Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been devastated by war since 1978 and it continues today. The US war in Afghanistan (America’s longest war) officially ended on December 28, 2014. However, thousands of US-led NATO troops have remained in the country to train and advise Afghan government forces. Since 2001 there has been over 90,000 direct war-related deaths.

A few non war related facts
The world’s first oil paintings were drawn in the caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan around 650BC.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the poster boy in many of the muscle building centers in Afghanistan, as they say he looks like an Afghan.
Afghanistan’s national game, buzkashi, or goat-grabbing is regarded as the world’s wildest game. It involves riders on horseback competing to grab a goat carcass, and gallop clear of the others to drop it in a chalked circle.
Kandahar airfield is the busiest single runway airstrip in the world.

Despite years of bloodshed, it remains a battered but beautiful and proud country with a rich culture, imposing ancient ruins, old cities and religious shrines.

Afghan cuisines reflects its ethnic and geographic diversity with staple crops of wheat, maize, barley, rice and dairy products. It is also known for high quality pomegranates, grapes and melons. Recipes I came across include Rhot (Afghan sweet bread), Nakhod e shor (spicy crunchy chickpeas), Quorma e Zardaloo (lemon apricot stew), Borani Banjan (layered aubergine), Kebab e murgh (chicken kebab), Mantu (meat dumplings), Mashawa (Afghan chilli) and the national dish of Kabuli Palau (rice with meat, carrots, raisins and pistachios). I decided to make a hearty and warming soup on a chilly September evening – Shorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup), which was tasty and comforting.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours

900g beef steak cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
8 cups water
1 medium russet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander

Add oil to a large casserole dish and place over medium-high heat
Add the onion, brown for 5 minutes until soft, add the garlic and the meat
Mix well and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through and a thick sauce forms
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, coriander, turmeric, salt, pepper and the water, mix well
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a medium heat, cover and cook for 1 hour
Add the potatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, and coriander to the soup
Bring to a gentle boil again, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the meat and potatoes are tender, approx 30 – 45 minutes
Serve immediately on it’s own or with pitta bread

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Ingredients forShorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup)
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Shorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup)

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Bamiyan caves, Afghanistan
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Buzkashi
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Military soldiers in Afghanistan mountains

Togo

Togo is one of the smallest countries in Africa and is situated above the Gulf of Guinea, sharing borders with Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso. It has a population of 7.5 million. Despite it being a small country, there are approximately 40 different ethnic groups and 40 indigenous languages, including the Gbe languages of Ewe, Mina and Aja, although French is the official language used in education, administration & commerce.

After leading a successful military coup d’état in 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma became president of Togo for 38 years. At the time of his death in 2005, he was the longest serving leader in Africa. During his rule he escaped several assassination attempts, one by a bodyguard and in 1974 he survived a plane crash. He claimed he was the only survivor, but he deliberately misrepresented the details of the accident to make himself look like a hero. He also claimed that the crash was not an accident and was in fact a conspiracy to kill him. He came to his demise in a plane whilst flying over Tunisia and the cause of death was a heart attack.

According to Lonely Planet, Togo’s highlights for the tourist include the Unesco world heritage listed area of Koutammakou, palm fringed boulevards of the capital, Lomé, hiking the picturesque mountains of Badou, watching the wildlife at Parc Sarakawa and swimming in Lac Togo.

Togolese cuisine’s staples include maize, rice, millet, cassava, yam, plantain and beans, with fish and poultry also being popular. Recipes I came across were Akume (maize porridge, also known as paté served with a light vegetable stew), Riz sauce d’arachide (rice with peanut sauce), Gbomo Dessi (Spicy beef and spinach stew), Djenkoume (Tomato cornmeal cakes) and Ablo (Cornmeal bread). I decided to make Togolese Grilled Chicken served with pitta breads and salad. It had a subtle flavour which I enjoyed, but Bern added some spicy sauce to his.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + overnight marinating
Cook time: 20 – 30 minutes

2 – 4 pieces of chicken (legs, thighs or breasts), bone in and skin on
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp red palm oil (a must have ingredient, no other oil will give the unique flavour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you want it spicy)

In a bowl, mix together the salt, peppers, garlic, ginger, and red palm oil
Place the chicken pieces in a plastic bag, then pour the marinade over them and rub into the chicken pieces, making sure they are all well covered and refrigerate overnight
Grill the chicken over a medium to high heat, turning the pieces over once
Cook until the skins are a rich, deep golden (almost blackened) color, and the juices run clear – this takes about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. (Note: if you are using breast meat, the cooking time will be less so don’t overcook, or the meat will be dry)
Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before serving with pitta bread and salad. You can also serve it with spicy sauce, grilled onions and tomatoes.

Colombia

Colombia is situated at the northern tip of South America. With very diverse geography it boasts lush rainforests, Andean peaks, savannahs and coffee plantations. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil which is approximately 7 times bigger. About 10% of the species of the Earth live in Colombia, including over 1,900 species of bird, 10% of the world’s mammals species and 14% of the amphibian species. The Malpelo fauna and flora sanctuary is a marine park off the coast of Colombia, a Unesco world heritage site since 2006, it is widely recognised as one of the best dive sites in the world with sightings of a wide variety of sharks.

After decades of civil war, Colombia has been making significant improvements to security which have made it more safely accessible for travellers. Bogota, the now vibrant and artistic capital, is experiencing a rebirth and Cartagena old town offers a taste of colonial life. For the more adventurous trek through rainforests and mountains to the ruins of Cuidad Perdida (lost city), go white water rafting in San Gil or take a mud bath inside the crater of Volcan de Lodo El Totumo.

