Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as it is classified by the UN, is a landlocked country in the Balkan peninsula. There is an ongoing dispute with Greece about it’s name due to the northern part of Greece being called by the same name.

Archaeological evidence shows that old European civilization flourished in Macedonia between 7000 and 3500 BC. Alexander the Great, who was king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, extended his empire across Greece and Persia to India and Egypt. During his time, the Kingdom of Macedonia was the most powerful state in the world; but after his death, the empire fell apart and it became the first Roman province in 146 BC.

Macedonia has three large lakes – Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa and Dojran Lake. Lake Ohrid is considered to be one of the oldest lakes in the world, estimated at 4 million years old. It is a mountainous country with two different ranges – the younger and higher Šar Mountains and the older mountain chain of Osogovo–Belasica. Other tourist highlights include exploring the capital Skopje’s bazaar, the Roman remains at Treskavec Monastery, the 13th century Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo and wine tasting in Tikveš Wine Region.

Notable Macedonian dishes include Tavče Gravče (Bean Stew), Šopska salad, Pastrmajlija (Macedonian Pizza), Burek (savoury filled pastry), Sarma (cabbage rolls), Selsko Meso (roast meat with mushrooms, wine and cheese) and Kifli (bread rolls). I opted to make Kjoftinja (meatballs) with aioli dip which I served as a snack to accompany drinks to celebrate my birthday! My family all really enjoyed them and the only criticism (from my nephew) was that they weren’t uniformly round!

Rating: 9/10

Makes 44
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

500g ground beef
300g ground pork
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 slices white bread
1/2 cup white wine
1 egg
flour for rolling
vegetable oil for frying
chopped parsley

Quick aioli dip
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Pepper

Remove crusts from bread slices and soak them in a bowl with the wine
Mix together the beef and pork mince, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and mint
Add the bread and egg and knead the mixture to blend well together (you can put the mix in the fridge if you’re not ready to cook them yet)
Preheat the oven to 160
Shape into 1-inch balls, dust with flour, and fry in hot vegetable oil for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to burn them
When meatballs are browned on all sides, place in them in the oven on a covered tray for 10 minutes
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with aioli dip

Aioli dip
Mash garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in small bowl until paste forms
Whisk in mayonnaise, olive oil, and lemon juice
Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper

Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, Macedonia
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo overlooking Lake Ohrid
Skopje square
Skopje square

Guatemala

Guatemala, meaning ‘place of many trees’, is a heavily forested and mountainous nation in Central America. The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. Today over half of Guatemalans are descendants of the indigenous Maya peoples with the majority living in the western highlands. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821.

Guatemala’s highlands lie along the Motagua Fault, part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. This fault has been responsible for several major earthquakes in historic times, including a 7.5 magnitude tremor on February 4, 1976 which killed more than 25,000 people. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, four of them active: Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego and Tacaná. Both Fuego and Pacaya erupted in 2010. In May 2010, an area of 65 ft (20 m) across and 300 ft (90 m) deep, collapsed in Guatemala City, swallowing a three story factory. The sinkhole occurred for a combination of reasons, including Tropical Storm Agatha, the Pacaya Volcano eruption, and leakage from sewer pipes.

Despite it having the largest economy in Central America, it is one of the poorest countries with over half the population living in poverty. Tourism has become one of the main drivers of the economy, worth $1.8 billion in 2008. There are many highlights for the visitor including the Mayan archaeological sites of Tikal, Quiriguá, Iximche and Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan (named by some as the most beautiful lake in the world) and the natural pools of Semuc Champey.

Guatemalan cuisine is based on Spanish and Mayan cuisine. Some popular dishes include Chicken Pepian (chicken in spicy pumpkin and sesame sauce), Chiles rellenos (stuffed chilli peppers), Caldos (stews), Tamales (filled corn dough) and Kaq ik (turkey stew). I decided to make Chicharrones (fried pork rinds), basically pork scratchings as we like to call them! It is a popular snack found across Latin America with different variations. In Guatemala they are usually eaten with tortilla, some salt, and maybe a pickled Jalapeño pepper. Although it was a lengthy process for what is just a snack, it was definitely worth the effort – the best pork scratchings you’ll ever taste!

