Libya

The state of Libya, formerly an Italian colony until independence in 1951 was an authoritarian socialist state under Muammar Qaddafi from 1969 to 2011. His backing of terrorism led to a US bombing in 1986 and UN sanctions in 1992. In 2003 Libya ended its international isolation and abandoned its weapons programs. Since September 2014 the UN has been working to reconcile the governments and encouraging them to form a national unity government.

Libya’s coastline is the longest of any African country bordering the Mediterranean. The Libyan Desert forms the northern and eastern part of the Sahara Desert and covers 95% of Libyan territory. It is one of the driest, harshest and most remote parts of the greater Sahara and in 1922 the highest temperature (58 °C) on earth was recorded here (however it was disqualified by the World Meteorological Organisation in 2013 as it was found to be invalid).

Libya has many sights including the Roman city of Leptis Magna (originally a Phoenician port), the ancient Greek city of Cyrene, the Saharan Ubari lakes and 12,000 year old rock art at Jebel Acacus. However you’ll have to wait a while as travelling to Libya currently is a total no no.

Libyan cuisine derives much from the traditions of Tunisia and Egypt. There are four main ingredients of traditional Libyan food: olives (and olive oil), dates, grains and milk. Some recipes I came across include Mubatan (fried potato stuffed with meat), Mhalbiya (rice pudding), Bureek (pastries), Bazin (bread dome served with lamb stew and eggs) and Khubs bi’ tun (bread with tuna fish). I made Khubzah bil Ashab (Libyan Herb Bread) which was very flavoursome.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 6 – 8
Prep time: 25 mins + 1 – 1/2 hours resting time
Cook time: 25 – 35 mins

1 cup warm milk
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
8 level tbsp cornflour
3 1/2 cups plain flour
40ml olive oil
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Bunch of thyme, chopped
Bunch of parsley, chopped
Green olives, chopped
1 tsp paprika

Add the dried yeast to 1/2 cup of warm water with a tsp of sugar
Measure 2 level tbsp into a cup and then fill to the top with plain flour then sieve into a bowl, repeat this 3 more times
Sieve the flour and cornflour 4 more times, then seive in the salt and baking powder
Add the warm water into the yeast and sugar and stir well
Add the liquid to the sieved flour gradually and bring into together to a soft dough
Stir in the herbs, olives and paprika into the dough
Stir in the olive oil
Cover the dough with a tea towel and leave it somewhere warm for 1 – 1/2 hours
Preheat the oven to 220 C.
Grease a loose base cake tin (about 20cm by 20cm)
Pour the dough and smoothen.
Brush generously with olive oil.
Put in the hot oven and cook for 25 – 30 mins or until golden
Use a skewer to ensure the dough is cooked
Remove from the cake tin and leave to cool on a wire rack
Cut into squares and serve with mint tea

Tunisia

Tunisia is a North African nation bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It contains the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains and the northern reaches of the Sahara desert.

Independent from France since 1956, the country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In 1987, Bourguiba was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a bloodless coup. Street protests followed over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths. In January 2011 Ben Ali dismissed the government, fled the country, and a “national unity government” was formed.

A state of emergency is currently in effect in Tunisia, imposed after a suicide attack on a police bus on 24 November 2015. It has been extended a number of times. On 20 June it was extended for a further month to 21 July. Until recently tourism had provided jobs for 11.5% of the working population with 6.2 million tourist visitors in 2013. Some of the main attractions are the ancient ruins of Carthage, Jerba’s El-Ghriba synagogue, Sfax Medina and the Mosque of Sidi Mahres in Tunis.

Tunisian cuisine uses a variety of ingredients in many different ways. Unlike other North African cuisine, Tunisian food is quite spicy. Harissa, a hot red pepper sauce is commonly used. Cous cous or Kosksi as it’s known, is the national dish of Tunisia. Recipes I came across include Koucha (slow cooked lamb), Felfel Mehchi (stuffed peppers), Lablabi (a thick soup made with chickpeas and garlic), Brik (a fried Malsouka dough stuffed with tuna and an egg) and Marqa (slow cooked stew).  As I was cooking Morocco and Tunisia on the same day, I decided to make Tunisian vegetable cous cous to serve with the Moroccan Mshermel chicken tagine. It was quick and easy to make and very tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

3 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 courgette, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
750ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tin chickpeas, drained
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 and 1/2 cups couscous
Salt & pepper

Heat the oil in large pot over medium-low heat
Add the onion, courgette and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and turn translucent, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the red peppers and cook for 5 minutes
Add the vegetable stock and coriander
Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low for 5 minutes
Stir in chickpeas and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes
Slowly pour in the couscous and stir
Remove from the heat and cover the pan immediately
Let it stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and season to taste
Serve at slightly warmer than room temperature

Kiribati

Kiribati, pronounced ‘Kiribas’, is formed of 33 atolls and 1 island, across the equator in the Pacific Ocean, which are dispersed over 3.5 million sq km. It has been independent of the UK since 1979 and over half the population live on Tarawa atoll and South Tarawa is the capital. It was previously named the Gilbert Islands, after the British explorer Thomas Gilbert who found the islands in 1788 and it then became the Republic of Kiribati after independence.

It is home to the Phoenix Islands, the 2nd largest marine protected area in the world, after the Chagos Archipelago in the Maldives. Christmas Island, otherwise known as Kiritimati, is part of this island group and is the world’s largest coral atoll. Nuclear tests were conducted on and around Kiribati by the UK in the late 1950s, and by the US in 1962. During these tests islanders were not evacuated. Subsequently British, New Zealand, and Fijian servicemen, as well as local islanders have claimed to have suffered from exposure to the radiation from these blasts.

The native people of Kiribati are called I-Kiribati and they speak an Oceanic language called “Gilbertese”, although English is also an official language, it is not often used outside the island capital of Tarawa. It has the 3rd highest prevalence of smoking with 54% of the population reported as smokers.

When it comes to the cuisine of Kiribati, most commonly available ingredients include coconut, breadfruit, chinese cabbage, pumpkin, tomato, watermelon and cucumber. Rice and fish also form an important part of the diet. Palu sami (a coconut cream curry powder taro leave seaweed concoction) is a Kiribati specialty. I have to be honest and say that I struggled to find an authentic recipe and I sought help from a fellow round the world cook, Sasha Martin. I hope you don’t feel that I cheated when I tell you that I bought a cooked lobster, as I had to ‘deal’ with it in order to get to the tasty flesh! I made Lobster with coconut curry dip, which I served as a canapé.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4 as a canapé
Prep time: 30
Cook time: 10 mins

1 cooked lobster
1 400g tin coconut milk
2 tsp homemade spice mix
1 tsp honey

For the homemade spice mix
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1/8 tsp fennel seed
1/8 tsp cayenne
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
1 whole clove

For the spice mix
Toast the spices over a medium low heat until fragrant and you see a few wisps of smoke. This should only take a minute or two. Keep the spices moving so they do not burn.
Put them into a grinder or pestle and mortar and grind until smooth.

