over 62,000 rooms. Times Square is the world’s second most visited tourist attraction, drawing an estimated 39 million visitors each year. It was formerly known as Longacre Square, but was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building.

One of my favourite films is Julie and Julia which, if you haven’t seen it, is about Julia Child, an American chef, author and tv personality and Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about her challenge to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s cookbook in 365 days. Julia Child is recognised for bringing French cuisine to the American public with her debut cookbook, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. In the present day 21st century, the modern cuisine of the United States is very much regional in nature. Some popular dishes include Cobb salad, New England clam chowder, Buffalo wings, Cheeseburger, Gumbo (meat or shellfish stew), Sloppy joe sandwich (ground beef with ketchup in a burger bun), Barbequed ribs, Pecan pie, Mississippi mud pie and Persimmon pudding (steamed pudding with crème anglaise). I decided to cook one of my all time favourites – Southern fried chicken. It was finger licking good!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 8 hours marinating
Cook time: 12 minutes

300ml buttermilk
1 tsp salt
6 pieces of chicken (I used a mixture of breast qtrs and thighs on the bone)
150g plain flour
2 tsps salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
Vegetable oil, for frying

Combine the buttermilk and salt in a sealable bag, add the meat and mix it so the meat is fully coated
Cover and refrigerate for about 8 hours, allowing it to return to room temperature before cooking
Put the flour, salt and spices in a large, flat dish and whisk briefly to combine
Put 1.5cm of vegetable oil into a wide, straight-sided pan with a lid and heat until very hot: a cube of bread should brown almost immediately (about 170C)
Wipe as much buttermilk off the chicken pieces as possible then roll them in the seasoned flour until thoroughly coated
Put the chicken in one layer in the pan (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan) and cover
Turn the heat right down and simmer for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces over, cover again and cook for another 6 minutes
Prepare a rack to drain the chicken
Turn the heat up and fry the chicken until it’s a deep golden colour on all sides
Transfer to the rack and blot with kitchen paper
Allow to cool slightly before serving

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Ingredients for Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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US Flag
yosemite-national-park-california
Yosemite National Park, California
times-square
Times Square, New York
las-vegas-strip
Las Vegas Strip

Uganda

Uganda is situated in East Africa and takes its name from the Buganda kingdom, which encompasses a large portion of the south of the country, including the capital Kampala.
Much of the south of the country is heavily influenced by Lake Nalubaale or Lake Victoria, which contains many islands. It is the source of the Nile and is the largest tropical lake in the world.

During his 1907 visit Winston Churchill said of Uganda “For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa”. It gained independence from Britain in 1962 as a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. In 1963, Uganda became a republic but maintained its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Idi Amin ruled Uganda from 1971 until 1979. He carried out mass killings within the country and an estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives during his regime. Amin’s rule was characterised by human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement.

Uganda is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. As of September 2016, the estimated number remaining is about 880 and they are found in Bwindi National Park in Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ugandan cuisine consists of traditional and modern cooking styles, practices, foods and dishes. Main dishes usually consist of a sauce or stew with groundnuts, beans or meat. Recipes I came across included Ugali (maize porridge), Matooke (mashed plantains), Luwombo (meat stew) and Nsenene (pan fried grasshoppers). I made Sim Sim Cookies (sesame seed biscuits) which were very sweet, but tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Makes 10 – 12
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup sesame seeds

Heat together over a low temperature until the sugar liquefies. Keep an eye on it constantly and stir it gently to bring it together
Be careful not to let the mixture cook too long, or the cookies will be too brittle
Pour the hot mixture onto a flat, greased surface. Work quickly to pat or roll the hot mixture into a flat sheet, approximately 1/4 inch thick
Cool until warm to the touch, but not hot and slice into squares
Separate the square cookies and remove them to another surface to continue cooling

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Ingredients for Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Making Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Mountain Gorilla, Uganda
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Lake Victoria, Uganda

Niger

Named after the Niger River in West Africa, the Republic of Niger is a landlocked country located in Western Africa. At a length of 2,600 miles the Niger River is the third longest river in Africa, after the Nile and the Congo. It contains 36 families of freshwater fish and nearly 250 fish species, twenty of these are found nowhere else on the planet.

A few interesting facts
Uranium is Niger’s largest mineral export. The country is ranked fifth in Uranium production globally
Niger is one of the poorest nations on the earth. In 2014 it was ranked 188 in the world on the UN Human Development Index
Niger is home to the largest protected area in Africa, covering some 7.7 million ha. The Air and Tenere Natural Reserves is the refuge for animals like addax, Cheetah, Oryx and the gazelle
It is one of the hottest countries in the world and is famously nicknamed as ‘Frying Pan of the World’. It can get hot enough to make raindrops evaporate before they hit the ground
A dinosaur named Nigersaurus has been discovered in Niger. It had a long neck and a mouth like a hammerhead shark with up to six hundred teeth for grazing ferns. It lived during the middle Cretaceous period, about 115 to 105 million years ago

Typical Nigerien meals consist of a starch (rice being the most popular) paired with a sauce or stew. Some dishes I came across were Cecena (black-eyed pea and onion fritters), Fari masa (deep fried dough, served with stews), Beignet (savoury wheat pastry of French origin), Fufu (paste made from yam or manioc), Jollof rice (rice and tomato dish), Dodo (fried plantains), Gumbo stew (sticky stew with okra and beef), Tukasu (mutton stew with dumplings), Salad de mangue (green salad with mango) and Chakery (sweet dessert made with cous-cous, cream, fruit and spices). I opted to make Jo jo meat balls (made with beef, green pepper, potato and egg). They were a little disappointing as they lacked flavour and didn’t hold together particularly well, as I think there was too much moisture (I have adapted the recipe below to hopefully alleviate this).