The cuisine of Colombia takes influence from the indigenous ‘Chibcha’ people, along with Spanish, African, Arab and some Asian cuisines. Dishes include Arroz con coco (rice with coconut), Almojábana (bread rolls), Sudado de Pollo (chicken stew), Lechona Tolimense (whole pork stuffed with rice, peas, potatoes and spices), Arepas de Queso (corn cakes served with cheese) and Crema de Mazorca (corn soup). I decided to make Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork) from the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia, which we had with roasted potatoes. It had a crispy texture and nice flavour.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 3 hours or overnight marinating
Cook time: 6 minutes

2 pork loin steaks without bone
Salt
Pepper
1 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp onions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp paella seasoning
2 eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Put the pork steaks between sheets of clingfilm and pound them until each piece is about ¼” thick (or ask the butcher to do this for you!)
Place the pork steaks in a large plastic bag and add the onions, spring onions garlic and cumin powder, shaking the bag gently to be sure the meat is covered. Let pork marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight
Place flour, salt, pepper and paella seasoning on a plate and mix
Beat the eggs and put on a second plate
On a third plate place the bread crumbs
Remove the pork from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen towels
One at the time coat the pork with the flour mixture, dip in the eggs and coat with bread crumbs (you can double dip them in the egg and breadcrumbs for an extra crisp texture)
In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, put the pork steaks in and fry about 3 minutes per side or until golden
Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towels
Serve with your preferred type of potatoes and vegetables or salad

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Ingredients for Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets) (Although there is saffron in the photo, I used paella seasoning)

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Marinating the pork

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Making Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets)

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Chuleta Valluna (breaded pork cutlets) with roast potatoes

Catedral Primada on Plaza Bolívar, Bogota
Catedral Primada, Plaza Bolivar, Bogota

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Colonial street in Cartagena

Ciudad Perdida Colombia
Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

Taking a mud bath in Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, Colombia
Mud bath in Volcan de Lodo El Totumo

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, and the ninth largest in the world. It’s a huge place with a very small population of only 18 million people. The name Kazakhstan translates as “Land of the Wanderers” and with only 6 people per square mile, they have plenty of land to wander! The Kazakh Steppe (plain), with an area of around 310,600 sq mi, occupies a third of the country and is the world’s largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions.

A few facts
It is believed that the first apple trees grew around Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, as far back as 20 million years ago
There are 27,000 ancient monuments throughout Kazakhstan
It is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s oldest and largest operating space launch facility from where the first manned spaceflight with Yuri Gagarin took off into space in 1961

Highlights for visitors to Kazakhstan include the landmark buildings in Astana – Kazakhstan’s new capital, Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve, Almaty’s Central State Museum, enjoying the view from Kok-Tobe hill and Levoberezhny Park.

Traditional foods of Kazakh cuisine include mutton, horse meat and various milk products. Popular dishes are Beshbarmak (boiled horse or mutton meat eaten with pasta and broth, it also called “five fingers” as it is eaten with one’s hands), Zhauburek (kebab), Khazakh lemon chicken , Shelpek ( flatbread) Kylmai (sausage) and Baursaki (Fried Doughnuts). I made Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots) which was fairly simple to make and pleasantly tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr

350-400g of boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into strips
1 cup of rice
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
1½ cups of water
1 tsp of salt
Black pepper

Fry the onions until brown on medium – high heat, then remove on to a plate
Using the same pan fry the meat on high heat until nicely browned and the juices has evaporated
Add the carrots and fry together with the meat for about 10 minutes
Add salt and pepper
Add the onions back into the pan
Slowly add your stock cube blended with the water and bring it to boil
Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes
Meanwhile prepare your rice by rinsing it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear
Add the rice but don’t mix it in. Just let the rice sink into the liquid by spreading it carefully. The rice should be covered with water about 2 cm above it, so add more if necessary
Cover the pan and cook it on a gentle simmer until the rice has absorbed the liquid – about 15 minutes
At this point the top layer of rice is not cooked yet, so you need to flip the top layer and bring the sides to the center by covering the top layer at the same time
Make a few holes all the way through to the bottom, so that the steam can come through from the bottom of the pan to get all the rice properly cooked
Leave it to gently cook for another 8-10 minutes
Taste the rice to ensure its cooked. If the rice is ready, you can now mix the meat and carrots by bringing them from the underneath the rice to the top
Gently mix all together and serve

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Ingredients for Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Astana’s Concert Hall
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Almaty, Kazakhstan
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Baikonur Cosmodrome
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Shymkent Mountains, Kazakhstan

Egypt

Egypt is a Mediterranean country linking North East Africa with the Middle East. It is the driest and sunniest country in the world and most of its land surface is desert.

Egypt’s northern coastline runs for 500 km along the mediterranean shores. One of the most popular places for visitors in the height of the summer, is the port city of Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great and once the seat of Queen Cleopatra. Its harbour entrance was once marked by the towering “Pharos Light House”, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it’s great library was renowned as the ultimate archive of ancient knowledge.

Cairo, Egypt’s sprawling capital, is set on the Nile River. At the heart of Cairo is Tahrir Square and the vast Egyptian Museum. Nearby Giza Necropolis is the site of the iconic pyramids and Great Sphinx. The old saying that Egypt is the gift of the Nile still rings true, without the river there would be no fertile land, no food, no electricity. Ancient Egypt experienced some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government.

The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. It was constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859-1869. At the Northern Gate, lies the city of Port Said, this is the third largest city in Egypt and was established in 1859 during the building of the Suez Canal.

Some traditional Egyptian recipes I came across were Ful Medami (stewed beans) , Molokeya (green soup with garlic and coriander) , Koshari (lentils, rice and macaroni, ) Eish Masri (pitta bread) and Basbousa (syrup cake). I opted to make Shawarma Lahme (chicken stuffed in pitta with tahina sauce) which we enjoyed as a tasty snack.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes + 4 hours marinating
Cook time: 10 minutes

250g chicken breasts
1 large garlic clove
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Pitta breads

Tahina sauce
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp warm water
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste

For the tahina sauce
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl

Cut your chicken breasts into long strips. Make sure they are thin
Put the chicken in a bag with lemon juice, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, yoghurt, spices, salt and pepper and put in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight
Heat some oil in a pan and fry the chicken for 10 minutes
Serve with pitta, tahini and salad leaves

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Ingredients for Shawarma Lahme
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Cooking Shawarma Lahme
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Shawarma Lahme (chicken stuffed in pitta with tahina sauce)
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Shawarma Lahme (chicken stuffed in pitta with tahina sauce)
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Great Sphinx, Egypt
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The River Nile, Egypt
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Pyramids of Giza
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Alexandria, Egypt

Nigeria

Nigeria, the “Giant of Africa”, is the most populous country in Africa with approximately 184 million inhabitants and it is also Africa’s largest economy (overtaking South Africa in 2014). The key contributors to Nigeria’s economy are telecommunications, banking, and its film industry. ‘Nollywood’, as the film industry is known, is rated as the third most valuable film industry in the world based on its worth and revenues generated.