Prepare the lobster as per the instructions on the packet – ensuring you remove all the meat from the tail and claws.
Place the coconut milk into a pan over a medium heat and whisk in the spice mix. I added a tsp of honey to give a little bit of sweetness to the dip.
Serve hot with the lobster.

Kiribati_1990462bkiribati_map

Jordan

Jordan is situated in the heart of the Middle East, almost land locked but for a for a short coast on the Gulf of Aqaba. Officially The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan since independence from Britain in 1946. King Hussein ruled Jordan from 1953 until his death in 1999, when his son King Abdallah II assumed the throne. Since 1989, all elements of the Jordanian political system have been on a road to greater democracy, liberalisation and consensus building.

The population of Jordan is estimated at 9.5 million as of 2016. Jordan plays host to enormous numbers of refugees, with 2 million Palestinians, 1.4 million Syrians, 700,000 Iraqis and 15,000 Lebanese. Archaeological evidence shows that humans have lived in what is now Jordan for at least 90,000 years through the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. It has been ruled by the Mongols, the Crusaders, the Ayyubids, the Mamluks and the Ottoman empire.

Tourism in Jordan is affected by regional turbulence but despite this it is still considered to be a major influence on the economy. The most popular tourist attractions are the historical cities of Petra and Jerash. Other highlights include Madaba’s Byzantine era mosaics, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Wadi Rum, Al-Maghtas and the Dead Sea.

The cuisine of Jordan has developed over the centuries. Popular ingredients include olive oil (they are one of the largest olive producers in the world), herbs, garlic, lemon, tomato sauce and yoghurt. Mansaf is the national dish (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt called Jameed). Other dishes I came across were Mujaddara (lentil and rice casserole), Freekeh (poultry or meat fried in oil and braised with water, salt, and cinnamon bark) and Kousa Mahshi (meat stuffed courgettes). We had friends visiting for the weekend so I decided to do Mezze, which is a highly popular style of eating in Jordan. I made Kefta (spiced ground meat), Falafel (fried chickpea balls), Tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip. I served it all with flatbreads and pitta breads. It divided the group a little, but overall we enjoyed it.

Rating: (a high) 7/10

Serves 4 with leftovers
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 1 hour

Tabbouleh
½ kg tomatoes
½ cup olive oil
½ cup lemon joice
1 cup cooked bulgar wheat (follow instructions on pack)
2 large onions
3 ¾ cups of finely chopped parsley
3 ¾ cups finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp salt

Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip
½ cucumber
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
500g plain yoghurt
1 tbsp salt

Beef Keftas
750g ground beef
2 onions
2 tsp minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tsps salt
2 tsps black pepper
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp oil
½ cup passata

Falafel
2 cups dried chickpeas
1 cup dried broad beans
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
½ cup of chopped parsley and/or coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tsp baking soda

Tabbouleh
Cook the bulgar wheat according to the pack instructions
Chop tomatoes very fine and sprinkle with salt
Chop onions very fine and add to tomatoes
Add parsley and mint leaves
Stir together with the bulgar wheat
Add lemon juice and olive oil and mix well

Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip
Dice the cucumbers
Crush the garlic with salt & mint; stir into yoghurt
Add cucumbers and serve with mint garnish

Keftas
Preheat oven to 175c
Half the onion and cut about 1/4 of that half into thin slices, then the rest of the onion shred with a hand vegetable shredder OR chop, mince garlic and chop parsley, then add it to the meat
Add seasoning to the meat, salt, ground black pepper and allspice
Drizzle oil on top of the meat mixture and mix with your hands (you can put the mixture in a bag and massage it to avoid getting tpp messy).
Brush oil on the bottom of the baking pan, then press down the meat mixture, from one corner to the other until it is equally spread.
With two fingers, (index and middle) make little lines, from one end to the other. This will speed cooking process and in a way looks like boneless riblets.
Spoon over the passata, and spread equally on the top of the meat mixture, then place those thin onion slices on top, a sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little more parsley
Bake for about 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven. It will shrink from all the sides of the pan

Falafel
Soak the chickpeas and fava beans for at least six hours or overnight
Blend the soaked chickpeas and fava beans, onion, garlic, and chopped parsley into the food processor until all the ingredients are combined into a nice, thick paste
Empty the mixture into a bowl, add the salt and spices, and mix them well with a spatula
Add baking soda to the mixture and mix well
Scoop the mixture with a spoon or your hands to form ball shapes and deep fry them in vegetable oil until they are a nice golden brown colour

 

St Vincent and The Grenadines

St Vincent and The Grenadines, or SVG, is a country in the Caribbean, not a music band, like I thought when I first pulled it out of the bag! Situated in the Lesser Antilles island arc, it is made up of St Vincent, the main island, along with the Grenadines, 32 smaller islands stretching south. There are 9 inhabited islands, one of which is Mustique, which has been visited by Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Sir Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse. Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III were all filmed on the islands. Natasha Mayers, born in St Vincent, won the Women’s 100m gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The highest point is La Soufriere, an active volcano on St Vincent, which last erupted in 1979. Many of St Vincent’s beaches are black volcanic sand, while the Grenadine beaches are fine white sand. Forest covers 69 per cent of the land area. In 2006 it was voted number 4 in the world on The Happy Planet Index (HPI) which is calculated from perceived well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint. Homosexuality is illegal in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Much of the food eaten in SVG is grown or sourced locally. Popular dishes include bul jol (roasted breadfruit and saltfish), pumpkin soup, arrowroot cakes and curried goat. I made stuffed sweet potatoes, which we found a little bit too sweet with the filling, unfortunately the sweet potato and sweetcorn overpowered the chicken and bacon.

Rating: 5/10

Serves 3 as a main meal or 6 as a starter
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 1 hr 15 mins

5-6 sweet potatoes
Vegetable oil
8 rashers of bacon
1 cup of any cooked diced meat
1 cup sweetcorn
1 large onion
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp margarine
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Scrub potatoes well. Dry and brush them with oil. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 1 hour.
Fry the onion with thyme leaves until it is soft and transparent, remove to a bowl.
Fry the bacon in the same pan until it is crisp and add to the onions.
Remove potatoes from oven, cut each in half and scoop out the flesh to a bowl. Mash the flesh.
Add the corn, chicken and margarine to the onion and bacon, add seasoning and mix well.
Put a spoonful of the filling mix into the potato shells, followed by a spoonful of the mashed potato and finally another spoonful of the filling mixture.
Place in the oven for 15 mins and serve hot.

 

Micronesia (FSM)

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) are in the western Pacific Ocean and comprise of around 607 islands with a combined area of 271 sq miles. The FSM is made up of what is known as the Western and Eastern Caroline Islands. The islands are grouped into four states; Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. It forms part of the Micronesia region encompassing the FSM, Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Nauru. FSM’s capital is Palikir, located on Pohnpei Island. Pohnpei reputedly is one of the wettest places on earth, with up to 330 inches of rain per year.