Rating: 5/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes

500g ground beef
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 medium potatoes
2 eggs
Salt & pepper
Plain flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Jar of tomato sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180c
Place the potatoes in a food processer until they are well chopped
Remove to a tea towel and leave for a few minutes, then wring out any moisture
Place the green pepper and onion in the food processer until well chopped
Put the beef in a mixing bowl and add the chopped potatoes, onion, green pepper and eggs
Season well with salt & pepper and mix together
Place some plain flour on a plate
Roll your mixture into medium sized balls, roll each one in a little flour
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the meatballs for 5 – 8 minutes until browned
Place the meatballs in a dish and cook in the oven for around 10 minutes
You can cover the meatballs with tomato sauce before you put them in the oven or leave them plain
Serve with rice

Austria

The Republic of Austria is a highly mountainous country in Central Europe. Only 32% of the country is below 500 metres. The Eastern Alps constitute 62% of the total area. At 3,797 m, Großglockner is the highest mountain in Austria. The majority of the population speak local Bavarian dialects of German as their native language.

We visited the beautiful capital city of Vienna a few years ago to visit my friend Julia. It is a stunning place that has so much to offer the visitor. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Our highlights include the impressive Schönbrunn Palace, Stephansplatz square, Hofburg Palace, Ringstraße, coffee shops and the Vienna food festival. The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as being the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013. It attracts over 3.7 million tourists a year.

Famous Austrians include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adolf Hitler and Sigmund Freud. Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud is best known as the founding father of psychoanalysis, which has heavily influenced modern psychology as well as other domains of science and culture. Salzburg born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started composing at the age of five and performed before European royalty. He composed more than 600 works.

Austrian cuisine is most often associated with Viennese cuisine, but there are significant regional variations. Popular dishes include Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Tafelspitz (boiled veal stew), Käsespätzle (Austrian macaroni cheese), Rindsuppe (beef soup), Marillenknödel (apricot filled dumplings), Linzer Torte (Austrian lattice cake) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel). I opted to make probably the most famous Austrian dish – Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet) which I served with roasted rosemary potatoes and spinach. It was thoroughly delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6 – 8 minutes

2 veal sirloin steaks
1 egg
50g plain flour
50g panko breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper
20g butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Lay out the sirloin remove any skin and beat until thin. Season on both sides with salt and pepper
Place flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs on separate flat plates
Coat each schnitzel firstly on both sides in flour, then draw through the beaten eggs, ensuring they are fully covered
Lastly, coat in the breadcrumbs and carefully press down the crumbs using the reverse side of the fork (this causes the crumb coating to “fluff up” better during cooking)
In a large pan, heat the butter and oil
When the pan is hot place the schnitzel in the pan
Depending on the thickness of the meat, fry for between 2 – 4 minutes until golden brown
Carefully flip over using a spatula (do not pierce the coating) and fry on the other side until similarly golden brown
Remove the crispy schnitzel and place on kitchen paper to dry off
Serve with your choice of potatoes and vegetables or salad

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Ingredients for Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Schönbrunn Palace
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Salzburg, Austria
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Hofburg Palace, Vienna
austria-alps
Austria Alps

Peru

Peru is located in western South America and shares borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. It is made up of three geographical regions – Coastal plains, sierra highlands (the Andes) and selva (Amazon rainforest). Peru’s 31.2 million population is multiethnic including Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. There are 15 uncontacted Amerindian tribes in Peru.

I visited Peru in 2002 and spent a month travelling around the country. One of my highlights was trekking Colca Canyon, which is one of the deepest in the world and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. I also loved Cusco, the beautiful Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa and the peaceful town of Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

Some interesting facts
Peru was officially declared the world’s biggest producer of cocaine in 2013 by the United Nations. Peru’s cocaine industry takes in about US$1 billion per year in under-the-table money and employs some 200,000 Peruvians
Approximately 65 million guinea pigs are consumed in Peru every year
Peru is home to the highest sand dune in the world – Cerro Blanco is located in the Sechura Desert near the Nazca Lines and measures 3,860 feet from base to summit
Chicama in North Peru is the longest ocean wave for surfing in the world at 1.25 miles
Peruvian friends and family traditionally give each other gifts of yellow underpants on New Year’s Eve for good luck
The ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham the American explorer and now receives 1.5 million tourists every year

The four traditional staples of Peruvian cuisine are corn, potatoes, other tubers (Quinoa, Kañiwa and kiwicha) and legumes (beans and lupins). Chilli peppers and tomatoes are also commonly used. Recipes I considered for the challenge include Lomo saltado (sliced sirloin steak with chilli served with chips & rice), Cebiche (spicy raw fish marinated), Papa a la Huancaína (potatoes with a spicy, creamy sauce), Chupe de pescado (fish soup), Butifarras (Peruvian ham sandwich), Carapulcra (meat stew with potatoes, chilli and peanut), Cuy chactado (fried guinea pig), Rocoto relleno (stuffed chillies) and Picarones (fried doughnuts). I opted for a very popular dish in Peru – Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian-flavoured rotisserie chicken) which we enjoyed with chips and rice.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4

Prep time: 15 minutes + marinating 6 hours – overnight
Cook time: 1hr – 1hr 15 minutes

1.2kg free range chicken
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh mint
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup beer (any ale will do)
splash of vinegar

Combine all the ingredients, except the chicken in a blender and pulse until you have a paste, add more beer if it’s too thick
Thoroughly rub the paste all over the chicken, inside and out, rubbing it carefully under the skin but don’t break the skin
Place the chicken in a sealable bag and let it marinate in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight
When ready to cook, heat your rotisserie BBQ grill (ideally using wood or coal, but gas is ok if that’s what you have) and cook the chicken for 1 hr
Alternatively you can use the oven – place it on top of a rack in a preheated oven to 190C for around 1hr 15 minutes
Remove it from the grill or oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving
Serve your chicken with chips and rice

Nepal

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia with a population of 26.4 million. The capital, Kathmandu is called the living cultural museum of the world, with 7 World Heritage Cultural sites within a radius of 15 km.

Nepal has 8 out of 10 of the world’s highest mountains, including the world highest – Mount Everest. It was named in honour of Colonel Sir George Everest, a Welsh geographer who was responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from southern India extending north to Nepal, a distance of about 2,400 km. Mount Everest is called Sagarmatha (“Forehead of the sky”) in Nepali and Chomolungma (“Goddess mother of the world”) by the local Sherpas and Tibetans.