Rating: 10/10
Serves: 2 as a snack

Prep time: 10 mins + 8 hours cooling
Cook time: 1 hour boiling + overnight drying in the oven

350g pork skin, trimmed of excess fat
Salt
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper
Plenty of cooking oil or lard (for frying)

Put your pork skin in a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and allow to cook for 1 hour
Boil until the skin is softened (but not falling apart) and the water is white
(To keep the skins submerged in the water, you may want to weigh them down by placing a heat-resistant plate on top of them as they boil)
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove your pork skin from the boiling water and lay it on a cooling rack set over a baking tray. Discard the cooking water
After 5 minutes, put the pork skin still on the cooling rack over the baking tray in the fridge for 8 hours
Use a spoon to remove any fat clinging to the bottom of the pork skin. The fat should separate from the skin easily. Be careful not to tear the skin, as it will be still be soft from cooking
Set the oven to its lowest setting. Aim for no higher than 93c. Place the skin on their cooling rack and baking sheet in the oven overnight
Remove from the oven and leave to cool
Cut the dried skin into long strips or small squares and sprinkle with a little black pepper and cayenne pepper (or you can just leave them plain if you prefer)
Heat a deep-sided pan over high heat. When it is hot, add lard or cooking oil. Fry the chicharrónes one or two at a time, prodding them until they puff up and start to float. When done, remove the chicharrónes to a paper-towel lined plate.
Sprinkle with a good amount of salt and serve (with a cold beer!)

Although it is a lengthy process, it’s not difficult so it may be wise to do double or quadruple this recipe as they will keep for a couple of weeks in a sealed container, if they last that long!

Volcan di Agua, Antigua, Guatemala
Volcan di Agua, Antigua, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Lake Atitlan
Semuc Champey Guatemala
Semuc Champey
Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal, Guatemala

Malaysia

This is the 99th country I’ve cooked, so I’m officially half way through my challenge.

Malaysia is made up of Peninsula Malaysia and part of the island of Borneo, East Malaysia. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore, as well as Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, joined the Federation of Malaya. Singapore withdrew from the federation in 1965. The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural with half the population ethnically Malay and large minorities of Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indians, and indigenous people.

The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia, is one of the most important thoroughfares in global commerce, carrying 40 per cent of the world’s trade. Over 94,000 vessels pass through the strait each year. Piracy has been a problem with 25 attacks on vessels in 1994, 220 in 2000, and just over 150 in 2003 (a third of the global total). Regional navies stepped up their patrols of the area in July 2004 and attacks dropped to 79 in 2005 and 50 in 2006.

Sarawak contains the Mulu Caves, the largest cave system in the world, in the Gunung Mulu National Park. The Sarawak Chamber is 700 m (2,300 ft)) long, 396 m (1,299 ft) wide and at least 70 m (230 ft) high. It has been said that the chamber is so big that it could accommodate about 40 Boeing 747s, without overlapping their wings.

About two thirds of Malaysia is covered in forest, with some believed to be 130 million years old. The forests of East Malaysia are estimated to be the habitat of around 2,000 tree species, and are one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.

A few other interesting facts:
In 2015, Malaysia ranked in fourth position on the World’s Best Retirement Havens
The Borneo Island which is made up of Sabah and Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesia is the third largest island in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea
The largest roundabout in the world is located at Putrajaya, Malaysia and is 3.5km in diameter
According to a survey in 2010, Malaysians had the largest number of friends on Facebook, with an average of 233
The orang utans of Malaysia have arms that are unusually long, almost one and half times longer than their legs

Malaysian cuisine is a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens. Malaysia shares culinary ties with Singapore and Indonesia and versions of dishes such as laksa, satay and rendang are shared. These are a few recipes I came across from the huge array I researched; Asam laksa (spicy mackerel noodle soup), Char kuey teow (stir fried noodles), nasi lemak (fragrant rice), Bak Kut Teh (pork rib soup) and Kuih dadar (sweet crepe). I made Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns) which were vibrant and flavoursome.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 5-7 minutes

For the belacan sambal paste
1 tsp shrimp paste (available at tesco)
2 red jalapeno chilli peppers, seeds removed and chopped
2 red birdseye chillies, seeds removed and chopped
Juice from 1 lime

For the sambal udang
16 peeled raw king prawns
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 & 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste (available at tesco)
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 & 1/2 cups water
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp caster sugar

For the belacan sambal paste
Put the shrimp paste and chillies into a pestle and mortar and pound to a paste or you can use a mini food processor
Put the paste in a glass jar and squeeze in the lime juice and shake well.

Heat up the oil in a wok. Add the sambal paste and stir-fry until aromatic, about 2 minutes
Add the prawns and continue to stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes
Add in the water, tamarind paste and bring it to a quick boil
Add in the kaffir lime leaves, salt, and sugar and continue to cook for 2 minutes
Serve with steamed rice

IMG_0634
Ingredients for Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
IMG_0636
Sambal paste
IMG_0638
Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
IMG_0643
Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
Malaysian orang utan
Malaysia orang utans
Malacca strait
Police patrolling the Malacca strait

Brazil

Brazil, the world’s fifth largest country and the largest in South America. With a coastline of 4,655 miles it borders all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile.
The Amazon rain forest is the world’s largest, recognised as having the greatest biological diversity in the world, containing one-fifth of the world’s freshwater reserves and producing one-third of the earth’s oxygen. About sixty percent of the Amazon lies in Brazil.