Pohnpei is notable for the prevalence of an extreme form of color blindness called Achromatopsia, and known locally as maskun (meaning ’no see’). Approximately 5% of the atoll’s 3000 inhabitants are afflicted. A person with complete achromatopsia would see only black, white and shades of grey. The neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a book about it in 1997 called ‘The Island of the Colorblind’.

Economic activity in the FSM consists primarily of subsistence farming and fishing. The potential for a tourist industry exists, but the remoteness of the location and a lack of adequate facilities hinder development. Top things to see and do in FSM include The ‘Venice of Micronesia’, Phonpei’s ancient stone city Nan Madol, Yap’s large stone money banks, diving Chuuk’s underwater WWII ‘museum’ that’s hailed as one of the world’s ultimate aquatic experiences and Kosrae’s mangrove swamps and sandy beaches.

The main staple foods in the FSM are taro, yam, bread-fruit, banana, and coconuts. Crab, shellfish, pork and chicken are also popular. Recipes include Prawn Adobo in Coconut Milk, Coconut Chicken Curry and Breadfruit salad. I opted to cook Kelaguen Chicken (Marinated chicken with coconut, spring onion & chilli) served with toasted flatbreads. We had friends to dinner and they all thought it was unique and very flavoursome.

Rating: 10/10

Serves 4
Prep time: 30 mins + 6 – 24 hours marinating time
Cook: 15 mins

For chicken kelaguen
4 boneless chicken thighs (with skin)
1/2 lb fresh coconut, coarsely grated
3 spring onions with their stalks, finely chopped
2 red chillies, seeds removed
1 green chilli, seeds removed
1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
Flatbreads, toasted under the grill

For finadene marinade
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup soy sauce
1 medium onion, finely slices
1 red chilli

Mix together all the marinade ingredients and marinate the chicken for at least 6 hours.
Grill the chicken thighs on the barbecue for 10 – 15 minutes.
Remove the skin and slice.
Mix with coconut, onions, lemon juice, and chilies.
Add salt and pepper.
Serve with toasted flatbreads.

 

Diving in Yap
Diving with Manta Rays in Yap
micronesia
Federated states of Micronesia
micronesia sunset
Micronesia sunset

Chad

Chad is a landlocked nation in north central Africa. It is the fifth largest country in Africa in terms of area and the largest of Africa’s 16 landlocked countries. Lake Chad, after which the country is named, is the largest wetland in Chad and the second largest in Africa. Lake Chad occupied 130,000 sq mi of the Chad Basin 7,000 years ago, now it covers only 6,875 sq mi. Sadly it is falling victim to the Sahara and is receding northwards each year and may soon not even be in Chad.

Not long ago, geologically speaking – what is today the Sahara, was green savannah teeming with wildlife. During the African Humid Period, roughly 11,000 to 5,000 years ago, a vibrant animal community including elephants, giraffes, hippos, and antelope lived there. The last remnant of the “Green Sahara” exists in the Lakes of Ounianga in northern Chad, a series of 18 interconnected freshwater, saline, and hypersaline lakes now protected as a World Heritage site.

Extensive deforestation has resulted in loss of trees such as acacias, baobab, dates and palm trees. This has also caused loss of natural habitat for wild animals and lions, leopards and rhino have been almost decimated. Poaching is a serious problem in the country, particularly of elephants for the profitable ivory industry. Elephants are often massacred in herds in and around the parks by organised poaching. The problem is worsened by the fact that the parks are understaffed and that a number of wardens have been murdered by poachers.

Since independence from France in 1960, Chad has suffered instability stemming mostly from tension between the mainly Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south. The only thing that unites the two is abject poverty. The United Nations’ Human Development Index ranks Chad as the seventh poorest country in the world, with 80% of the population living below the poverty line. In 2005, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index named Chad (tied with Bangladesh) as the most corrupt country in the world.

Despite all this, Chad possesses a rich cultural heritage and the cuisine offers a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits and meats. Fish is abundant in northern Chad, including tilapia, perch, eel, carp and catfish. Some of the recipes I came across during my research include Jarret de Boeuf (slow cooked beef and vegetable stew), Broiled Fish (A recipe from the villages along the Chari River) , Kisser (sourdough crepe) , Fangasou (fried doughnuts made of millet or wheat flour) and Maharagwe (beans in coconut milk). I decided to make Kachumbari (Chadian Tomato & Onion Salad) which I enjoyed al fresco in my garden on a rare sunny day in the UK! Unbelievably simple and it tasted so zingy and fresh – I absolutely loved it.

Rating 10/10

Serves 1
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 0 mins

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced (or diced)
8 cherry tomatoes – red & yellow, halved (use ripe ones, ideally that have been on the window shelf for a while)
2 inches of cucumber, middle removed and diced
1/2 red chilli, seeds & placenta removed and sliced
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
The juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and toss until well combined and serve immediately.

IMG_9158
Ingredients for Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

 

IMG_9170
Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

IMG_9161
Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)
chad sahara
Chad Sahara

India

India, the seventh largest country by area and second largest by population with over 1.2 billion people.

India was once a continent. More than 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, most of what is now India was an island.  It had broken off from an ancient supercontinent, referred to as Gondwanaland by paleogeographers and was moving slowly northwards.  About 50 million years ago, the India continental plate collided with Asia, buckling the coastal area of both continents and creating the Himalayas.   Evidence of this ancient history is provided by fossilised sea shells that can still be found high in the mountains. The plate on which the subcontinent rests continues to press slowly northwards, and is the reason why the height of Mount Everest increases slightly every year.

India has three of the world’s top ten megacities – one more than China. According to the UN, Delhi is now the second-largest urban agglomeration in the world, with Mumbai ranked seventh and Calcutta tenth.  The population of Delhi and its immediate urban hinterland is now over 22.65 million, and is only surpassed by Tokyo.  The 486.6-million worker Indian labour force is the world’s second-largest, as of 2011.  The service sector makes up 55.6% of GDP, the industrial sector 26.3% and the agricultural sector 18.1%.

India’s telecommunication industry, the world’s fastest-growing, added 227 million subscribers during the period 2010–11, and after the first quarter of 2013, India surpassed Japan to become the third largest smartphone market in the world after China and the U.S.

There are more road deaths in India than any other country in the world.  Officially about 115,000 people die on Indian roads each year – though a recent British Medical Journal study suggests that the true number of fatalities is closer to 200,000.

India has the world’s largest film industry.  More than 1,100 movies are produced, on average, each year – that’s slightly ahead of Nigeria, twice as many as the American film industry and ten times as many as Britain produces.

Some interesting facts about the Taj Mahal:

– It took 22 years to build from 1631 to 1653.
– 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants were involved in the build.
– Today’s value of the Taj Mahal is estimated to be around $10 billion dollars.
– It was built by Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram) for his wife – Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Bano Begum).
– Between 2 – 4 million people visit every year.