Nepal is the only country with altitudinal variation that ranges from 59 meters to 8848 meters. Nepal holds some of the most extreme places on the earth such as the highest lake on the earth (Tilicho 4800 meters), the highest valley on earth (Arun valley), the deepest gorges (1200 meter) in Kaligandaki and the tallest grassland in the world in Chitwan.

Nepal was the last Hindu country in the world when it was declared secular by the parliament in 2006. Although many religions harmoniously co-exist in the country, 81.3 percent of the population in the country follows Hinduism and it still has the highest proportion of Hindus in the world.

Some popular dishes from Nepalese cuisine include Tarkari (vegetable curry), Farsi ko Achar (pumpkin pickle), Bhuteko bhat (fried rice), Alu Tareko (fried potatoes), Thukpa (noodle soup), Khasi Ko Masu (mutton curry), Kwati (bean stew), Gwaramari (Nepalese bread snack), Aaloo ko Achar (spicy potato salad) and Aloo masu chop (spiced beef and potato croquettes). I decided to make one of their main staples – Dal (spiced lentil soup). It was so simple and extremely tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

2 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2″ piece ginger, grated
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chilli powder
225g /1 cup red lentils
750ml/3 cups water
½-1 tsp-salt
2 tbsp coriander, chopped

Heat oil in a deep pan and and cook onion over medium heat for 5-7 minutes without browning too much
Turn heat to low and add garlic, ginger, crushed coriander seeds, turmeric and red chilli powder, stir to combine and cook for 3-5 minutes
Add washed red lentils and stir to coat them with the onion and spice mixture, cook them while stirring for 2-3 minutes. (This step helps the lentils to keep their shape and texture).
Add water, turn heat up and bring it to a boil, add salt, then turn it to a medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes
When the lentils are tender but still mostly hold their shape, stir in fresh chopped coriander and take it off the heat
Serve on their own or with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Annapurna, Nepal
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Durbar square, Kathmandu
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Kathmandu
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Mount Everest

Bolivia

Bolivia is the largest landlocked country in the Americas with the Andean mountain range taking up one third of its territory. Bolivia is named after Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan military and political leader who played a key role in the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia. He was also officially the first president of Bolivia. Bolivia wasn’t always a landlocked country. It lost 420 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline to Chile in the War of the Pacific and it still maintains a standing navy in preparation for the day it reclaims it back.

A few facts:
Bolivia is the main exporter of Brazil nuts, producing 70% of the world’s supply
La Paz, Bolivia, was the first South American city to get an electricity supply and it was powered by llama dung
North Yungas Road, Bolivia, also known as the “Road of Death”, built by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s, is often cited as the most dangerous road in the world and has claimed thousands of lives
At 3,650m above sea level, La Paz is unofficially the highest capital city in the world (the official capital is Sucre but the seat of government is in La Paz)
The Guembe Biocenter in Santa Cruz, Bolivia is home to the world’s largest butterfly sanctuary
One of Bolivia’s oldest silver mines Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), has claimed the lives of an estimated 8 million people in the past 500 years. It is known as the “Mountain that eats men” and is still mined with picks and shovels today.

The traditional staples of Bolivian cuisine are corn, potatoes, and beans. These ingredients have been combined with a number of staples brought by the Spanish, such as rice, wheat, beef, pork, and chicken. Some recipes I considered were Picante de pollo (Spicy Chicken), Silpancho (Thin Sliced Breaded Beef), Chanka de Pollo (Incan Chicken Soup), Arroz con Queso (Rice with Cheese), Mondongo (Pork or Beef Stew), Bunuelos (sweet or savoury fried pastry), Pastel de Choclo (Corn Quiche) and Choripan (chorizo sandwich). However I opted for a very popular snack in Bolivia – Salteñas (Baked savoury pastry). It was quite a tricky recipe with a number of steps, and unfortunately the liquid oozed out of the pastry during the cooking which made it rather soggy. Also we found the flavour a little too sweet for our savoury loving palates!

Rating: 5/10

Makes 3 large or 4 medium Salteñas
Prep time: 45 mins + cooling time
Cook time: 15 – 25 minutes

For the filling
150g cooked chicken, chopped
1 small potato
1 spring onion
1/2 onion
1/8 cup frozen peas
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp sugar
dash vinegar
1/8 cup butter
1/2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 packet of gelatin

For the pastry
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter
about 1 cup of warm water

Dice the potato and add it to a pot of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, you don’t want the potatoes to be soft or they will fall apart in the broth, they will still cook a bit longer once they are added to the rest of the ingredients. After 5 minutes, drain the potatoes and set aside
Melt the butter in a pan, add the spices (cumin, oregano, salt and pepper) and cook for 5 minutes
Add the onion and spring onion and cook for a few minutes
Add the vinegar, sugar, parsley, potatoes and green peas and mix everything together well, add the chicken and the chicken broth as well and let it cook all together over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture is heated throughout
Add the gelatin to the mixture and then transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool completely in the fridge
Alternatively you can pour 3 individual portions in to plastic bags sat inside ramekins in the freezer, as this will make it easier to place into the pastry. Only remove them from the freezer once fully frozen

To make the pastry
In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl Lightly beat the egg and in a small saucepan melt the butter
Add all this to the flour mix with some warm water (approx 1 cup) and mix well until it forms a dough
Let the dough rest (covered in a towel so that it does not dry out) for about 10 minutes
Afterwards, divide the dough into smaller pieces and roll out, flouring as needed, into approximately 15cm diameter circles around a 1/4 cm thick
Take a frozen mold of saltena filling from the freezer or a large scoop of the gelatine set filling and place it in the middle of the dough
Wet the edges of the pastry and close together sealing the filling inside well, pinching and twisting the edges to ensure a strong seal. This is a very important step as how well you close the saltenas will determine whether or not they open in the oven later when you are baking them
Add the finished salteñas to a parchment lined baking sheet
Preheat your oven to 240C degrees, line a baking sheet with tinfoil, and grease with non stick spray
Once the oven is at its maximum temperature, add the saltenas to the baking sheet, brush with a beaten egg (for shine) and place in the oven until the salteñas are browned (approx 15 minutes) if the tops are browning too quickly, place another sheet of tinfoil overtop and continue cooking. You want to be sure that the filling is completely heated through
Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before tucking in

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Ingredients for Salteñas
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Making the filling for Salteñas
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Salteñas
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Salteñas
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Salteñas
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La Paz, Bolivia
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Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
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North Yungas Road, Bolivia

Grenada

Grenada, the ‘Island of Spice’ is an island of volcanic origin in the Lesser Antilles chain, ninety miles north of Venezuela. It is a leading producer of several different spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels, wild coffee and nutmeg, providing 20% of the world supply. It is also known for it’s dense rain forest, jagged coastline, picturesque beaches, and brilliant foliage.