Nigeria has a few interesting world records, namely:
The largest Internet café is ChamsCity Digital Mall with facilities in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria, each with 1,027 computer terminals.
The largest group of carol singers was 25,272 by Godswill Akpabio unity choir at the Uyo Township Stadium, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria in 2013.
The largest football shirt measures 73.55 m (241 ft 3 in) wide and 89.67 m (294 ft 2 in) long and was created by Guinness Nigeria Plc.

Highlights for visitors to Nigeria include Kano, West Africa’s oldest surviving city, Nike Art Gallery in Lagos, the walled city of Zaria, the sacred forest in Yoruba Oshogbo and Gashaka Gumpti National Park.

Spices, hot chilli peppers, palm oil and groundnut oil are common ingredients in Nigerian cuisine. Dishes I came across were Balangu (grilled meat), Banga soup (soup made from palm nuts), Afang (vegetable soup), Moimoi (steamed bean pudding), Funkaso (millet pancakes) and Groundnut chop (peanut stew). I cooked Suya (Nigerian chicken skewers) which were incredibly spicy, a little too much for me, Bern enjoyed them but didn’t really like the peanut flavour.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 minutes

1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp cayenne powder
1 tbsp dried onion flakes
2 tbsp peanuts, finely minced
500g boneless skinless chicken breast
2 tbsp groundnut oil

Mix all the dry ingredients together
Slice the chicken into thin pieces. Sprinkle with the seasoning mix, and allow to marinate for 5 minutes
Thread the chicken onto skewers and brush with the oil
Grill or BBQ for 3 minutes on each side, or until chicken is cooked through
(if using wooden skewers, soak them for at least half an hour before using to avoid them burning)
Serve with salad in pitta bread, with rice or chips

Algeria

Algeria is a sovereign state in Northern Africa, sharing borders with Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. With an area of 919,595 sq mi it is the largest country on the Mediterranean coast, the tenth largest country in the world and Africa’s largest country. The capital, Algiers is located in the country’s far north and is the country’s most populous city, with a mix of colonial and modernist architecture. Around 80% of Algeria is covered by the Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert. The Saharan oasis of Tabelbala in Bechar has its own language called “Korandje”. The vast mountain ranges of Aures and Nememcha occupy the entire north eastern part of Algeria and it’s highest point is Mount Tahat (3,003.m).

Football is the most popular sport in Algeria. The Algerian National Football Team joined Fifa in 1964, a year and a half after gaining independence. They have qualified for four world cups; the first in 1982, when they were the first African team to defeat a European team (2-1 against West Germany). In 2014 Algeria became the first African team to score four goals in a world cup match.

The cuisine of Algeria is a fusion of Arab, Berber, Mediterranean and Ottoman cuisine, differing slightly from region to region. Common ingredients are lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions, courgette and tomatoes. Traditional dishes include Couscous, Shakshouka (eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions), Khabz (flatbread), Jwaz (vegetable stew), Merguez (spicy lamb sausage), Baghrir (Maghreb’s pancakes) and Sfenj (doughnuts). I decided to make Lahm Lhalou (Algerian Sweet Lamb) which is popular during the month of Ramadan. I served it with roasted vegetable couscous. It was indeed quite sweet and rich in flavour but very enjoyable.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

350g lamb, boneless , cubed
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp almonds, blanched
3/4 cup prunes, pitted
1/4 cup sugar

Sprinkle the lamb with salt and cook in a medium saucepan in oil until lightly browned
Remove the lamb and set aside
Add almonds, sugar, cinnamon to the same pan, stir well, then add water and orange juice
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly
Add lamb, cover and simmer 1 hour or until tender
Stir in prunes 15 minutes prior to the end of the cooking time
Remove cinnamon stick before serving
Serve with couscous flavoured with roasted vegetables

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island nation south of India in the Indian Ocean.

Lonely planet describes Sri Lanka as endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, rolling surf, cheap prices, fun trains, famous tea and flavourful food.

Sri Lanka has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, namely, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the ancient city of Sigiriya, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle, the sacred cities of Anuradhapura and Kandy, Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Central Highlands.

The most popular time to visit Sri Lanka is in its driest season during January to March.  May hosts the important religious celebration of Vesak, where the city comes alive in colours, lights and festivities.  Christmas is also well celebrated.

Sri Lankan cuisine has taken influence over history from the Dutch colonialists and Southern India. Staple ingredients are rice, coconut and spices. Recipes include Kottu (stir fry of bread and vegetables), Kool (seafood broth), Pol Sambola (coconut with rice and hoppers) and Pushnambu (rich cake made from coconut treacle). I opted to cook Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry) which had a lovely spicy flavour but was slightly dry.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 1-3 hours marinating
Cook time: 35 – 40 minutes

2 chicken breasts
1 medium onion chopped
2 green chillies chopped
1 piece of lemon grass
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mustard seed (crushed)
salt to taste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp vinegar

Trim any excess fat from the chicken, then cut into chunks
Grind the ginger and garlic into a paste
Add the chilli powder, curry powder, turmeric, pepper, salt and the lemon grass into a plastic bag with the chicken and allow to marinate in the fridge for 1 – 3 hours
Fry the onion, green chillies and the ginger garlic paste in the oil over a low heat for about 5 minutes and then add mustard and cover
and simmer for about 3 minutes
Add the chicken, vinegar and a little more salt and stir
Cover and cook over a low heat for about 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is tender
Serve with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry)
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Marinating the chicken
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Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry)
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Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry)
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Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
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Elephants in Sri Lanka
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Anuradhapura

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is a 25km long doubly landlocked principality situated between Austria and Switzerland. It is the smallest German-speaking country and the only German-speaking nation that doesn’t share a border with Germany. Liechtenstein is located in the Upper Rhine valley of the European Alps and the mountain slopes are well suited to winter sports. They have won a total of nine medals at the Winter Olympics, all for alpine skiing, but have never won a medal at the Summer Olympics and is the only country to have won Winter Olympic medals but not Summer Olympics. Liechtenstein has the world’s third highest per capita income behind Qatar and Luxembourg and has one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates at 1.5%. Liechtenstein is the largest producer of false teeth in the world.