Indian cuisine is hugely diverse and is known the world over.  Indian food differs across the various regions and is also heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices and traditions.  Thankfully with a little help from my friend Aditi, I chose to cook 3 dishes – Murgh Punjabi (chicken curry from Punjab), Peas Pulao (peas with rice) and Chana Saag (chickpeas with spinach).

Overall rating: 8/10.  The chana saag was a little too watery, so I have adjusted the recipe below with reduced water.
 
For the Murgh Punjabi:

500g chicken with bones or boneless (based on preference)
2-3 medium sized onion
3 tomatoes on the vine
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp chopped ginger
2-3 tbsp oil
Masala’s:
1 bay leaf
4 – 5 whole peppercorns
2-3 whole cloves
Half a cinnamon stick broken into smaller pieces
2-3 black cardamom
1/2 heaped tsp cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Pepper
Red chilli powder – to taste
4-5 teaspoons chicken curry masala powder
Fresh coriander, chopped

Sauté chopped onions till dark brown in the oil

Add chopped tomatoes
Keep sautéing mixture till the tomatoes and onions are well cooked and start releasing the oil
This should take 15-20 mins
Wait for mixture to cool and grind to paste consistency in a mixer
In a deep bottom pan, take some oil, add chopped ginger and chopped garlic
Once golden brown add bay leaf, peppercorns, black cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves and the cumin seeds
Once the cumin seeds are sizzling, add the onion tomato paste that you made earlier
Let it all cool together for 2 mins and then add red chilly powder, chicken curry powder, freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Sauté mixture for 3-4 minutes
Add washed chicken pieces to the pan now
Sauté for 7-8 minutes till all the pieces are nicely covered with the masala and are sealed
Now add water (half a cup of water if you want the curry to have a thick consistency and want to serve it with Indian bread or 2 cups of water (approx) if you want to serve it with rice and want it to be more liquids)
Now bring to boil and once it’s boiling, put a lid on and reduce the flame to low for the chicken to simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
Keep stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan16. Once cooked, garnish with chopped coriander and juliennes of ginger

For the Peas Pulao:

1 1/2 cups of basmati white rice
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 cups water (double the rice)
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
2 -3 pinches garam masala powder

In a deep bottom pan, heat the oil

Add the cumin seeds, once they start to sizzle, add the peas
Sauté for 2 minutes and add the rice
Add salt to taste and sauté the peas and rice to mix together
Add the water, bring to a boil
Let all the water get absorbed by the rice and peas and once you start to see holes in the rice, cover it with a lid and turn the flame off
Let it cook in its own steam for 7-10 mins, open the lid and spread the rice gently and turn it from top to bottom so that every rice particle can stand out separately and no lumps are formed
Put the lid again for another 4-5 mins
Your rice is ready, garnish with garam masala powder for aroma and flavour

For the Chana Saag:

Oil
250g spinach, washed
1/3 tsp cumin seeds
400g can of chickpeas
1/2 tsp dry ginger powder
3/4 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp tomato puree
400g can chopped tomatoes or passata
Salt to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a tall stockpot.

Add the spinach leaves and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cook for about 5 minutes breaking down the spinach leaves until wilted and pulped but some liquid remains.
Remove to a separate bowl.
Heat 1 more tablespoon of olive oil in the same stockpot. Add the cumin seeds and fry for 1-2 minutes until they sizzle.
Add the chickpeas and 1 tsp salt.
Remove from heat and add the ground spices.
Return to heat and mix in the tomato puree and canned tomatoes.
Cook for 1-2 minutes and then add 1 cup water.
Cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes.
Add the spinach with its liquid and cook for another 5-10 minutes on low heat.
Taste and adjust salt and chili as needed.

 

 

 

 

Japan

Japan is a place I’ve always wanted to go to, but I haven’t quite made it yet.  A quote from Chris Rowthorn on the Lonely Planet website sums it up beautifully;
“I’ve spent most of my adult life in Japan and now it feels like home to me. I love the food: it’s incredibly varied and nourishing and there seems to be no end to the culinary discoveries one can make. I love the combination of a hike in the mountains followed by a long soak in an onsen. But, most of all, I love the meticulous and careful nature of the Japanese people, reflected in every aspect of Japanese life, from trains that run right on time to sublime works of art. Put it all together and you come away with a country that still intrigues me even after two decades of living there.”

 

Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands. The four largest are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, which make up about ninety-seven percent of Japan’s land area.  Over 70% of Japan is mountainous and there are over 100 active volcanoes.  The population of 126 million is the world’s tenth largest.  It has the world’s third-largest economy by nominal GDP and the world’s fourth-largest economy by purchasing power parity.  Japan has the highest life expectancy ranking in the world with an overall life expectancy of 84 (vs 81 in the UK, which is ranked no.20).

 

Some quick facts …
Coffee is very popular and Japan imports approximately 85% of Jamaica’s annual coffee production.
On average there are around 1,500 earthquakes every year in Japan.
Japan is the largest automobile producer in the world.
It is home to the world’s longest railroad tunnel at 54 kilometers (33 miles) – the Seikan Tunnel linking Honshu to Hokkaido.
As of 2011, Japan overtook France in the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants and has maintained the title since.

 

I received a few suggestions from friends for Japanese recipes including Shabu shabu (hotpot of meat & vegetables), Katsu curry (deep fried pork or chicken in curry sauce) and Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake).  Other traditional dishes include miso soup, soba or udon noodles, sashimi (raw fish), chahan (fried rice), tempura (deep fried fish or vegetables), gyoza (dumplings) and teriyaki (grilled meat, fish or vegetables).

 

As I was having a little get together with friends I decided to make Maki-zushi (sushi rolls) with salmon & avocado to serve as a nibble with drinks.  It seemed the jury is still out for some of my guests when it comes to raw fish.

 

Rating: 8/10

Makes 32 sushi rolls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

300g sushi rice
2 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
1 large avocado
juice ½ lemon
4 sheets nori seaweed
2 previously frozen salmon fillets thawed
1 bunch chives
Soy sauce & wasabi to serve