Some interesting facts:
Brazil has been the largest producer of coffee for the last 150 years
92% of all new sold cars in Brazil use ethanol as fuel, which is produced from sugar cane
Voting is mandatory in Brazil
Brazil has the third largest prison population in the world behind China and the US
Brazil is the only country in the world that has the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn running through it
Rio de Janeiro was once the capital of Portugal
Sex change surgeries are free under Brazil’s public health system since 2008 and almost 20% of Rio de Janeiro’s males are gay or bisexual

Rio de Janeiro will be the first South American city to host the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place from the 5th – 21st August. More than 10,500 athletes from 206 countries, including first timers Kosovo and South Sudan are due to take part. The games will feature 28 Olympic sports with 306 sets of medals, across 38 different venues.

Brazilian cuisine varies greatly by region, developed from indigenous, European, and African influences. Recipes I came across include Moqueca (seafood stew), Feijoada (black beans stewed with pork), Salgadinhos (salty snacks), Pastel (filled pastry), Pão de queijo (cheese puffs), Galinhada (chicken and rice stew) and Churrasco (barbequed meat) . Having not cooked many sweet dishes during this challenge, I opted to make Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons), the national truffle of Brazil. There were a fair few tasting volunteers for these little sweet treats!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 20 – 28 (depending on size)
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 5 mins

1 (397g or 14oz) can sweet condensed milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
30g butter, plus a little more for rolling balls
pinch of salt
Good quality chocolate sprinkles

In a small sauce pan mix the sweet condensed milk, the cocoa powder, the salt and the butter
Bring the sauce pan to the stove and heat it over medium-low heat
Cook it, mixing constantly (this is important, otherwise it will burn!) until it thickens, about 5 minutes
Run your wooden spoon (or spatula) through the middle of the mixture. If it takes a while for the mixture to move, then your brigadeiro is ready
Let it cool to room temperature
In a plate or bowl, spread your sprinkles
Once cool, grease your hands with butter and roll the brigadeiros into little balls. Use half a tablespoon as measurement, but you can make your balls as big or small as you’d like!
Roll the brigadeiro balls into the sprinkles and place them in paper/foil candy cups
Enjoy!

IMG_0470
Ingredients for Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons)
IMG_0473
Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons)
IMG_0476
Brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate bonbons)
Rio De Janeiro2
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Amazon rainforest
Amazon rainforest
Sancho Bay in Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Tripadvisor worlds' best beach in 2014
Sancho Bay in Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, TripAdvisor world’s best beach in 2014

 

Australia

In 2002, I spent a few months travelling in Australia and had the pleasure of spending my 30th birthday in the small town of Broome in Western Australia. We rode camels on Cable beach, swam in the crystal clear water and ate Barramundi for dinner! Western Australia is less popular than the busy resorts on the eastern coast such as Byron Bay, The Whitsundays and The Gold Coast, but has so many beautiful places to explore. Just a few of my highlights include trying my hand at surfing (and failing epically) on Exmouth beach, tasting amazing wine in Margaret River, hiking in Kalbarri National park and dining out in the fabulous restaurants of Perth.

The Commonwealth of Australia is the world’s sixth largest country by land area and the world’s smallest continent. Inhabited by indigenous Australians potentially as far back as 125,000 years ago. It is the flattest and driest inhabited continent with the oldest and least fertile soils. The outback makes up by far the largest portion of land. Home to the Great Barrier Reef, the worlds’s largest coral reef system stretching over 2,300km which is visible from outer space. Quite surprisingly it has only the 6th longest coastline in the world at 25,760km, just pipping Norway at 25,148km. Canada has the longest at 202,080km.

Independent from the UK since 1901, it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and 2nd highest on the human development index, which is measured by life expectancy, education, and income per capita. It generates its income from various sources including mining-related exports, telecommunications, banking and manufacturing. In terms of average wealth, Australia ranked second in the world after Switzerland in 2013.