Grand Anse is Grenada’s most famous beach and one of its most beautiful. Cruise ship visitors flock to this 3 km arc of golden sand and gentle surf. Tourism is concentrated in the southwest of the island, around St. George, Grand Anse, Lance Aux Epines, and Point Salines. Other tourists’ favourite points of interest are the waterfalls including the Annandale Waterfalls, Mt. Carmel, Concord, Seven Sisters and Tufton Hall.

Staples such as bread, rice and peas, fruits, and vegetables figure prominently in the diet. Fish is plentiful and affordable, as is chicken. Beef is scarce, pork is reserved for special occasions, while goat and lamb are eaten commonly. Recipes I came across include their national dish ‘Oil-Down’ (a one-pot meal of salted meat, chicken, dumplings, breadfruit, callaloo and vegetables cooked in coconut milk), Dal puri roti (spiced lentils in flatbread), callaloo soup, Grenadian roast pork, goat curry and sweet potato pudding. I decided to make Grenadian Spice cake which, despite it getting a little stuck to the tin, was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 8-10 slices
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 75 – 90 minutes

2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup unsalted butter – chilled, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1 1/2 tsp grated lime zest
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C
Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan or springform baking tin
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside
In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter
Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the lime zest, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice
Add the flour alternately with the milk, stirring after each addition
Pour batter into the prepared pan
Bake for 75 to 90 minutes in the preheated oven, until a skewer inserted comes out clean
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely

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Ingredients for Grenadian Spice cake
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Mixing the Grenadian Spice cake
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Grenadian Spice cake
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Grenadian Spice cake
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Grenadian Spice cake
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Grand Anse beach, Grenada
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Fort George, Grenada
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Grenada sunset

Mongolia

The country the world knows as Mongolia is actually the historic Outer Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is still an autonomous region of China. Mongolia is the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated fully sovereign country in the world, with a population of around 3 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country behind Kazakhstan. With an average annual temperature of 1.3 °C/29.7 °F, Ulaanbaatar is the world’s coldest capital city.

A few ‘Horsey’ facts
In Mongolia there are 13 times more horses than humans, and sheep outnumber humans 35 to 1
The world’s tallest statue of a horse is the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue at Tsonjin Boldog measuring 40 metres tall
Mongolian native horses are called takhi, the Mongol word for “spirit,”. They have 66 chromosomes, two more than the average horse and they are the last truly wild horses left on the planet
In a span of just 25 years, Genghis Khan and his horsemen conquered an area larger and greater in population than the Romans did in four centuries
There is a theory that Mongolian horseman may have invented ice cream, when they took cream in containers made from animal intestines as provisions on long journeys across the Gobi desert in winter. As they galloped, the cream was vigorously shaken, while the sub-zero temperature caused it to freeze
The world record for the largest horse parade took place in Ulaanbaatar, on 9 August 2013 and involved 11,125 horses and their riders ageing between 2 and 90

Mongolian cuisine refers to the local culinary traditions of Mongolia and Mongolian styled dishes. The extreme continental climate has affected the traditional diet, so the Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of dairy products, meat, and animal fats. Popular dishes include Guriltai shol (noodle soup), Khorkhog (mutton cooked over hot stones), Khuushuur (deep fried dumplings), Chanasan Makh (boiled meat with innards), Budaatai huurga (stew with rice, meat and vegetables), Gambir (pancakes) and Boortsog (deep fried butter cookies). I opted for what is considered the national dish – Buuz (steamed dumplings). I have to say that there were a little bland on their own, but with the addition of some ketchup or soy sauce they weren’t too bad.

Rating: 6/10

Makes 30
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

250 g plain flour
150 ml water
300 g minced mutton, lamb or beef (with at least 20% fat)
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt
Pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds

Mix the flour and water together in a bowl and knead for 5 minutes until you have a pliable dough
Let it rest for 15 minutes
Mix together the meat, onion and garlic
Lightly bash the caraway seeds in a pestle and mortar
Add the caraway seeds, salt & pepper to the minced meat
Roll out the dough so it’s is no more than 3mm thick
With a pastry cutter, cut the the pastry into rounds and place the round in your hand, fill with a teaspoon of the mixture and then carefully bring the edges to the middle and twist it around. This recipe has some guidance on how to shape the buuz
Place them on some greaseproof paper whilst you continue to make the rest
Get a steamer ready and place the buuz in to the steamer ensuring they don’t touch each other (you will need to cook them in batches)
Cook each batch for 15 minutes
When you open the lid, using a chopping board to fan air over the top of the buuz to create a glossy top
Have them on their own or with ketchup or soy sauce

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Ingredients for Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Dough for Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Making Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Making Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Mongolian horsemen
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Gobi desert, Mongolia

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso, once named ‘Upper Volta’, was renamed “Burkina Faso” on 4 August 1984 by then President Thomas Sankara. The words “Burkina” and “Faso” both stem from different languages spoken in the country. “Burkina” comes from Mossi and means “honest” or “honest people”, while “Faso” comes from the Dyula language and means “fatherland”. The capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou, it literally means “You are welcome here at home with us”.

Gold is Burkina Faso’s main export, followed by cotton and animal products. Together gold and cotton make up 70% of the country’s exports. It is Africa’s largest producer of cotton.
However it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with around 44.5% of its population living below the poverty line and it ranks 183 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2014. The World Food Programme has several projects geared towards increasing food security in Burkina Faso.