Put the rice in a small pan with 600ml water. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 mins until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Stir through the vinegar and sugar, cover and cool.
Skin, stone and slice the avocado. Put in a bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice, turning the avocado to ensure the pieces are covered.
Divide the rice between the nori sheets and spread it out evenly, leaving a 1cm border at the top and bottom. Lay the salmon over the rice, followed by the chives and finally position the avocado across the centre.
Fold the bottom edge of the seaweed over the filling, then roll it up firmly. Dampen the top border with a little water to help it seal the roll. Repeat to make 4 rolls. At this stage, the rolls can be wrapped individually in cling film and chilled until ready to serve.
Using a serrated knife, cut each roll into 8 rounds. Serve with sweet soy sauce for dipping.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates established in 1971 – Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwai.
Once a quiet Bedouin backwater, now an astonishing blend of Arabian tradition and economic innovation.  The UAE’s oil reserves are the seventh-largest in the world and as such is one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East.
In 2013, the UAE’s total population was 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates.   Dubai is the most populated Emirate with about 36% of the UAE population.
The climate of the U.A.E is subtropical-arid with hot summers and warm winters. The hottest months are July and August, when average maximum temperatures reach above 45 °C on the coastal plain.  In 2004, there was snow in the UAE for the very first time.
According to Lonely Planet there are 186 sights in the UAE.  The top picks include Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Dubai museum, Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Deira Souqs and Emirates Palace.  The Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, was completed in January 2010 and became the world’s tallest building at 2,716 feet (828 meters) and 160 stories. It contains the world’s fastest elevators and 20.7 acres of glass.
The Telegraph states that the most expensive hotel room in Dubai is the Royal Suite in Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, priced at up to £12,000 per night.  This is a snip in comparison to the Royal Penthouse Suite at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva which would set you back £53,000 per night!!
When it comes to the food, they have adopted most of their foods from other West and South Asian countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India and Oman.  Seafood is popular along with meat and rice.  Alcohol is only allowed to be served in hotel restaurants, bars and nightclubs.  Although one may consume alcohol, it is illegal to be intoxicated in public.  Recipes I came across include Machboos (spicy stew with rice) , Harees (dumplings) , Shawarma (kebab) , Khanfaroush (cookies) , Chicken Salona (stew) and Chabab (bread).  I opted to make Khameer bread, which is traditionally served at breakfast with cottage cheese or fruit, however I served it as a starter with dips.  It was a little sweet, but enjoyable none the less.
Rating: 7/10
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1/4 cup milk powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
3/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Add both flours, yeast, milk powder, saffron, cardamon powder and sugar in a large bowl and whisk well to combine.
Slowly add water and knead to make a soft dough. When the flour holds together as a dough (you may not need to use all the water), place it on a flat surface and knead for 5 minutes to get a smooth dough.
Let the dough rest for 1 hour in a warm place.
Divide the dough into 6-7 portions. Roll each portion into a disc of 4-5 inches.
Heat a non stick fying pan or griddle and when it is medium hot, place one of the rolled out discs into the pan.
It will start to puff up, flip after a minute and cook the other side, spread a tsp of oil on top, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and flip and cook for a few seconds.
Remove it on serving plate and repeat with the other discs.
Serve warm.

Ireland

As I had my mother in law staying with us from Ireland and the kids were also here, it felt only right to cook Ireland on St Patrick’s Day!
So, The Emerald Isle, my husband’s homeland .. the pressure’s on!!
I’ve been to Ireland several times and have had the pleasure of visiting Cork, Dublin and Galway.  All very different and yet delightful in their own unique way.  Beautiful beaches and sea views in Cork, great food, shopping and bars in Dublin and stunning scenery in Galway.
The land of potatoes, guinness, shamrocks and leprechauns has a very long and interesting history.  The first people arrived in Ireland in around 7000 BC and lived by farming and fishing.
In 432 a man named Patrick arrived in Ireland from Western England.  He had been captured by Irish pirates, brought to Ireland as a slave and was forced to work as a herdsman.  He managed to escape back to England but had a vision in which he read a letter asking him to come to Ireland, so he returned to become a missionary and the first bishop of Ireland.  He is said to have died on 17th March 461.
The Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852.  The famine was caused by potato blight.  One third of the population was dependent on the potato for a range of ethnic, religious, political, social and economic reasons and therefore impacted Ireland significantly.  During the famine, approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.
A few quick facts:
Ireland’s top tourist attraction is the Guinness storehouse in Dublin, where over 1 million people visit every year.
In 2010, Dublin was designated UNESCO City of Literature, one of only four in the world (the others are Edinburgh, Iowa and Melbourne).
James Hoban, designer of The White House was Irish.
Rotunda Hospital in Dublin is the longest continually operating maternity hospital in the world.
The Titanic made it’s last port of call in Cobh (then called Queenstown) on 11th Feb, 1912.
When it comes to Irish food, there was a lot to choose from.  A few years ago, my mother in law had given me an Irish recipe book which came in very handy!  Some obvious options I considered were Irish stew, Colcannon and a full Irish breakfast!  However, I opted for Scallop pie and Soda bread.  Thankfully both went down extremely well.
Rating: 9/10
Recipe for Scallop pie:
Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 45 minutes

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Recipe for Soda bread:
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes (longer than the recipe states)
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Irish cookbook
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The Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin
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Cliffs Of Moher, County Clare
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Cork
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Guinness
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Family fun on St Patrick’s Day 2016

Guyana

Guyana situated on the northern mainland of South America is the only English speaking country in the continent.  It gained independence in 1966 and officially became a republic within the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1970.
It is a member of the Caribbean community (CARICOM), which has it’s headquarters in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown.
Guyana means “land of many waters”.  80% of the country is made up of rainforest.  Kaieteur Falls is the world’s widest single drop waterfall, located on the Potaro River in the Kaieteur National Park and is about four times higher than the Niagara Falls.

90% of the population lives in a narrow coastal strip, which makes up approximately 10% of the nation’s total land area.

In 1973,  Jim Jones, founder of ’The People’s Temple’, leased some land in the Guyanese jungle and set up the Jonestown compound.  Hundreds of People’s Temple members flew to Guyana and moved in to the compound.  It was meant to be utopia, but it was overcrowded and cabins were segregated by gender, meaning married couples were forced to live apart.  It was run like a prison encircled with armed guards.  On Nov 18th 1978,  Jim Jones congregated the group and urged them to commit ‘revolutionary’ suicide.  Cyanide and valium were mixed with a flavoured powder to make the lethal drink.  The Jonestown massacre resulted in the deaths of 912 people, 276 were children.  Jones himself died from a single gunshot wound to the head – it is unclear if he did this himself.
The cuisine of Guyana is diverse, taking influence from Africa, Creole, Indian, Portugese and Chinese among others.  Popular dishes are curry, cookup rice (rice & peas), Pepperpot (Guyanese spicy stew) and black cake.  I decided to make Roti (flatbreads).
Rating: 10/10

As Mum & Dad were joining us for dinner, I served the Rotis alongside the South African sosaties, Lebanese tabbouleh and salad & raita.  Overall the meal was rated 9/10.

Makes 6 rotis
Prep time: 10 minutes + 45 minutes standing time for dough
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 cup self raising flour
2 cups plain flour
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup oil
1/4 cup melted butter

Mix flours, salt and water to form a soft dough. Knead until smooth and let sit for 15 mins.
Roll dough into a rectangular shape about 1/8 inch in thickness.
Place oil and butter together in a bowl. Spread oil and butter mixture liberally over the dough, making sure entire surface of dough is oiled.
Starting from the longer side, roll up the dough tightly.
Slice into six pieces. Scrunch the oily ends of the dough together (like making a pork ball) and then tuck them in so you end up with a round ball.
Place on a tray with the joined side down.
Let them sit for at least half hour.
Place a crepe or omlette pan over a medium heat.
While the pan heats up roll out the dough to a flat, thin circle, one at a time.
Place the dough into the ungreased pan and cook for 1 minute, then flip.
Liberally brush the oil mixture on the roti and after 30 seconds, flip again.
Now brush the other side of the roti with the oil mixture and flip again.
Cook for an additonal minute, then take off the heat and place in a covered bowl.