A few facts:
There are more kangaroos in Australia than people!
You could visit a different beach in Australia every day for over 27 years
The Argyle diamond mine in the Kimberley is the world’s biggest producer of natural diamonds and contributes approximately one-third of the world’s natural supply
The Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine. Only 40% of production is consumed domestically
Of the top 10 deadliest snakes, 5 of them can be found in Australia, including the most venomous snake in the world, the Inland Taipan

Fortunately for me (and my husband) Australian cuisine has come on a long way since it’s indigenous hunter gatherer diet of ‘bush tucker’, with influences from the British, Mediterranean and East Asian cuisine. Meat is a core component of the Australian diet and the production of meat has been a significant part of Australia’s agricultural economy. Some dishes that are considered traditional Australian fare include Barbecued meat, Chiko rolls (deep fried savoury roll), Anzac biscuits , Damper (soda bread), Lamington cakes and Pavlova. I decided to make Aussie meat pies, served with tomato ketchup, as is tradition. There is actually an annual competition for the ‘Great Aussie meat pie’ which has been going since 1990 and now has 14 different categories. We thoroughly enjoyed ours, but I’m not sure if they were worthy of a competition entry!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 4 pies

Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 15 mins

500g beef rump steak, trimmed, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium brown onion, finely chopped
2 rashers middle bacon, trimmed, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp plain flour
1 cup beef stock
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 sheets frozen ready-rolled shortcrust pastry
1 sheet frozen ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
Tomato ketchup, to serve

Grease and line four 7.5cm round pie moulds with the shortcrust pastry, trimming any excess and put in the fridge
Using a food processor, blend the steak until it resembles mince
Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat
Add the onion and bacon and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally
Add the mince and cook for 5 minutes stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the mince.
Stir in the tomato paste and flour and cook for 1 minute
Stir in the stock and thyme and bring to the boil
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes or until sauce has thickened and meat is tender
Season with pepper, remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes
Preheat oven to 200°C
Fill the chilled pies cases with the steak mixture and top with puff pastry, trimming any excess
Press the edges together with a fork to seal
Using a small sharp knife, cut a small cross in pie tops
Brush with egg and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden
Serve with tomato ketchup

 

broome-cable-beach
Camel riding on Cable Beach, Broome
Australian outback
The Australian outback
Kangaroos
Kangaroos in their natural habitat
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef

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

Heat oil in large pot over medium-low heat
Put the onion, courgette and carrot in a saucepan 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
Pour in 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
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.

 

Honduras

The Republic of Honduras, is a mountainous country in Central America discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Honduras was home to Maya culture, famed for their hieroglyphic script. 80% of the country’s territory is mountainous and there are 91 protected national areas. It has 2 Unesco world heritage sites; the Maya site of Copan and Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve.

Copán Ruins Archeological Site is the most studied Maya city in the world. Dating back nearly 2,000 years, the society that lived here was highly stratified, deeply symbolic, and focused on tradition. The site is famous for the stelae and altars that are scattered around the immense plaza, most of which were erected during the years 711 and 736. Other highlights include the Hieroglyphic Stairway, a unique temple, which holds the longest known Mayan text and the Acropolis featuring superb carved reliefs of the 16 kings of Copán.

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is one of the few remaining tropical rainforests in Central America, a massive swath of jungle along the Mosquito Coast. It boasts an extraordinary diversity of ecosystems and species including the endangered Mexican Spider Monkey, the endangered Central American Tapir, the near-threatened Guiana Crested Eagle, several species of poisonous snakes and 4 species of marine turtles (loggerhead, leatherback, green turtle and hawksbill turtle).

Honduras has struggled with social and political instability and has the world’s highest murder rate (5,936 murders in 2014). Honduras was declared one of the heavily indebted poor countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and became eligible for debt relief in 2005. In 2010, 50% of the population were living below the poverty line. About 83% of the population are literate and even though 94% enrol to primary education, only 40% complete.

Other than the Unesco sites, a major highlight is Islas de la Bahía, three Bay Islands – Roatán, Utila and Guanaja. Their reefs are part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, home to fish, coral, sponges, rays, sea turtles and whale sharks.

The cuisine of Honduras is a fusion of Spanish, Caribbean and African. Some of the dishes I found were Baleadas (flour tortillas with beans & cheese) , Sopa de Mondongo (tripe & vegetable soup) , Carneada (barbecued meat) and Tapado de Pescado (Baked fish with coconut milk and vegetables). Coconut and bananas are plentiful in Honduras, so I opted to make Banana and coconut bread.
It was really delicious.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 8 – 10 slices
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 1 hour

28g unsalted butter at room temperature
28g light cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt
2 large bananas, mashed
½ cup skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut, flaked or desiccated

Preheat oven to 175 degrees.
Rub a loaf tin with butter ensuring its covered and set aside.
Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed in mixer.
While beating add 1 cup sugar and egg.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and stir until well-blended.
Combine banana, milk and vanilla in a separate bowl until well combined.
Add the flour mixture alternately with banana mixture to the butter and cream cheese mixture, mixing after each addition.
Stir in the coconut.
Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 60 minutes.
Let it cool before enjoying with or without butter.