Liechtensteiner cuisine has been influenced by the cuisine of nearby countries, particularly Switzerland and Austria. Their diet consists of dairy, potatoes, green vegetables, beef, chicken and pork. Traditional dishes include Käsknöpfle (pasta covered with cheese), Hafaläb (corn bread loaf), Ribel (cornmeal based dish) and Geschnetzelte Schweinsleber (sliced pork liver with green pepper). I decided to make Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg), which we had for breakfast. It was a flavoursome and fulfilling start to the day!

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

300g potato
4 rashers streaky bacon
3 eggs
50g butter
50g gruyere
salt & pepper

Peel and grate the potatoes. Put them in a tea towel and squeeze all of the moisture out
Fry the bacon until crispy, pour the oil into a cup and reserve
Chop up the bacon into small peices
Mix the potato and bacon together, add salt and pepper and a whisked egg
Add half the butter and some of the bacon frying oil to the frying pan used for the bacon
Add half the potato mixture and flatten into a disk. Fry on a medium heat for about 5 minutes
Flip the rosti and cook for 12-15 mins on a lower heat
Remove the cooked rosti to a warmed plate and repeat with the remaining potato mix
Add grated gruyere to the top of each rosti and slide it onto a tray which can go under the grill
Whilst grilling the rosti, fry 2 eggs and place one on top of each of the rostis

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Ingredients for Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
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Cooking Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
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Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
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Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
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Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
Liechtenstein castle
Liechtenstein castle
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Liechtenstein

Iran

Iran, known as Persia until 1935, became an Islamic republic in 1979, after the ruling monarchy, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown and forced into exile. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had previously been in exile, returned to form a new government and became the country’s Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. He was named Man of the Year in 1979 by American news magazine TIME for his international influence, however he remains a controversial figure and was criticised for human rights violations of Iranians.

Iran is one of the world’s most mountainous countries with ranges such as the Caucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains. The northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. One of the most famous members of Iranian wildlife is the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, also known as the Iranian cheetah, whose numbers were greatly reduced after the 1979 Revolution.

Iran ranks seventh among countries in the world, in terms of the number of World Heritage Sites recognised by Unesco. These include the Persepolis ruins, Golestan Palace, The Persian Garden, Susa (Archaeological mounds) and Meidan Emam, Esfahan public square.

Popular dishes in Iranian cuisine include Luleh Kabob (lamb kebab), Chelo (plain rice), Āsh-e anār (soup made with split peas and pomegranate juice), Gormeh Sabzi (Green Herb Stew), Bademjan (Eggplant And Tomato Stew), Baghali Polo ba Morgh (chicken with fava bean and rice) and Sohān-e-Asali (honey toffee). I decided to cook Khoresht-e Karafs (lamb and celery stew) which I served with saffron infused rice. It had a sweet flavour and the lamb was really succulent.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr 15 minutes

500 g lamb or beef, cut into cubes
5 celery stalks
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch fresh parsley
3 medium onions
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of cooking oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper

Peel and thinly slice onions
Fry in oil until slightly golden
Add the meat to the onions with turmeric and black pepper until color changes
Add 2-3 glasses of hot water and bring to boil
Cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes, adding more hot water during cooking if needed.
Wash celery and cut into 3 cm pieces
Finely chop mint and parsley and fry slightly in oil
Add celery, mint, parsley, salt to the meat and continue cooking for about 20 minutes (celery should not become too soft).
Add lime juice and sugar to taste and cook for another 3-4 minutes
Serve with saffron infused rice

Persepolis, Iran
Persepolis ruins, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Iran
Mountains in Iran
Mountains in Iran
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Asiatic cheetah

Iceland

Iceland, a land of beautiful landscapes and friendly charm. It is a Nordic Island nation with a population of just over 330,000. It is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain.

When the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant started operating, Iceland became the world’s largest electricity producer per capita and they expect to be energy-independent by 2050. The fishing industry is a major part of Iceland’s economy, accounting for 40% of the country’s export earnings with Cod being the most important species harvested. Whale watching has also become an important part of the economy since 1997. Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. Other than whale watching, visitors to Iceland can enjoy relaxing in Geysir and Strokkur hot springs, taking in the Jökulsárlón glaciar lagoon, the Laugavegurinn hike and of course witnessing the Northern Lights.

Staple foods of Icelandic cuisine include lamb, dairy and fish. Some dishes I came across were Lambakjot meth Graenmeti (Lamb Fricassee with Vegetables), Saltkjöt og baunir (split pea soup with salt lamb), Kartofluflatbrauth (Potato Flatbread), Steiktar Heilagfiski (Baked Halibut)  Sild meth Surum Rjoma og Graslauk (Herring in sour cream) and Sveskuterta (Prune Torte). I opted to make Plokkfiskur (fish stew) which was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
250g small, waxy potatoes, cut into quarters
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
350g haddock, cod or other white fish, cube into 1 inch cubes
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup single cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heavy butter over medium heat
Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes
Add white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce by half, about 5 minutes
Add stock and potatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft
Add cubed fish and chopped tomatoes; softly simmer for another 5 minutes
Turn heat down to low, add cream and salt and pepper to taste and heat until soup is piping hot but not boiling (otherwise the cream with curdle), about 7-8 minutes
Turn off heat, add chives and serve immediately

Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is a nation of hundreds of islands in the South Pacific lying to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu. The major islands are Guadalcanal, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, New Georgia, Malaita and Makira (or San Cristobal). It is believed that Papuan-speaking settlers began to arrive around 30,000 BC and the first European to visit the islands was the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, coming from Peru in 1568.