According to Lonely Planet, highlights for visitors to Burkina Faso include:
Colourfully painted fortress like houses in Tiebélé
Mud-brick mosques of Bani
Gorom Gorom market
Fespaco – Ouagadougou’s film festival and
Moro-Naba ceremony, a throwback to the Mossi’s golden age.

Burkina Faso’s cuisine is based on staple foods of sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams and okra. The most common sources of animal protein are chicken and fresh water fish. Grilled meat is also common, particularly mutton, goat and beef. Recipes I came across included Tô or Saghbo (a dough-based meal of cooked millet, served with a sauce of vegetables and mutton), Ragout d’Igname (lamb and yam stew), Gombo (okra sauce), Maan Nezim Nzedo (fish stew) and Krakro (sweet potato fritters). I opted for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat), which had a pleasant spicy warmth and good flavour.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

1 habanero or jalapeno chilli pepper
1-2 garlic cloves
1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1⁄4 cup oil
250g beef or chicken, cubed
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cups water
1 maggi seasoning, cube (or chicken bouillon)
1 cup long grain white rice
salt and pepper

Put the chilli, garlic, tomatoes and onion into a food processor and pulse until you get a nice paste
Add the oil to a pan over medium heat and add the paste
Cook for 8 minutes, then remove from the heat and set asid
Use a little bit of water (about 1/2 cup) to rinse out your food processor, then put the water in a separate pot along with the meat
Bring the meat and water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
Add the meat to the pan containing the paste, along with the tomato puree remaining water and Maggi (or stock) cube and stir
Wash the rice under the tap until the water runs clear, then add it to the pot and bring to a boil
Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes
Check it, then cook for another 10 minutes or until the water has been absorbed
Season to taste and serve

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Ingredients for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Sauce for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Gurunsi tribe houses in Tiebélé
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Ouagadougou
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Mud Mosque Bani

Italy

Italy is one of my favourite places in the world! I’ve been lucky enough to visit many stunning places in Italy – Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Milan, Sardinia and of course, Rome. All distinctly different with their own style and features. My highlights would include driving the mountainous coast road in Sardinia, the amazing fresh produce in a local Tuscan village market, feasting on Risotto Milanese in the beautiful Locanda Del Gatto Rosso restaurant, Milan and lazing by the pool, basking in the Italian sunshine at the wonderful Aldrovandi Villa Borghese hotel, Rome.  Still on my bucket list are Sorrento, Verona, Palermo and Puglia.

Famed for pizza, pasta, ice cream, espresso, mad drivers, Renaissance art and ancient architecture. It definitely has something to offer everyone. It has the most Unesco World Heritage sites in the world with 51 sites and it has another 41 on the tentative list.

Some facts you may not know about Italy:
It has the eighth largest economy in the world
The Italian mafia accounts for 7% of Italy’s GDP
One third of Italians have never used the Internet
The average employee in Italy works just 20 hours per week, one of the lowest amount in Europe
The name Italy comes from the word italia, meaning “calf land,” perhaps because the bull was a symbol of the Southern Italian tribes
From 1861 to 1985, more than 26 million people left Italy (mostly from the overcrowded south) to seek a better life. Only one in four came home again

Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is one of the most popular in the world. Italian cuisine is characterised by its simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. As you can imagine I was spoilt for choice in terms of recipes, making it extremely difficult to decide what to cook for this challenge. I considered Gnocchi, Pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta), Tortellini (filled pasta), Spaghetti Carbonara Ribollita (Tuscan soup with bread, beans and vegetables), Pizza alla napoletana (tomato, mozzarella & anchovy), Ossobucco (veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth), Arancini (deep-fried rice croquettes). However after our first visit to Milan in February this year and experiencing Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron) – it had to be that! I also made my first ever Tiramisu, which even though I’m not known for my desserts, it was yum. We shared the evening with my sister and brother-in-law and we all loved the Risotto alla Milanese served in Parmesan baskets.

Rating: 10/10 for the Risotto & 9/10 for the Tiramisu

Risotto alla Milanese (served in Parmesan baskets)
Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
1 litre chicken stock
sea salt & ground black pepper
150g butter at room temperature
40g beef bone marrow or 2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, very finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1 tsp saffron threads soaked in a little stock
75ml extra dry white vermouth
175 Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Parmesan baskets
4 cups of grated parmesan cheese

Heat a non stick frying pan over a medium – high heat
When it’s hot, sprinkle 1 cup of parmesan evenly over the pan
After 3 minutes, check the sides to ensure it’s melted
Using a slice, very carefully flip the cheese over and cook for a further minutes
Then place a small bowl in the centre of the cheese and turn it out upside down
Leave it on top of the bowl for 10- 20 seconds, using a kitchen towel to shape it, then turn it out on to a kitchen towel
Continue making the remaining 3 in the same way

To make the risotto
Heat the stock in a saucepan gently and check for seasoning, don’t let it boil
Melt 75g of butter and the beef bone marrow in a large heavy bottomed pan
Gently fry the onion until soft, 15 – 20 minutes
Add the rice and remove it from the heat, stirring so the rice is fully coated, it only takes a minute
Return to the heat, add 2 ladlefuls of hot stock and simmer, stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed
Add the saffron
Continue to add the stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, until it is aborbed
Each grain should have a creamy coating and be just al dente
Add the remaining butter in small pieces, the vermouth and parmesan
Stir very gently and serve immediately in the parmesan baskets

Tiramisu
Serves: 6-8
Prep time: 30 minutes + at least 4 hours chilling

568ml pot double cream
250g tub mascarpone
75ml marsala
5 tbsp golden caster sugar
300ml strong coffee, made with 2 tbsp coffee granules and 300ml boiling water
175g pack sponge fingers
25g good quality dark chocolate, chopped quite roughly
2 tsp cocoa powder

Put the cream, mascarpone, Marsala and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the cream and mascarpone have completely combined and have the consistency of thickly whipped cream
Get your serving dish ready
Put the coffee into a shallow dish and dip in a few sponge fingers at a time, turning for a few secs until they are nicely soaked, but not soggy
Layer these into your dish until you have used half the biscuits, then spread over half of the creamy mixture
Sprinkle over half of the chocolate
Repeat the layers (you should use up all the coffee), finishing with the creamy layer
Cover and chill for a few hrs or overnight
To serve, dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle over the remainder of the chocolate

 

Armenia

Armenia is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia in Western Asia. It has a population of approximately 3.2m, but there are more Armenians living abroad than in Armenia, estimated at around 5.6m.