Shake in covered bowl vigoruously.
This will make the roti fluffy and should reveal the layers.
Continue this process until all the roti is cooked.

Lebanon

Lebanon, officially the Lebanese Republic is a sovereign state in Asia.  It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south

The earliest evidence of civilisation in Lebanon dates back more than seven thousand years in Byblos, where it is said the first alphabet was created.  The country’s name is known to be the oldest in the world and has remained unchanged for over 4000 years.  There are 4.5 million Lebanese in Lebanon and around 18 million living outside Lebanon.

Lebanon’s recent history is one of conflict and suffering. In 1975 civil war broke out, lasting 16 years, eventually ended by a Syrian backed initiative. During the civil war, in 1982 Israel invaded following PLO attacks. Hezbollah (The Party of God), a pro-Syrian Shia military/political movement, with financial backing from Iran, was formed in the 80s to primarily harass the Israeli occupation. It has significantly grown in strength over the years.  Tensions still continue and Lebanon’s borders with Syria and Israel remain unresolved.

Despite the decades of civil war, invasions and terrorist attacks, it is a country that is home to stunning ancient ruins, beautiful mountain vistas and Mediterranean coastline beaches.  Top things to see according to Trip Advisor include the Temples of Baalbek, National Museum of Beirut and the Crusader Castle in Byblos.

The food of Lebanon is considered some of the Mediterranean’s best food – mezze (small dishes), kibbeh (spiced minced lamb in a fried bulgar wheat shell), dhourba bi kousa (courgette & milk soup), daoud Pasha (meatballs with pine nuts).  I decided to make one of their most famous dishes – tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad).

Rating: 8/10
Prep time: 15 minutes + 40 min for bulgar to soak
Serves: 2-3

1/2 cup bulgar wheat
1 cup boiling water
220g tomatoes roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion finely sliced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 tbsps olive oil
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup black or green olives (optional)

Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl with the boiling water and a little salt. Leave to soak for 40 minutes, then drain.
Take a salad bowl and add the bulgar wheat, tomatoes, onion, parsley & mint. Mix well.
In a separate bowl or jug, beat the oil with the lemon juice and season with salt & pepper.
Pour it over the salad & mix thoroughly.
Put the olives on top and then chill the salad in the fridge for 2 hours.
Add a sprinkling of parsley to garnish and serve.

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Ingredients for tabbouleh
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Tabbouleh
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Temples of Baalbek
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Beirut

Lesotho

Lesotho (pronounced le-soo-too) is a mountainous country surrounded by South Africa.  Originally called Basutoland, it was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the UK in 1966.  “Lesotho” roughly translates to “the land of the people who speak Sesotho”.

80% of the country is greater than 1,800 m above sea level.

It’s principal exports are manufactures (clothing, footwear, road vehicles) wool & mohair.  Water is Lesotho’s major natural resource. Completion of a large hydropower plant in 1998 helps the economy expand through the sale of water to South Africa.
Some of the top things to do in Lesotho, according to trip advisor, include the AfriSki Ski and Mountain Resort in Buthe Buthe, Katse Dam in Maseru and the Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong.
I struggled to find recipes that appealed to me, as I’m not a fan of porridge and ‘mealie pap’, a maize porridge is a very common dish in Lesotho.
They also have stews (oxtail) and curries.  However I came across a bread that they cook in the mountain regions of Lesotho called Borotho.  They cook it over a coal fire in a cast iron pot.  I opted to cook it in a copper pot in the oven.
Rating: 4/10.
The bottom of the buns were a bit too crunchy for our liking and the dough was quite dense.  Perhaps they’d be lighter if I’d used just strong white flour rather than a mix.
Prep time: 30 minutes + 1hr 30 minutes proving time
Cook time: 35 minutes
Makes: 12 buns
Ingredients
15g dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 pt tepid water
225g strong white flour
225g wholemeal bread flour
1 tsp salt
veg oil

Add the yeast & sugar to the water, stir and leave it to stand for 5 minutes.
Sift the flour & salt on to a clean worksurface or bowl.
Make a well in middle and add most of the liquid.
Gradually stir the flour into the liquid so you start forming a gluey paste and then a dough.
Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then place in a bowl with a tea towel over the top and put it in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
Remove the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it for a couple of minutes.
Put it back in the bowl, covered with a tea towel and leave it to prove again for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 c.
Put a tbsp of veg oil in a lidded oven proof dish (ideally copper or cast iron) and put in the oven to heat for 5 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and make 12 round buns with your hands, placing them in a circle around the edge of the dish with a couple in the middle.  Leave a little bit of space around each one.
Put the lid on the dish and cook for 35 minutes.
Serve for breakfast with butter & jam or your preferred spread.

Ghana

Situated in West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, covering an area of 92,100 square miles.  Home to the largest man made lake in the world – Lake Volta. The word Ghana is known to mean Warrior King, Ghana’s former name was “Gold Coast” after the large amount of gold that colonizers found in the country.  It’s biggest exports are cocoa (the world’s second largest producer) and gold.

Top of the things to see and do would include: searching for elephants in Mole National Park, strolling along the beach at Princess town and overlooking the Atlantic from the 18th Century castle of Elmina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The travel operator, Viator, has a plethora of different tours to explore Ghana.  You can take an 3 day private tropical forest hike in Togo & Ghana from £277 or a 12 day wildlife & cultural tour of Northern Ghana from £1,400 (without flights).

Ghanaian cuisine highlights include; Fufu (pounded cassava), Groundnut stew, Omo tuo (rice balls served in fish or meat soup).  I opted to cook a couple of popular dishes – Jollof rice and Kyinkyinga (Pronounced chinchinga), a Ghanaian version of kebab.  Jamie Oliver cooked a Jollof rice recipe in Jun 2014, sparking reactions of outrage on social media from West Africans, who were not happy with his interpretation – #jollofgate!
Rating: 5/10.  Both dishes are quite dry and therefore I shouldn’t have served them together .. you live & learn.  The rice is very spicy!  We thought the kyinkyinga would’ve been better in a pitta bread with salad & mayo .. if we so dare to suggest.
Jollof rice
Serves 2
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
3/4 cups basmati rice
2.5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1/2 onion chopped
1 medium sized onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
A small piece of ginger
1 scotch bonnet chilies (reduce if you don’t like it spicy)
1 tsp chicken or vegetable stock powder
Dried mixed herbs
1 small bay leaf
Salt to tasteBlend the ginger, garlic, chilli, tomatoes and two onions and set aside for later.
Heat oil in a non-stick pan and fry the chopped onions till soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes, then add the tomato puree and cook for a further 3 minutes.
Add the blended tomato and onion mixture from earlier and leave to cook through till the tomato mixture has lost its raw taste and the oil is visible at the top.
Add the stock powder, bay leaf and a sprinkle of the mixed herbs. Leave to simmer for about 3 minutes while you rinse the rice to remove excess starch.
When rice is rinsed, add to the sauce stirring it to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Now add 1/2 cup of water to the rice and sauce mix and stir, add salt to taste and cook till the water is almost evaporated.
Then cover and simmer on a low heat till rice is fully cooked, stir occasionally to prevent it sticking an add a dash of water if necessary .