Some of the most intense fighting of WWII occurred in the Solomon Islands. Many ships were sunk in the sea off Honiara and there are many WWII relics beneath’s the ocean’s surface that are a real treat for divers.

The Marovo lagoon is allegedly the world’s largest saltwater lagoon. It contains hundreds of beautiful small islands, most of which are covered by coconut palms and rainforest and surrounded by coral. Other highlights include the Vilu War Museum, Skull Island, Lake Te’Nggano (the South Pacific’s largest expanse of fresh water), Mataniko Falls and the central market of Honiara.

The cuisine of the Solomon Islands features fish, coconuts, cassava, sweet potatoes, ulu (breadfruit) and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Dishes I came across were curried coconut and lime gourd soup, cassava pudding and papaya chicken with coconut milk. I opted to make fish curry with tomatoes which I served with a green salad. It was so simple, fresh tasting and very delicious.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

2 fish fillets (I used red mullet, but snapper, tuna or even cod would work)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp medium curry powder
2 tomatoes, chopped
Juice of 2 limes
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat
Stir in the curry powder and cook for a couple of minutes, keep stirring
Stir in the chopped tomatoes, lime juice, salt and pepper and cook for a minute
Add the fish to the mixture, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until fish is cooked
Serve with green salad or steamed rice

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Ingredients for fish curry with tomatoes
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Fish curry with tomatoes
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Fish curry with tomatoes
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Fish curry with tomatoes
Mataniko Falls, Soloman Islands
Mataniko Falls, Soloman Islands
Marovo Lagoon, Soloman Islands
Marovo Lagoon, Soloman Islands
Solomon Islands
Soloman Islands

Yemen

The Republic of Yemen is in the Arabian peninsular and shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. The Houthis, a Shiite tribal militia from northwest Yemen, have been at war with the central government for the best part of a decade. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Yemen.

A few facts
In ancient times Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, Latin for “happy” or “fortunate. Today, Yemen is neither happy nor fortunate, but it acquired the name because its high mountains attracted rain, making it more fertile than most of the Arabian peninsula.
Shibam, in Hadramaut province, is sometimes known as “the Manhattan of the desert”. It consists of some 500 mud-built tower houses resembling skyscrapers, some of them as many as 11 storeys high. Shibam is a Unesco world heritage site.
Yemen claims to be the ancient homeland of the Queen of Sheba (Balqis or Bilqis in Arabic).
Camel jumping is a traditional sport that is becoming increasingly popular among the Zaraniq tribe on the west coast of Yemen in a desert plain by the Red Sea. Camels are placed side to side and victory goes to the competitor who leaps, from a running start, over the most camels.

Popular Yememi dishes include Saltah (meat stew), Laxoox (flatbread), Aseed (dried fish served with local cheese, salad of garlic and spring onions with meat and sauce), Fatoot (fried bread with eggs), Bint Al-Sahn (sweet honey cake). I made Chicken Mandi (slow cooked spiced chicken over rice). It was quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 45 minutes + 4 hours – overnight marinating
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

For making Hawaij Spice
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1 inch whole cinnamon

For marinating chicken
1½ kg chicken
2 tbsp hawaij spice
40g butter, melted
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 tsp salt

For making Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 whole cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 inch whole cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 green chilies
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp soaked in 1½ tbsp water saffron strands
4 cups water
Salt to taste

In a small frying pan, roast all the ingredients for making the hawaij over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or till aromatic. Do not burn the spices.
Let the roasted spices cool down and grind to a fine powder
In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp hawaij with ½ tsp turmeric powder, ground pepper, salt and melted butter
Using a brush, spread the spice rub inside the skin, over the chicken and also inside the cavity
Place the chicken in a bag and marinate in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight
Making rice
In a small bowl, soak the saffron in water for an hour. Keep aside
Place a large pot over medium heat, add oil
Add onion, season with salt and cook till translucent
Remove the pot from the heat
Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper corns, green chilies, turmeric powder, rice, water and enough salt. Combine well

Baking the chicken and rice
Preheat oven to 210 C
Place a wire rack over the pot with rice, and place the marinated chicken breast side down on the wire rack to allow the drippings from the chicken to fall into the rice. Make sure the pot is larger than the chicken
Place the pot along with chicken on the lower rack in the preheated oven
Cook for 15 minutes at 210 C
After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 180 C and cook the chicken and rice for 45 minutes
After an hour, gently flip the chicken (breast side up) and again cook for another 30 minutes or till the chicken has browned and cooked well inside.
Take the rice and chicken from the oven. Remove the wire rack from the pot, let the chicken rest for 5 minutes
Add the soaked saffron into the rice and combine well. Adding saffron is a must as this is what makes the rice aromatic and flavorful
Place the rice on a platter and put the chicken on top and serve

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH for short, is located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It declared sovereignty in October 1991 and independence from the former Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992. The country’s name comes from the two regions Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have a very vaguely defined border between them. Bosnia occupies the northern areas which are roughly four-fifths of the entire country, while Herzegovina occupies the rest in the southern part of the country. The name “Bosnia” comes from an Indo-European word Bosana, which means water. (There are 7 major rivers and over 100 lakes).

The town of Međugorje located in the mountains near Mostar has been popular with Catholic pilgrims since 1981, when six local children claimed they had seen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over 1 million people make the pilgrimage each year. The name Međugorje literally means “between mountains”.

Perućica is one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe, located near the border with Montenegro and part of the Sutjeska National Park. The tallest measured Norway Spruce (63 m) is located here.