A few interesting facts
Armenians have their own distinctive alphabet and language. The alphabet was invented in AD 405 by Mesrop Mashtots and consists of thirty nine letters
The Armenian capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, constructed 29 years before Rome
It is home to the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car, the Tatev Aerial Tramway, which is 5,752 m (18,871ft) long
Chess is a compulsory subject in schools
It was the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion, converting en masse in AD 301

Armenian cuisine belongs to the family of Caucasian cuisines, and has strong ties with Turkish cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Persian cuisine, and Levantine cuisine. The flavour of the food relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices. Typical dishes of Armenian cuisine include Khash (slow cooked beef or lamb feet), Harissa (porridge made with wheat and meat), Bozbash (mutton or lamb soup), Khorovats (grilled meat), Dzhash (meat and vegetable stew), Eetch (cracked wheat salad) and Yospov Apur (Lentil soup).
Soups are very popular so I decided to make Snkapur (mushroom soup), which was simple and had a good mushroomy taste!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

100g dried mushrooms (porcini, ceps etc)
200g fresh mushrooms, chopped finely
2 small onion, quartered
3 potatoes, peeled & chopped into cubes
2 tbsp oil
800ml water
1 vegetable or chicken knorr stock pot
50g butter, cut into small pieces
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 190c
Roast the onion for 15 – 20 minutes
Soak the dried mushrooms in a little warm water for 10 minutes
Meanwhile heat the oil in a pan and fry the potatoes over a low heat for 15 minutes
Put the soaked mushrooms in a saucepan with the soaking liquid, remaining water, stock pot and bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes
Using a slotted spoon lift the out dried mushrooms and finely chop them
Add them back in the saucepan with the fresh mushrooms and season to taste
Chop the roasted onion and add to the pan with the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes
Add the butter, stir in and season again to taste
Remove from the heat and serve in hot bowls

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Ingredients for Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Family enjoying Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Ruins of Zvartnots Temple, Armenia
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Khor Virap monastery, Ararat, Armenia
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Yerevan, Armenia

South Sudan

With a 97% vote for independence, South Sudan became the world’s newest country in July 2011. It should be a country full of hope five years after gaining independence. Instead, it is in the grip of a massive, man-made humanitarian crisis. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that originally led the way for independence, is now divided and fighting for power. Since the conflict began, 1 in 5 people in South Sudan have been displaced, more than 2.3 million citizens having been forced to flee their homes. Sudan, and what was then the semi-independent Southern Sudan, endured a brutal civil war for more than 25 years, which resulted in South Sudan’s independence in 2011. But the conflict in December 2013 reopened deeply-rooted political and ethnic tensions that hadn’t yet been reconciled.

South Sudan’s protected area of Bandingilo National Park hosts the second largest wildlife migration in the world. Established in 1992, it is situated in a wooded area near the White Nile River and is over 10,000 square kilometres. South Sudan’s forest reserves are home to hartebeest, kob, topi, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, lions, bongo, giant forest hogs, red river hogs, forest elephants, chimpanzees, and forest monkeys.

Recipes I came across for South Sudan include Kisra (flatbread), Goraasa be Dama (beef stew with flatbread), Fuul (stewed beans), Khodra mafroka (beef and spinach) and Tamia (deep fried chickpea balls). I opted to make Dama be Potaatas (beef stew with potatoes) which was a hearty stew with a pleasant flavour.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1/3 cup oil
6 onions, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cups water
500g beef steak
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves of crushed garlic

Heat the oil in a casserole pot over a medium heat and add the onions
Add 1 cup of water, cover and leave to cook on medium heat for around 10 minutes until the water is almost evaporated
Fry the potatoes in a separate pan until golden then set aside
Lightly blend onions and return them to the casserole pot with the tomatoes
Chop steak into small pieces and add to the pot along with the green pepper, salt, cardamom and cinnamon
Cover and cook for 3 minutes
Add tomato paste, stir, adding water until smooth and runny
Add potatoes, cover and leave to simmer for 10 minutes adding more water occasionally
Stir in crushed garlic and serve

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Ingredients for Dama be Potaatas (beef stew with potatoes)
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Dama be Potaatas (beef stew with potatoes)
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South Sudan flag on map
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Bandigalo National Park, South Sudan
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Dama be Potaatas (beef stew with potatoes)
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Dama be Potaatas (beef stew with potatoes)

Laos

Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the only landlocked country in South East Asia. I visited Laos in 2002 and found it to be a beautifully scenic, peaceful and relaxed country. However it’s had its fair share of trouble. Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world and it ranks 29th hungriest nation out of the list of the 52 nations with the worst hunger situations in the world. Along with China, Cuba and Vietnam, it is one of the world’s four (or five – South Korea is disputed) remaining socialist states that openly espouse Communism. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide, human rights and religious freedom violations against the Hmong ethnic minority within its own borders.

Laos has been named the world’s most bombed country. Over two billion tons of bombs (i.e. more than all of the bombs dropped on Europe during WWII) were dropped in Laos by the USA during the Vietnam War. The highest point in Laos, the Phou Bia, is unfortunately not open to tourists because it is filled with un-exploded ammunition.

The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.87 million in 2010. The official tourism slogan is “Simply Beautiful”. The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang, gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane, backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng, ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region. My highlights include the trip down the Mekong, white water rafting in Vang Vieng and the chilled out vibe in Luang Prabang.