Turkmenistan

Before this challenge, I’ll be honest and say that I thought of Turkmenistan as ‘just another stan’, how wrong could I possibly have been! Until it’s independence from the USSR in 1990 it was isolated from the rest of the world and it is still pretty weird today. Turkmenistan became famous for the strange dictatorship of the eccentric late president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (Leader of the Turkmen).

A few facts
Turkmenbashi re-named the days of the week after himself and his mother and banned opera, ballet and the circus.
Turkmenistan ranks 3rd worst for press freedom conditions in the world, just before North Korea and Eritrea.
The current leader, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has written several books, the latest one is called “Tea: Medicine and Inspiration”.
Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources and since 1993 citizens have received free of charge natural gas, electricity and water.
Ashgabat, the capital, meaning ‘the city of love’ has been rebuilt, after it was levelled by an earthquake in 1948, that killed more than 110,000 people (two-thirds of the then population). It now has the world’s highest concentration of white marble buildings and the largest indoor Ferris Wheel at 47.60 metres.

Many of the popular dishes in Turkmenistan today are from Soviet influence such as Pelmani (meat dumplings), Peroshki (rice, meat, or vegetables cooked in dough) and Borsch (beet soup). I also came across Borek (dumplings in soup), Plov (fried rice with lamb and carrots) , Gelin Budu – Bride’s Thighs (Rice Croquettes) and Palaw (Turkmen Pilaf). I decided to make Gutap (savoury filled dumplings) that are like a flattened pasty. They were somewhat fiddly to make and sadly, didn’t really hit the mark on flavour. The first couple I made were too big, so it’s easier the smaller you make them.

Rating: 5/10

Makes 6-8 gutaps (enough for a main meal for 2)
Prep time: 45 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

Dough
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
200ml hand hot water
1 tbsp olive oil

Filling
450g ground beef
1 onion
½ red pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Mix the dough ingredients together in a bowl until it forms a smooth texture but not too wet (add more flour if necessary). Cover it with clingfilm and set aside.
In a food processor, chop the onions and red pepper.
Mix the chopped vegetables in a bowl with the meat, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil in skillet over medium high heat.
Divide the dough and roll it out thinly in small rounds (10cm max). Fill half the rounds with the filling, and cover with the other half, pressing down with a fork to seal them. Brush the gutaps with oil on both sides.
Cook them in a pan one by one, turning them once until they brown on both sides, add more oil to the pan if needed.

Serve hot.

Angola

The Republic of Angola is in Southern Africa on the west coast. The Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão found what was known as the Kingdom of Kongo in 1484. It was a Portuguese colony until independence in 1975 and in the same year civil war broke out until 2002. The war ravaged the country’s political and social institutions and littered the country with land mines. However since the end of the war Angola’s standard of living has overall greatly improved. Life expectancy, which was just 46 years in 2002, reached 51 in 2011.

Angola’s oil and diamonds are its primary sources of income, making up roughly 60% of the country’s economy. The Northern Angolan province of Cabinda is unusual in that it is separated from the rest of the country, sharing borders with the Congo Republic and the DRC. It is best known for it’s oil production and has the nickname “the Kuwait of Africa”. It accounts for more than half of Angola’s oil output.

Despite it’s turbulent history, Angola has many interesting historical highlights including the Parque Nacional da Kissama (home to elephants and water buffalo, thanks to a relief project known as Operation Noah’s Ark), Fortaleza de São Miguel (a fort constructed by the Portuguese in 1576 and is the capital, Luanda’s, oldest surviving building) and the beautiful beaches of Namibe.

The cuisine of Angola is significantly influenced by Portuguese food. Common dishes include Funge (cassava porridge), Caldeirada de peixe (fish stew), Moamba de galinha (chicken stew with palm oil). Some other recipes I came across were Catatos (caterpillar fried with garlic!), Camaro Grelhado (grilled prawns) and Cocada amarela (yellow coconut pudding). I opted to cook Frango piri piri (grilled chicken in hot marinade). Although piri piri is generally associated with Portugal, it’s origins were from Angola and Mozambique. We enjoyed the chicken very much, but found the piri piri sauce too garlicky.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 15 mins + 1 hour marinating time
Cook time: 35-40 mins

1 medium chicken
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 lemons, juiced
2 bay leaves, chopped
2 tsp sweet paprika
80 ml scotch whisky (or brandy – I used brandy as we’re not big whisky drinkers)
2 tbsp butter, softened
rock salt

Piri piri sauce
6 small red chillies, finely chopped
pinch of salt
1 lemon, juiced
50 ml olive oil
1 tbsp garlic powder

Trim the chicken of excess fat. Use a sharp knife or kitchen scissors to cut the chicken through the breastbone. Open the chicken out, turn over and flatten it by pressing down on the backbone. Make a small cut under each wing to help the chicken flatten further. Make several slashes in the flesh with a sharp knife to allow the flavours of the marinade to get in and the fat to drain out. Prick the chicken all over with a fork.