According to the Guinness book of records the largest fish stew ever made, weighed 3,804 kg was by the Tourist Organisation of the Municipality of Prnjavor in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 19 August 2014. However in April 2015, a dozen Bosnian chefs from Sarajevo outperformed the record by making a traditional stew weighing 4,124 kg. It took 8 hours and served 15,000 portions. The record has not yet been verified by a Guinness World Records committee.

Some of the traditional Bosnian dishes I came across, other than enormous stews, included Zeljanica (spinach and feta pie), Begova Čorba (Bosnian soup), Grašak (pea stew), Sarma (meat and rice rolled in pickled cabbage leaves) and Krofna (filled doughnuts). I decided to make Ćevapi (meat kebabs) which were fairly simple but needed a good amount of seasoning which the recipe I followed had omitted to include, so ours were rather bland. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to include more seasoning.

Rating: 6/10

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

1 tbsp butter
1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
250g lean lamb mince
250g lean beef mince
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp salt
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp onions, finely chopped
4-6 pitta breads

Melt the butter over medium heat, add the onions and fry until translucent
Add the garlic for a few minutes whilst stirring to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes
Mix the ground lamb, ground beef., the cooled onion/garlic mixture, egg white, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well.
Shape the meat into unappetizing looking little cylinders, which are the traditional shape
Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least one hour
Pan fry the cevapi in a little olive oil until nicely browned, about 8 – 10 minutes
To serve, toast the pitta, then cut in half and make a pocket in each one
Stuff a few finely chopped onions inside the pita, then add the cevapi and top with a few more of the onions

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Making the world’s largest stew in Sarajevo!
Međugorje_St.James_Church
St James Church, Međugorje
Stari Most bridge, Mostar
Stari Most Bridge, Mostar
Perucica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Perućica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Una River, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ana River, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Croatia

I have been to Croatia a number of times, most recently to Pula in the north and prior to that Dubrovnik on three occasions. It is a beautiful country with stunning coastlines, crystal blue water and impressive architecture. The walled city of Dubrovnik really is a sight to behold with windy narrow steps, Stradun (it’s limestone-paved main thoroughfare) and glimpses of brilliant blue through the gaps in the city walls. It became a Unesco world heritage site in 1979. Pula’s amphitheatre is the 6th largest amphitheatre in the world and the only one that has all three rows completely preserved.

The Republic of Croatia covers 21,851 sq miles, consisting of 21,782 sq miles of land and 49 sq miles of water. There are over a thousand islands and islets varying in size, 48 of which are permanently inhabited. The largest islands are Cres and Krk. According to Lonely Planet, the top things to see in Croatia are Plitvice Lakes National Park, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Dubrovnik’s city walls and Cres Island. Alfred Hitchcock once said “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, Florida”. Croatia is ranked as the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world.

Croatian cuisine can be divided into regional cuisines (Istria, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, Lika, Gorski Kotar, Zagorje, Međimurje, Podravina, Slavonija) which all have their specific cooking traditions. Popular recipes I came across were Pasticada (slow cooked beef stew), Krpice Sa Sunkom (Ham and pasta casserole), Cevapcici (meat kebabs), Punjene Paprika (stuffed peppers), Govedina s lukom (beef in onion sauce) and Fuzi (Istrian pasta commonly served with truffles). I opted to make Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew) which, for what is essentially a simple store cupboard meal, was really tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 5
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

3 tins beans (cannellini, kidney or borlotti)
500g tinned hot dog sausages
5 bay leaves
50g flour
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 knorr chicken stock pot/cube
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Chop the sausages into small bite-size pieces and place in boiling water – turn temperature down and cook in water on a low heat.
Put the oil into a pan over a medium heat, add the flour and stir to create a roux
Add the crushed garlic cloves, tomato puree and stock pot or cube and mix well
Keep adding a ladleful of water one at a time from the sausage cooking liquid and keep stirring to remove lumps until you have a nice unctuous consistency
Add the sausages and bay leaves to the sauce and let cook for 20 minutes on medium heat, add more water if it is too thick
Add the beans and cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes, again add more water if necessary
Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for another minute
Sprinkle over the parsley and serve with warm french bread

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Ingredients for Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Empty plate says it all!
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Family and friends enjoying Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
Dubrovnik walled city, Croatia
Dubrovnik
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Cres Island, Croatia
Cres Island, Croatia
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Pula Amphitheatre, Croatia

Canada

Canada, the second largest country in the world after Russia is made up of ten provinces. It’s border with the US is the world’s longest land border and it has the longest coastline in the world. There are over 2,000,000 lakes in Canada, which is more than the rest of the world’s lakes combined. Alert, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada, is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, which takes its name from HMS Alert, which wintered 10 km east of the present station, off what is now Cape Sheridan, in 1875–1876. The annual mean temperature in Alert is -17.7c.

A few interesting facts
Yonge Street in Canada is the longest street in the world at 1,896 km (1,178 mi)
Police Departments in Canada give out “positive tickets” when they see people doing something positive
Canada has the third largest oil reserves of any country in the world after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela
There are more people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area than in the whole of Canada
Canadian born Sarwan Singh is the proud holder of the world record for the longest beard measuring 2.495 m (8 ft 2.5 in)

According to former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark, ‘Canadian cuisine is a collage of dishes from the cuisines of other cultures’. It varies depending on the region with influences from Britain, Scotland and France.

A few food facts:
Canada produces 1.6% of the world’s food but consumes only 0.6%
77% of the world’s maple syrup is made in Quebec
80% of the alcohol consumed in Canada is beer.