Kyinkyinga (chicken kebab)
Prep time: 20 mins + 1 hour marinating time
Cook time: 15-20 mins

250g chicken thigh fillet, cut into cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 fat cloves of garlic
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 small onion
1 heaped tsp chicken stock powder
1 red pepper cut in cubes
1 red onion cut in cubes

Suya spice
mix 1/4 cup grounded roasted peanuts (milled into powder with excess oil taken out so that it is very dry)
8g chili powder
8g cup paprika
8g cup of garlic salt
8g cup Onion powder
8g cup dried mixed herbs
1 tsp chicken stock powder
Salt to taste

Blend the ginger, garlic, onion, stock cube seasoning with the oil to form a smooth paste.
Add the paste to the chicken and marinate for about an hour.
Skewer the marinated chicken pieces alternating with the peppers and onions and set aside.
Combine all the ingredients for the suya seasoning and mix together.
Sprinkle some of the suya spice on the skewered chicken and grill till it is cooked and browned both sides.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle a bit more of the suya powder on it, then serve.
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Jollof rice ingredients
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Kyinkyinga ingredients
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Kyinkyinga kebabs
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Cooking the jollof rice
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Kyinkyinga & Jollof rice
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Fishermen in Ghana
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Castle of Elmina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Ghanaian children enjoying the beach

Indonesia

The fourth most populated country in the world with over 255m people and it has the fourth largest coastline.
It comprises of over 17,000 islands that lie between the Pacific Ocean & the Indian Ocean.  The most known islands are Sumatra, Bali & Java.  Java is the most populated island in the world.
Some of Lonely planet’s highlights include; catching waves at Ulu Watu, Bali’s surfing mecca; Java’s Borobudur temple; trekking to Dani villages in Papua’s Baliem Valley and the enigmatic orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park.
There are 400 active volcanoes, more than any other country.  Krakatoa is the site of the largest volcanic eruption ever recorded. Occurring on August 27, 1883, it had a force equivalent to 2,000 Hiroshima bombs and resulted in the death of 36,000 people.
It is home to some pretty scary wildlife, namely, the Komodo dragon (the largest lizard on earth), Python Reticulates, (the longest snake in the world) and the largest volume of shark species, approx 150.
As for Indonesia’s cuisine, according to wiki it is one of the most vibrant and colourful in the world, full of intense flavour.  So hopefully we are in for a treat!  I was entertaining friends so I opted for 3 of the most popular dishes; Sate Ayam Madura (chicken satay with peanut sauce); Padang Style Beef Rendang (rich beef curry) and Nasi Goreng (fried rice).

Rating:  10/10 – Sate, 9/10 – Rendang Beef and 8/10 – Nasi Goreng.  Overall 9/10

Sate Ayam Madura
Peanut Sauce:
250g peanut, toasted/roasted
3 candlenuts (kemiri)
6 red chilies
4 tbsp palm sugar
2½ tsp salt
600 ml water
Satay:
600 gram chicken thigh meat, cut into ½ inch cubes
4 tablespoon sweet soy sauce (Kecap manis)
2 tsp oil Bamboo skewers (about 20)
Peanut Sauce: In a food processor, grind together peanut, candlenuts, and chilies. Transfer to a sauce pot along with the rest of the peanut sauce ingredients, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the sauce thickens. Turn off heat.Satay: Place chicken, sweet soy sauce, oil, and 150 gram of peanut sauce in a mixing bowl. Mix together and marinate for 30 minutes. Skewer the marinated chicken with bamboo skewers. Grill until cooked and slightly charred, baste with marinating sauce as needed. Serve the satay with peanut sauce & lime wedges 

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Padang Style Beef Rendang
600g beef chuck steak, cut into 2 inch by 2 inch cubes
1 litre of water
150 ml thick coconut cream
3 kaffir lime leaves
3 bay leaves
1 lemon grass, gently bruised
1 inch galangal, peeled and gently bruised
1/2 tbsp tamarind pasteGrind the following into spice paste:
15 shallots
5 cloves garlic
50g red chilies
10 candlenuts (I used macadamia as I couldn’t find these)
1 inch fresh ginger
1 inch fresh turmeric
1 /2 tbsp pepper
1 /2 tbsp salt
Put all ingredients in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat a bit (still above simmering point) and leave the pot uncovered.
Cook until the liquid is reduced and thickened. Once the liquid has thickened, reduce the heat and simmer until all the liquid is almost gone and the beef looks a bit dark – this should take around 2 hours.
Remove from heat and serve hot or at room temperature.
Nasi Goreng
6 shallots
3 garlic cloves
5g shrimp paste
10 g red chilli
3 eggs
150 g chicken breast, deep-fried and shredded
1/4 cup cooking oil
600 g rice, cooked & cold
1 tsp pepper
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 spring onion, chopped
4 shallots quick fried & left to dryGrind shallots, garlic, shrimp paste and chili to fine paste.
Heat cooking oil in a wok and stir-fry spice paste for 2 minutes on a medium heat, till brownish and fragrant.
Push spices to side of wok and pour egg into the wok. Quickly scramble the egg for a minute. Mix egg with spices, break them into smaller pieces.
Add rice, pepper, kecap manis, soy sauce & chicken.
Stir-fry everything quickly over high heat, for 6-7 minutes.
Sprinkle with the spring onion and fried shallots & serve 

Botswana

Botswana is located in southern Africa. It is mainly flat and almost 80% is made up of the Kalahari Desert. Botswana is bordered by South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It also meets Zambia at a single point but there is no border. The official language of Botswana is English although Setswana is the most spoken.

Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds. Most Botswanan diamonds are mined by the Desbwana company – 50% owned by DeBeers and 50% owned by the government of Botswana. Diamond revenues enables every child in Botswana to receive free education up to the age of 13. The Jwaneng Diamond Mine in southern Botswana is the world’s richest diamond mine.

It is home to the Okavango Delta (the largest inland delta in the world), which became the 1000th inscribed site on the World Heritage List of Unesco in 2014. Chobe National Park has one of the most concentrated population of African elephants and was Botswana’s first national park in 1968. Almost 40% of it’s land is under some form of Wildlife protection. Botswana has been chosen by Lonely Planet as the top country to visit in 2016.

Botswana’s national dish is Seswaa, a salted stewed beef which is usually served with Morogo (a leafy green). One of the more unusual dishes is mophane worms. These are worms similar to caterpillars, that are picked off the mophane tree during summer. They are dried and can be eaten as a snack or rehydrated and cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. However, not being partial to eating worms, I decided to cook Phaphatas (flat dumplings). We had them for breakfast with bacon. Rating: 9/10 (Ellis rated them a 10!)