Combine the garlic, lemon juice, bay leaf powder, paprika, whisky and butter, mixing well. Brush the chicken on both sides with the mixture and sprinkle with rock salt. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Mix the piri piri ingredients into a thickish sauce.

Cook the chicken on a hot charcoal barbecue, turning frequently and basting continuously with the leftover marinade, for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve with the piri piri sauce.

IMG_9959
Ingredients for Frango piri piri
IMG_9961
Barbecuing the Frango piri piri
IMG_9974
Barbecuing the Frango piri piri

IMG_9977

IMG_9980

Angolan President Not To Seek Re-Election
Angola
Miradouro da Lua mountains, Angola
Miradouro da Lua mountains, Angola

Monaco

The Principality of Monaco is the second smallest country in the world with Prince Albert II as the head of state. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297. A treaty was agreed in 2002 that if the reigning Prince failed to leave dynastic offspring, then sovereignty over the Grimaldi realm would revert to France (no pressure there then Princes of Monaco!)

In 2014 it was noted about 30% of Monaco’s population was made up of millionaires and it is the third most expensive country in the world. From a brief internet search I managed to find a 4 bedroom villa for sale, overlooking the harbour for a nice sum of 45 million pounds. Well, we can all dream!!

Tourism and gambling drive the economy with millions flocking to Monaco each year for the luxurious beachfront hotels, the extensive yacht harbour and the famous Monte Carlo Casino. If money was no object, you could lunch at Louis XV, Monaco’s most prestigious dining address, spoil yourself with a gold dust bath at the Thermes Marin de Monte Carlo, take in a performance by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra or shop till you drop at the famous 5 Pavillions shopping area.

When it comes to the food, there are 237 restaurants in Monaco serving any and every type of cuisine you could wish for. Traditional Monegasque dishes include Brandamincium (salt cod pounded with garlic, oil & cream), Pan Bagnats (Monegasque sandwiches) and Socca (chickpea crepes). I opted to make Barbajuans (pastries filled with cheese and chard) and they were very tasty, a little fiddly to make, but worth the effort.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 12 – 14
Prep time: 25 mins + 1 hour chill time
Cook time: 20 mins

For the pastry
125g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g water

For the filling
1 tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp leek, finely chopped
3 stems swiss chard leaves, stems removed, chopped
1 tbsp parmesan, freshly grated
1/3 tsp dried oregano
1 egg beaten
1 1/2 tbsp ricotta
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the flour with water (at room temperature) salt and extra virgin olive oil. Start mixing with a fork first, then with your hands until ingredients are perfectly blended.
Knead vigorously on a floured surface until smooth, around 8 – 10 minutes.
Form the dough into a ball and wrap it in cling film. Place in the fridge for 1 hour.

Heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat.
Fry the onion and leek about 4 mins.
Add chard, oregano and fry for about 8 mins until tender.
Transfer to a small bowl and mix in cheeses.
Season with salt and pepper, mix in 1 tbsp egg.
Set aside to cool.

Roll out dough on floured surface to 1mm thickness and cut out 12 – 14 rounds using 2-2 ½”” cutter.
Place 1/2 tsp. of filling in center of each round.
Brush edges of rounds with egg.
Stretch the dough out and fold it over, forming half-circle, pressing the edges with a fork to seal.
Place pastries on baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.

Pour vegetable oil into large skillet to depth of 1 ½”” and heat to 375°F.
Working in batches, fry pastries until brown and crisp, about 5 min.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer pastries to paper towel and drain. Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_9540
Ingredients for Barbajuans
IMG_9539
Dough for Barbajuans
Filling for Barbagiuans (savoury pastries)
Filling for Barbajuans
IMG_9549
Making the Barbajuans
IMG_9551
Making the Barbajuans
IMG_9563
Frying the Barbajuans
IMG_9565
Frying the Barbajuans
IMG_9574
Barbadians (savoury filled pastries)
Port of Monaco
Port of Monaco
Monte Carlo Casino
Monte Carlo Casino

Saint Lucia

I visited Saint Lucia a few years ago and being entirely honest, I wasn’t as amazed as I’d hoped. The hotel was a little tired and we were there during rainy season. However, after doing research for the blog, I’d definitely like to go back and further explore what it has to offer.