Popular dishes include Poutine (chips with cheese curd and gravy, Butter tart, Montreal-style bagels, Rappie pie (grated potato and meat casserole) and Kraft dinner (macaroni cheese). I made maple beer baked ham which we were a little disappointed with. Despite the name, the recipe called for pork which didn’t really absorb the lovely flavour of maple syrup. I think it would have been far better if I’d used ham.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 4 – 5
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: Approx 3 hours

600g pork shoulder (bone in)
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped finely
1 1/3 cups strong beer
1 cup chicken or beef stock
3/4 cup pure maple syrup from Canada, divided
3 tbsp dijon mustard
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp coriander seeds
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter
Add onions and garlic, fry until soft, about 5 minutes
Add beer, chicken or beef broth, 1/2 cup maple syrup, mustard, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and pepper, whisking until well-combined
Bring to a boil and then add pork to pot and bring back to the boil
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours
Preheat oven to 400ºF
Carefully remove pork from pot and transfer to a baking dish
Continue cooking liquid until reduced by half
Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup
Baste meat with maple glaze. Transfer to oven and bake until ham begins to crisp, about 20 minutes, basting with maple glaze every 5 minutes
Carve ham and serve

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Ingredients for Maple beer baked ham
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Maple beer baked ham
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Maple beer baked ham
Yonge Street
Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada
Banff National Park, Canada
Banff, Canada
Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest nation. It is made up of 9 low lying atolls and reef islands in the South Pacific Ocean, with the highest point reaching only 4.6m above sea level. The name Tuvalu means “eight islands” and although there are nine islands comprising the country today, only eight were initially inhabited so the ninth is not included in its name. It previously formed part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands until 1975 when the Ellice Islands separated from the Gilbert Islands and it became Tuvalu.

The country is isolated, almost entirely dependent on imports, particularly of food and fuel, and vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, which pose significant challenges to development. At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Emele Sopoaga said “Tuvalu’s future at current warming, is already bleak, any further temperature increase will spell the total demise of Tuvalu…. For Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and many others, setting a global temperature goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels is critical. I call on the people of Europe to think carefully about their obsession with 2 degrees. Surely, we must aim for the best future we can deliver and not a weak compromise. Let’s do it for Tuvalu. For if we save Tuvalu we save the world.”

The main staples of Tuvaluan cuisine are coconut, banana, taro and fish. Two popular traditional dishes are Palusami (taro leaf, onions and fish) and Laulu (taro leaf in coconut cream). Finding Tuvaluan recipes was quite a challenge however I came across a recipe for Tuvalu coconut tuna which was really simple and very tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

300g raw yellowfin tuna, cut into chunks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Scotch Bonnet hot chili peppers, seeds left in, and rough chopped
1/2 tbsp medium curry powder
tin coconut milk
2 spring onions, chopped
3 tbsp light soy sauce
Fresh coriander, chopped

In a large skillet or wok, heat up some vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
Fry the onions for a few minutes, until fragrant and translucent.
Add in the Scotch Bonnet pepper, curry powder, garlic and reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes
Stir in the coconut milk, and the spring onions
Add the tuna and soy sauce and cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
Finish off by adding the coriander and serve with steamed rice

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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Ingredients for Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna with steamed rice
Tuvalu
Tuvalu

Vietnam

I visited Vietnam in 2002 during my world tour and it was one of my favourite places, despite probably the longest, most uncomfortable journey I endured getting there. We left Vientiane in Laos at around 8pm, in a crammed full bus with no air con and tiny bench seats, and arrived in Hanoi 34 hours later. The roads were bumpy to start and got progressively worse, so much so you had to stand up every 10 minutes or so to help ease the bone shaking. Thanks to a landslide at the usual border crossing, we had to take a 10 hour detour and after a 3 hour wait at the Vietnamese border and changing to an even smaller, more crammed bus we eventually arrived. Travelling around Vietnam back then was generally best organised through tour operators via set routes and site seeing landmarks. It was possible to travel independently however it was much more expensive so I had booked a full 3 week tour taking in the key highlights.

There is so much to see and do in Vietnam but among my favourites were Halong Bay (a stunning area of limestone karsts and scattered isles), the hill tribe villages of Sapa, Ho Chi Minh’s Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes (now called the War Remnants Museum), shopping in Hue and Hoi An and Mui Ne beach.

I was spoilt for choice with the huge array of Vietnamese dishes available. It is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. A typical family meal would include bowls of rice, meat, fish or seafood, a clear broth or soup and dipping sauces. Recipes I considered were Pho Bo or Ga (noodle soup with beef or chicken), Bánh canh (thick rice noodle soup), Bánh bao (steamed bun dumpling), Gà nướng sả (grilled chicken with lemongrass), Súp măng cua (asparagus and crab soup) and Bánh mì (vietnamese baguette). Having tasted them many times in Vietnam, I decided to make Goi Cuon (salad rolls) which had a lovely fresh taste.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2 (makes 6-8 spring rolls)

Prep time: 45 minutes + 20 minutes marinating
Cook time: 5-6 minutes

280g pork shoulder or loin steaks, thinly sliced
1 garlic cloves, crushed
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (if sauce is thick, add about 1/4 cup warm water to reach desired consistency)
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped (or more if you want more heat)

To assemble the salad rolls
6 – 8 rice paper wrappers
Lettuce
Cucumber, cut into long slices
Fresh coriander
Bean sprouts

In a plastic bag combine the pork, garlic, shallot, fish sauce, sugar, pepper and oil and marinate in the fridge for 20 minutes or more
On a grill or BBQ cook the pork for about 2-3 minutes on each side
In blender, combine all the ingredients for the hoisin peanut dipping sauce
In bowl of warm water, dip each rice paper wrapper for about 3-5 seconds (depending on rice paper thickness). Take care not to over soak your rice paper wrapper
Place on work surface and allow rice paper to soak up water and become gelatinous and pliable (about 30 seconds to 1 minute, again, depending on the thickness rice paper)
On the top 1/3 side closest to you, lay lettuce on the bottom for added strength to the wrapper, then place meat, coriander, cucumber and beansprouts
Roll up the salad roll about 1/3 way through, then fold in the sides before rolling up fully
Serve with hoisin peanut dip

 

Sapa Vietnam
Sapa, Vietnam

Mui Ne beach
Mui Ne beach, Vietnam

Lanterns in Hoi An Vietnam
Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam

Halong Bay Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Namibia

Namibia, “Land of the Brave” according to the national anthem, is situated in southern Africa between the Namib and the Kalahari deserts. The Namib (meaning “vast place”) coastal desert is one of the oldest in the world, it’s sand dunes are the highest in the world and they are a rich source of diamonds. The Sperrgebiet (meaning “Prohibited Area”) National Park, also known as Diamond Area 1, was created by the Germans in 1908, it was then taken over by the South Africans and De Beers had full ownership until the 1990s when the Namibian government bought a fifty percent stake, forming a partnership called the Namdeb Diamond Corporation. Namibian diamonds are the highest valued in the world and were worth $550 dollars per carat in 2012 vs Russian diamonds (the world’s largest producer) at $82 per carat.