Grin khao “Eat Rice”, the staple food of Lao people is steamed sticky rice, which is eaten by hand. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Popular dishes include Som Tam (green papaya salad), Kaeng jeut (vegetable and pork soup), Mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaf), Khao phat (Lao fried rice), Kai Aw (Lao chicken stew) and Khanom maw kaeng (coconut custard cake). I decided to make a famous Lao dish – Larb (marinated meat salad). It was simple, fresh and completely delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1/8 cup uncooked long grain white rice
450g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced galangal
1 small red chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/2 tbsp shrimp paste
1/2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup lime juice

Preheat an oven to 175c
Spread the rice onto a baking sheet
Bake the rice in the preheated oven until golden, about 15 minutes
Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, grind into a fine powder with a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
Meanwhile, grind the chicken thigh meat in a food processor until finely ground and set aside (or get the butcher to do this for you as I did!)
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat
Fry the shallots over a medium heat for 3 minutes until golden, then set aside
Stir in the garlic, galangal, chilli peppers, spring onions and cook until the garlic softens, about 2 minutes
Add the ground chicken meat and cook, stirring constantly to break up lumps, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes
Season with fish sauce, shrimp paste, and sugar
Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes
Stir in the ground rice, mint, basil, and lime juice
Just before serving, stir in the fried shallots
Serve with lettuce leaves

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Laos Monks
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Mekong River, Laos
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Luang Prabang, Laos
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Patuxai Victory Monument, Vientiane, Laos

Brunei

Brunei, officially the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace is a sovereign state on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
According to legend, Brunei was founded by Awang Alak Betatar, later to be Sultan Muhammad Shah, in the late 14th century. Upon landing he exclaimed, Baru nah (loosely translated as “that’s it!” or “there”), from which the name “Brunei” was derived. He was the first Muslim ruler of Brunei.
Hassanal Bolkiah, the current Sultan of Brunei is the second richest royal in the world, he has a collection of more than 5,000 cars. He was once the richest man in the world before being overtaken by Bill Gates in the 1990s. The IMF have ranked Brunei fifth in the world by GDP per capita at purchasing power parity and Forbes also ranks Brunei as the fifth richest nation, based on its petroleum and natural gas fields.

Most of Brunei is within the Borneo lowland rain forests ecoregion, which covers most of the island. It’s known for its beaches and biodiverse rainforest. It has 161 km of coastline on the South China sea, and it shares a 381 km border with Malaysia. The total population of Brunei is approximately 430,000, of which around 240,000 live in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, which is home to the opulent Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque and its 29 golden domes. The Istana Nurul Iman palace, also in the capital, is the residence of the Sultan of Brunei.

The cuisine of Brunei is similar to, and heavily influenced by the cuisine of neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with additional influences from India, China, Thailand, and Japan. Recipes I came across were Ambuyat (a sticky ball of starch dipped into a sour fruit sauce sometimes called ‘edible glue’), Daging Masak Lada Hitam (spicy slow cooked beef with potatoes and beans), Udang Sambal Serai Bersantan (chilli prawns with coconut milk) and Serondeng Pandag (Fried chicken with garlic wrapped in pandan leaves). I opted to make Bruneian Fish curry, which unfortunately didn’t turn out very well. The addition of whole spices towards the end of cooking was the recipe’s downfall and rendered it inedible. If you do feel the need to give this recipe a try, I would pound the spices with the chilli and garlic and add at the same time.

Rating: 2/10

Serves: 3
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

500 grams white fish fillets (cut into 5cm pieces)
1½ cups coconut milk
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons ghee
3 onions (cut into wedges)
3 gloves garlic (pounded)
3-5 hot green chillies (pounded)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1½ cup chicken stock

Blend tamarind juice with ¼ cup coconut milk
Heat the oil in a pan, add the onions, garlic and chillies
Stir-fry till golden brown
Reduce heat, add remaining spices, stock and coconut milk
Boil gently till oil separates
Bring to rapid boil, add fish and tamarind mixture
Simmer 5 minutes, stirring carefully
Remove and serve hot with steamed rice

Tanzania

Tanzania is a large country in East Africa which includes the spice islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia and also contains Africa’s highest point—Kilimanjaro, at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet).

A few facts
Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is home to the world’s densest population of lions, wildebeest, elephants, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, zebra, leopards, and hyenas. There are approximately 25,000 animals in the crater of just 100 square miles
Lake Manyara National Park is home to the world’s only tree-climbing lions
The largest crab in the world – the coconut crab, can be found on Chumbe Island of Zanzibar
The world’s earliest human skull was found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by Louis and Mary Leakey
Freddie Mercury was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar

The cuisine of Tanzania has been influenced by Portuguese as well as Indian cuisine. The national dish of Tanzania is the humble Ugali, a simple porridge made with either maize, millet, or sorghum flour. Other dishes include Mandazi (deep-fried doughnut-like cakes), Kashata (coconut bars), Mkate wa kumimina (Zanzibari rice bread), Vitumbua (rice patties), Wali wa Nazi (rice in coconut milk) and coconut bean soup. I opted to cook Mshikaki (marinated meat) which was quite tasty, thanks to the overnight marinating.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + overnight marinating
Cook time: 8 minutes

350g steak, cut into cubes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Black pepper & salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and marinate meat overnight or for at least 4 hrs in the fridge
Skewer the meat on water soaked wooden skewers
Grill the meat skewers on an open coal BBQ, basting with marinate until cooked
Serve with pitta or wraps and salad leaves

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Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
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Serengeti National Park
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Zanzibar
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Elephants in the wild, Tanzania

Paraguay

Paraguay is a landlocked country between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Due to it’s central location, it is sometimes referred to as Corazón de Sudamérica, “Heart of South America”.