Lying in the eastern Caribbean Sea and part of the Lesser Antilles, Saint Lucia is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. It is more mountainous than most Caribbean islands. The French gave Saint Lucia it’s name, after Saint Lucy of Syracuse, as they were the first Europeans to colonise the island. Saint Lucia gained independence from Britain in 1979. It is a Commonwealth realm and Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State.

Along with the picturesque beaches, tourists come to Saint Lucia to see The Pitons, majestic twin peaks called Gros Piton (797m) and Petit Piton (750m) soaring from the sea. They are the only two of its kind in the world and have recently attained world heritage site status. Other highlights include the rain forests, Pigeon Island National Park and the world’s only drive-in volcano at Sulphur Springs (Soufriere). Ranking no.1 on Trip Advisor, ‘the’ place to stay is The Inn On The Bay in Marigot Bay.

The cuisine of Saint Lucia is a blend of French, East Indian and British influences. Dishes include Banana fritters, Green figs and Salt fish (the national dish), Accras (fishcake), Souse (pork broth), Breadfruit (like potato but sweet) and Pouille Dudon (chicken stew with treacle and coconut). I made Hot bakes, which are a little like muffins. The recipe I followed didn’t advise how many I should make, so mine were larger than they should have been, however they went down a treat with the kids at breakfast. We had them with jam, treacle and chocolate spread, but I think they would work equally well with a poached egg.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 12 – 20 (depending on how big you make them!)
Prep time: 20 mins + 1 hour resting time
Cook time: 15 mins

3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
oil for frying
1 cup water

Put the flour into a large bowl add sugar, baking powder, melted butter and salt. Mix thoroughly. Add the milk and just enough water to make a dough sticky to the touch.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. If it becomes too sticky, add a little flour to make it easier to handle.
When you are done kneading the dough, cover it and allow it to rise in a warm place for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 160°C
Heat up a frying pan over low – medium heat and then add enough oil to cover the pan.
Divide the dough into small balls (I made 13 but they were probably too big, so I’d aim for 20).
Flatten the dough balls to about ½ inches thick.
When the oil is hot (not smoking), place the flattened balls of dough in your frying pan until one side turns golden brown, about 3-4 minutes and turn over to the other side for same results. Do them in batches if necessary.
Once their all browned, place them in the oven for 10 minutes.
Serve with preserves or poached egg.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is the second largest republic in the West Indies, after Cuba. It was called Santo Domingo (which is it’s capital) until the early 20th century.
Santo Domingo, founded in 1496, is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere and is home to the oldest operating Cathedral in the Americas, the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, was completed in 1540.

A few interesting facts:
The Dominican flag is the only one to have a bible in it.
Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes of the The Godfather Part II in Santo Domingo.
Dominican Republic is one of the worst 20 countries in the world for murders with a murder rate of 22.1 per 100,000 people, most probably due to drug smuggling.
It is the only place in the world where you can find Larimar, also called “Stefilia’s Stone”, a rare blue variety of the silicate mineral pectolite. It’s healing properties are said to cool and draw out inflammation from the body, reducing fevers and the heat of sunburn.

Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean with 5.1 million visitors in 2014. Highlights include the beautiful beaches at Playa Rincón and Punta Cana, Pico Duarte (the largest peak in the Caribbean), Cascada el Limon (waterfall), whale watching in Samaná and snorkelling the Cayo Paraiso (Paradise Island).

Some popular dishes I came across include Turkey a la Dominicana Stuffed with Rice and Pigeon Peas, Buñuelos de Yuca Recipe (Cassava ‘Beignets’ in Spiced Syrup), Locrio de Pica-Pica (Rice and Spicy Sardines), Dominican sancocho (meat stew) and Locrio de Pollo Dominicano (Dominican style Chicken with Rice). As it was Friday, and therefore we deserved a treat, I decided to cook Pica Pollo (fried chicken). It was crispy and tasty, but we felt it could’ve done with a bit more spice.

Rating: 7/10

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 mins + 12 – 24 hours marinating
Cook time: 30 mins

8 chicken pieces (a mix of thighs, breasts, legs or wings, whatever you prefer)
1/2 cup of vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and bashed
1 tbsp of oregano
1 tsp ground coriander
1 small red onion, quartered
Juice of 2 limes

Coating:
1 cup white flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Soak the chicken with the vinegar in a bowl for about 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Place the chicken pieces in a large bag and add salt, pepper, garlic, onion, oregano, coriander and the lime juice.
Marinade in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the fridge an hour before cooking.
In another large bag, place the flour, cornflour, semolina flour, salt & pepper. Shake to mix
Heat the oven to 100°C
Heat a deep fat fryer, or deep pan with enough oil to cover the chicken to 180°C.
Place the chicken pieces in the flour bag, draining off the marinade mix beforehand.
Ensure all the chicken pieces are coated in the flour mix.
Place 3 pieces of chicken into the hot oil and fry for 10-12 minutes.
Once done, put the chicken pieces onto a tray lined with kitchen towel and leave in the oven to keep warm, whilst frying the rest of the chicken pieces.
Serve with chips and ketchup.