500g bread flour
8g dried yeast
2 tsps sugar
Half a teaspoon salt
About a cup or so of lukewarm water
Extra flour for kneading

Sift the flour and yeast into a bowl. Add the sugar and salt
Gradually add water and combine with your hands to form a dough. Only add enough water to form the dough.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes till it’s soft and pliable.
Put aside in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about half an inch thickness.
Using a round object like a plastic cup or cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles.
Dust the phaphathas liberally on both sides and place in a flat pan on medium heat with enough space between them to allow for rising.
The heat should not be too high or the phaphatha will burn before it fully cooks on the inside.
The phaphatha should rise while cooking. Keep an eye on them and when they’ve turned brown on the bottom, turn over to cook on the other side.  It took about 40 minutes in total.
Remove from heat when cooked through and enjoy while warm.

 

Georgia

T’bilisi, the capital of Georgia, has been home to human territory since 4th millennium BC.  Georgia is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world, with climatic zones ranging from subtropical to high alpine to semi-desert.  Georgia has the world’s deepest cave – Voronya Cave and it’s highest mountain is Mount Shkhara with an altitude of 5,201 meters (17,059 feet).

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Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions of the world.  The fertile valleys of the South Caucasus are believed by many archaeologists to be the source of the world’s first cultivated grapevines and neolithic wine production, over 8,000 years ago.  Chateau Mukhrani – Goruli Mtsvan 2009 (a white wine from Georgia) costs just under £10 from thedrinkshop.com or treat yourself to a bottle of Orovela Saperavi from Waitrose cellars costing £16.79.
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One can ski or indeed snowboard, in Georgia.  There are several ski resorts of varying sizes, Gudauri seems to be the largest with 57km of pistes & 7 lifts.  From a very rough search, a 7 night ski trip might cost:
Cheapest return flight from London to Tsibili – £216 (via Turkey as there are no direct flights)
Taxis from Tsibili to Gudari – £30 one way
Cheapest hotel (White Shino Hostel) – £204
Most expensive hotel (Hotel Gudauri Marco Polo) – £2,122
A total of £476 for cheap as chips, or £2,398 for top dollar, excluding meals.
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In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece is the fleece of the gold-hair winged ram, which was held in Colchis, Georgia. The fleece is a symbol of authority and kingship and figures in the tale of the hero Jason and his band of Argonauts, who set out on a quest for the fleece by order of King Pelias, in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly, Greece. Through the help of Medea, they acquire the Golden Fleece.
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I was quite surprised by the variety of the Georgian recipes I came across, to name a few – Lobio (between refried beans and soup), Kharcho (slow cooked meat stew), Lobiani (bean filled dough), Khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) and Khinkali (dumplings)
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As it was a Friday night, I thought I’d be adventurous and dare 2 dishes. The links below were the recipes I followed.  I did about a 3rd of the chicken recipe for the 2 of us and there were still leftovers.  I actually used 2 chicken breasts rather than chicken pieces, which I think worked just fine.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find dried marigold (it is available on amazon though!), so I substituted turmeric, mainly for the colour.  I served it with rice.
Rating: 7/10 overall
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Iraq

It’s impossible to avoid thoughts of war and destruction when one thinks of Iraq. However it isn’t all doom & gloom …
The region known as Mesopotamia, is most often referred to as humanity’s cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws, and live in cities under an organised government.
One of Iraq’s distinctive plants is licorice, which has been used for thousands of years for its health benefits. Warriors in ancient armies found that chewing it kept them from getting thirsty. For 5,000 years Iraqis have been keeping bees. Honey is an important source of food and income for many Iraq families.  The famous children’s story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was written in Iraq about 1,000 years ago.
After a fair bit of research I found the following recipes: Kubbat Mousel (layers of burghul with a thin layer of minced meat), Fasangoon (chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce), Samak Masgouf (seasoned grilled fish) and Kleicha (filled pastry).  From an Iraqi cookbook, I decided to cook Timman Jazar (rice with carrots).  I served it with red wild rice.
My rating: 7/10 – it had a nice flavour and the rice added a good texture to the dish.  Bern wasn’t so keen,  apparently the cinnamon ‘got up his nose’ :-p
For 2 people with a bit leftover
250g minced meat
2 large carrots
1 large onion
1 tbsp garam masala
½ tsp cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
Vegetable oil for cooking
200g red wild rice
Rinse the rice in cold water
Chop the onions and carrots into small cubes
Cook the minced meat with the garam masala, until slightly brown
Add the chopped onion, season with salt and black pepper; continue cooking for 5-10 minutes over a medium heat
Add the chopped carrots and cinnamon and cook for about 15 minutes, adding a little water
Meanwhile, cook the rice (I did this in the microwave for 15 mins and then let stand for 15 mins)
Add the cooked rice to the meat & veg mixture and serve

Kyrgyzstan

My first venture in to the ‘Stans’ and sadly found out that it is the second-poorest country in Asia.  The name Kyrgyz is said to derive from the Kyrgyz word for forty and it is a possibility that the people of Kyrgyzstan came from forty families or clans.  It has one of the world’s largest natural walnut forests.  Alcohol is very cheap, a bottle of vodka is priced at around 180 som (3.5 EUR) and beer costs 60 som (1.2 EUR).  A search in Expedia for a flight from London to Bishkek, the capital city, starts around £370 return if you stop at Istanbul on the way.  There are 36 hotels in Bishkek according to Trip advisor, Futuro Hotel being the highest ranked.  They eat a lot of horse meat and mutton, but not many vegetables.  Recipes include Beshbarmak (Boiled meat mixed with noodles & spicy onion sauce, eaten with the hands), Manty dumplings & Lepyoshka (flatbread).  To accompany our Panamanian breakfast doughnuts, I opted to cook Borsok (fried bread).
Rating: 9/10 – we thought these little breads were awesome and could be enjoyed equally with savoury dips or with honey, jam or chocolate spread.
2 cups of flour
½ tbsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp dried yeast
¼ cup milk
¼ cup warm water
1 egg
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and stir in the milk. Combine the two mixtures, stir them together, and stir in warm water slowly until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.
Cover the mixture and place it in a warm part of the house.
After two hours, roll the dough until it is about ¼ inch thick. Cut the dough into 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles.
Pour ¼ cup oil into a saucepan and heat on medium high. Additional oil may be needed depending on the size of the saucepan. Make sure the oil completely covers the surface of the pan.
Once the oil is heated, fry the borsok in the pan. Depending on the size of the pan, you can fry 4-8 borsok at the same time-but be sure that they do not overlap.
Fry the borsok until it puffs up and is golden brown on the bottom.
Flip the borsok over to fry the other side until it is also golden brown.
Add additional oil as needed to keep a thin coat of oil on the surface of the pan.
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