Some interesting facts:
In Paraguay, pistol duelling is still legal as long as both parties are registered blood donors
Paraguay is the only country in the world whose national flag has different emblems on each side. The country’s Coat of Arms is on the front and its Treasury Seal is on the back with its motto, ‘Paz y Justica’ (Peace and Justice)
Following the Paraguayan War (1864–1870), the country lost 60-70% of its population through war and disease, and about 140,000 square kilometers (a quarter of its territory), to Argentina and Brazil, including the popular tourist site – Iguazu Falls
Paraguay is home to the world’s largest rodent called the Capybara, which is basically a giant guinea pig

Staple foods in Paraguay are meat, corn, manioc, milk, cheese and fish. Common recipes include Chipa (Paraguayan cheese bread) which are found everywhere, Tapa de cuadril (Rump steak), Mbeju (starch cake), Guiso popó (stew made with chicken, rice, sweet peppers and garlic), Pira caldo (fish broth), Bori Bori (thick soup with dumplings, cheese, cornmeal and sometimes chicken) and Crema (custard dessert). I made Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread), which was delicious when we first had it and even better for second helpings a day later!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: Makes 6 large slices
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

350 ml cottage cheese
1 cup of mature cheddar or a combination of your favorite kinds of cheese
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
1/8 cup of oil
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup white maiz flour (I used ‘Pan’ brand)

Preheat the oven to 190C
Combine all the ingredients and pour into a well greased round pan
Bake for 40-45 minutes
Serve warm or room temperature

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Ingredients for Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Making Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
rio-paraguay
Rio Paraguay
capybara
Capybara

Somalia

Somalia is a country located in the Horn of Africa and boasts the longest coastline on Africa’s mainland. It is one of the oldest sea-faring and trading nations in the world. Some of it’s ancient trading ports include Kismaayo, Berbera, Barawe, Merca, Las Qoray, Hobyo and historically the wealthiest being the 1,000 year old city of Mogadishu.

Some of the earliest known cave paintings in the African continent are Somalia’s Laas Geel’s rock art, estimated to date back to somewhere between 3,000–9,000 BC. Somalia is among the most probable locations of the fabled ancient Land of Punt, an ancient kingdom and trading partner of Egypt. It was known for producing and exporting gold, aromatic resins, blackwood, ebony, ivory, and wild animals.

Due to its proximity and geological similarity to the oil-rich Gulf Arab states such as Yemen, it is believed that Somalia contains substantial unexploited reserves of oil. An oil group listed in Sydney, Range Resources, estimates that the Puntland region in the northeast of Somalia has the potential to produce 5 to 10 billion barrels of oil. As a result of these developments, the Somalia Petroleum Corporation was established by the federal government. In the late 1960s, UN geologists also discovered major uranium deposits and other rare mineral reserves in Somalia. The find was the largest of its kind, with industry experts estimating that the amount of the deposits could amount to over 25% of the world’s then known uranium reserves of 800,000 tons.

The cuisine of Somalia varies from region to region and is a mixture of diverse culinary influences. It is the product of Somalia’s rich tradition of trade and commerce. All food is served halal. There are therefore no pork dishes and nothing that died on its own is eaten. Popular recipes include
Quraa/Quraac (Somali Fried Dough), Muufo (flatbread) , Lahoh (pancake like bread) , Maraq (stew) , Busteeki (Steak), Gashaato (coconut confection) and Bajiye (savoury pastry snacks). I opted to make Macsharo (rice cake), which despite me following the recipe very strictly, was a total disaster. The rice wasn’t cooked at all so sadly, it was inedible. I think perhaps the oven needed to be at a higher temperature.

Rating: 0/10

Serves: Makes 10 – 12 slices
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

2 cups basmati rice (soaked in water overnight)
¾ cup coconut powder (Maggi brand ideally)
1 tbsp instant yeast
¾ cup sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
¼ tsp ground cardamom
1 – 1 ¼ cup water (substitute milk for water for a softer cake)

Blend all the ingredients together to a smooth batter
Add ¼ cup water if the mixture looks too thick. You need a pancake like consistency. Let the batter rest until it doubles in size. This should take about an hour or so
Preheat the oven to 180c
Brush oil over a baking dish and pour in the batter
Bake in a hot oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown at the top
Remove from the oven, cool and cut into pieces for serving

Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea is a small country on the west coast of Africa comprising the Rio Muni mainland. It is bordered by Cameroon to the north, Gabon to the south and east, and 5 volcanic offshore islands. Malabo, the capital is located on the north coast of Bioko Island and has a population of 187,000 inhabitants. It is the oldest city in the country with Spanish colonial architecture and is a hub for the country’s prosperous oil industry. Oyala is a planned city currently under construction, designed to replace Malabo as the capital. The planned city’s location which was chosen for its easy access and benign climate, is located in Wele-Nzas Province, near the town of Mengomeyen.

Since the mid-1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producers. It is the richest country per capita in Africa, and its GDP per capita ranks 69th in the world. However, the wealth is distributed very unevenly and few people have benefited from the oil riches. According to the UN less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water.

Equatorial Guinea is the only sovereign African state in which Spanish is an official language. The country gained independence in 1968 after 190 years of Spanish rule. Between 1968 and 1979, autocratic President Francisco Macias Nguema virtually destroyed all of the country’s political, economic, and social institutions before being deposed by his nephew Teodoro Obian Nguema Mbasogo in a coup. President Obiang has ruled since 1979 and was re-elected in 2016.

According to Trip Advisor, highlights for the visitor include Catedral de Santa Isabel in Malabo, Arena Blanca beach in Luba, Pico Basilé (the tallest mountain of Equatorial Guinea) and Mbini (a town in Rio Muni, lying at the mouth of the Benito River).

The cuisine of Equatorial Guinea is a blend of the cuisines of the native tribes along with Spanish influence. As the wealthiest nation in west Africa, its cuisine incorporates various meats include game. A few recipes I came across were chicken in peanut sauce with rice, meat or fish grilled with crushed pumpkin seeds served in leaves and Banana Coconut Bake. I opted to cook Guinea Fowl Paella which we enjoyed with my parents. It was very flavoursome although it was fairly time consuming boning the bird and making the stock.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 30 minutes – 1 hr 30 minutes (depending on if you need to de-bone the guinea fowl!)
Cook time: 40 minutes

500g guinea fowl breast and leg meat, cut into 3 cm strips
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
650ml chicken stock or stock from the guinea fowl bones
200g long grain rice
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp pimenton or paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/8 tsp turmeric
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 red pepper, de-seeded and cut into strips
1/2 tin or 250 g cooked black beans

Heat the oil in a pan and cook the guinea fowl strips until they are almost done, then remove the meat and set aside
Fry the onion and garlic and cook until the onion has softened
Add the rice and fry for a few minutes before adding the stock, oregano, pimenton, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and turmeric
Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes
Add the tinned tomatoes, red pepper and beans
Stir, cover, and simmer for 5 more minutes, until the rice is tender
Add the meat, cook for a few minutes to heat the meat then serve