A few other interesting facts:
Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia
It has the largest number of cheetahs in the world
Namibia is one of only two countries in the world that has desert dwelling elephants
‘Hoba’, the world’s largest intact meteorite landed in Namibia weighing over 60 tonnes
It is the fifth largest producer of uranium in the world and is expected to become the second largest once the Husab mine reaches full production in 2017

Highlights for the tourist include the sand dunes at Sossusvlei, Spitzkoppe (the ‘Matterhorn of Africa’), the Skeleton Coast, Etosha National Park and the Fish River Canyon gorge. In 2010, Lonely Planet named Namibia the 5th best tourist destination in the world in terms of value.

Namibian cuisine varies by region but staple foods include pap (porridge), meat, game and fish. A few dishes I came across were Potjiekos (small pot stew), sheep’s tails, veldt bread and Namibian black eyed peas. However, I decided to have a go at ‘Kapana’ which is simply grilled meat, generally beef. It is a highly popular street food found in the Windhoek Katutura area. It can be served on its own, with spices or with vetkoeks (fat cakes). A special thanks to Chantel from the Namibian Chefs Association who gave me some advice to ensure it’s authenticity. Even though we have a fabulously large gas BBQ, I bought a disposable charcoal BBQ so it had the ‘real’ taste. We thought the vetkoeks were a little sweet and overpowered the meat, but were a very tasty treat for breakfast the next morning!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 1 – 2 hours proving time
Cook time: 15 minutes

For the kapana
2 ribeye steaks (choose chunky steaks with a good amount of fat)
coarse sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
groundnut oil
hot chilli sauce (optional)
disposable BBQ

For the vetkoeks (makes 4)
2 cups flour
7g instant dry yeast
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp oil
1 cup warm water
vegetable oil for deep frying

For the vetkoeks
Sieve flour and combine all the dry ingredients in a big bowl
Add the oil and then water bit by bit until you get the consistency of a soft bread dough. The mixture must still be quite sticky.
Place the dough on a floured surface and gently knead for 5-10 minutes
You may need to add a little more flour to the dough to prevent it sticking to your fingers
Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a cloth and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 – 2 hours
Divide the dough into 4 portions and mould into balls
Deep fry a few vetkoek at a time over a medium/low heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes

For the kapana
Light the disposable BBQ 20 minutes before you want to use it
Generously season the steaks and rub a little groundnut oil all over
Grill the steaks on the BBQ for 5 minutes on each side for medium rare steaks and then rest for 2 minutes
Serve with the vetkoeks and hot chilli sauce

Spitzkoppe Namibia
Spitzkoppe Namibia

Sossusvlei Namibia
Sossusvlei Namibia

Desert dwelling elephants Namibia
Desert dwelling elephants Namibia

Sperrgebiet National Park
Sperrgebiet National Park Namibia

Montenegro

Montenegro – Crna Gora or Black Mountain, allegedly named by the Venetians when they saw the pine forests on Mount Lovćen which were apparently so dense that from far away the mountain looked black. 60 percent of the country is more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high, with the tallest peak, Zla Kolata, reaching to 2,534 metres (8,314 ft) which is located on the border of Montenegro and Albania. It became an independent nation in 2006, after 55% voted for independence in a referendum.

In Montenegro, ‘Krvna Osveta’ (blood feud) is a law of vendetta which has been practised since medieval times and still occurs today. It is an oath of revenge for vendetta, meaning that a person must take revenge on whoever killed his relative by killing the murderer or one of the murderer’s close relatives.

Montenegro is considered one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations with 1.7 million visitors in 2015. National Geographic Traveler features Montenegro among the “50 Places of a Lifetime”. It has a coastline of 293 km with over 120 beaches and 3 Unesco world heritage sites; the Historical Region of Kotor, Stećci Medieval Tombstones Graveyards and Durmitor National Park.

Traditional Montenegrin cuisine has influences from Italian, Turkey, Serbia and Croatia. Popular dishes include Jagnjeća Supa (Lamb broth), Brav u miljeku (lamb cooked in milk), Čorbast Pasulj (bean stew with smoked ribs), Priganice (fritters or flat doughnuts) and Sac (meat slow roasted in ashes under an iron dome). I opted to cook Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce). Randomly, we had this for breakfast, I’m not entirely sure why we thought it would be a good idea, perhaps because it has eggs in it and some recipes suggested it was like an omelette! Had we walked some of the Montenegrin mountains and worked up an appetite, I think this dish would be a pleasant reward, however the watery texture wasn’t really our cup of tea.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 1 as a main, 2 as a light snack
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

50g carrot, chopped
50g onion, chopped
160g veal fillet
30g. butter, melted
1 bayleaf
salt, to taste
2 eggs
100ml sour cream
100ml whole milk
fresh parsley, chopped finely

Pre heat the oven to 200°C
Cut the veal into approximately 50g chunks, add to a saucepan along with the vegetables and bayleaf
Cover the contents of the pan with water and add 1/2 tsp salt
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cook for about 15 minutes
Drain through a sieve, then place in a small oven proof pan and drizzle the melted butter over the top
Place in the oven and roast for about 8 minutes
Meanwhile, make the “royal sauce” by whisking together the eggs, milk and cream
Pour over the meat, until completely covered then return to the oven and cook for 7 minutes
Finish it under the grill for a few minutes to give it colour
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve

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Ingredients for Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
Kotor Montenegro
Kotor Montenegro
Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Budva Montenegro
Budva Montenegro