 

Santo Domingo Cathedral
Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic flag
Dominican Republic flag
Punta cana beach Dominican Republic
Punta Cana beach
larimar
Larimar

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), located in Central Africa is the second largest country in Africa and was previously named Zaire (from 1971 – 1997). It is slightly larger than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. The country has a tiny coast on the Atlantic Ocean, just enough to accommodate the mouth of the Congo River. It’s equatorial position gives it the highest frequency of thunderstorms in the world and it is home to the Congo Rainforest, the second largest rain forest in the world (after the Amazon). Five of the country’s national parks are listed as World Heritage Sites: the Garumba, Kahuzi-Biega, Salonga and Virunga National Parks, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

The Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996, brought about the end of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-year reign and devastated the country. The wars ultimately involved nine African nations and resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people. Mobutu Sésé Seko (he renamed himself), roughly means “the all-conquering warrior, who goes from triumph to triumph”. Mobutu became notorious for corruption, nepotism and embezzlement. Mobutu allegedly stole as much as US$5 billion while in office. In July 2009, a Swiss court determined that the statute of limitations had run out on an international asset recovery case of about $6.7 million of deposits of Mobutu’s in a Swiss bank, and therefore the assets should be returned to Mobutu’s family. Under his rule the nation suffered from uncontrolled inflation, a large debt, and massive currency devaluations. Around 55% of people live below the poverty line, living on less than a dollar each day and less than a third of children in the DRC attend secondary school.

The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt ore and a major producer of copper and diamonds. It is the second largest diamond-producing nation in the world, although a third of the DRC’s diamonds are believed to be smuggled, making quantifying production very difficult.

Although the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against non essential travel to the majority of the DRC, it has a lot to offer adventurous travellers. Highlights include the rare Mountain Gorillas, living in the Virunga Mountains, the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, Mt Nyiragongo volcano and taking a cruise down the Congo River.

Some of the recipes I came across were Poulet à la Moambé (chicken with a peanut sauce), Soso na Loso (chicken and rice), Ntaba or Ngulu yako tumba (grilled goat or pork), Liboke (fish stewed in manioc leaves). I opted to cook Kamundele (beef kebabs) which traditionally would be served with fried plantain (not that easy to find), so I served it in pitta bread with salad and grated cheese. It was very simple and pretty tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves 2 hungry people
Prep time: 10 mins + overnight marinating
Cook time: 6 mins

500g sirloin steak, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes
1 tsp ginger root, grated
2 tbsp mustard
1 oxo or maggi beef cube
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of half a lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

Place all the ingredients in a bag, except the olive oil and marinate in the fridge overnight.
Put the beef on to skewers.
Heat the griddle pan or BBQ and cook the beef kebabs for 3 minutes on each side.
Serve with pitta, salad & grated cheese.

 

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

Latvia

The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918 but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 – an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is situated in the Baltic region of Northern Europe and is one of the three Baltic states along with Estonia and Lithuania. Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004. Most of Latvia’s territory is less than 100 metres above sea level and it has the 5th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union. Latvia has a long tradition of conservation. Nationally protected areas account for around 20% of Latvia’s total land area. The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia second, after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country’s policies.

Arvids Blumentāls aka the original Crocodile Dundee (he was the inspiration behind the Crocodile Dundee character played by Paul Hogan) was born in Latvia.

Riga, Latvia’s capital, was the European Capital of Culture 2014 and it’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for notable wooden and art nouveau architecture, a vast Central Market and a medieval Old Town. Riga Cathedral was founded in 1211 and is the largest medieval church in the Baltic. Other Latvia highlights are emerald lakes and blueberry fields in Latgale Lakelands, Cape Kolka (desolate coastal villages) and Gauja National Park. The Venta Rapid, a waterfall on the Venta River in Kuldīga, is the widest waterfall in Europe at 249 metres and up to 270 metres during spring floods. Its height is 1.80–2.20 metres.

Latvian cuisine features meat in most main dishes. Pork and potatoes are common ingredients, along with cabbage, onions and eggs. It also offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are an important part of the Latvian cuisine. Some recipes I found include Rupjmaize (dark rye bread), Kāpostu tīteņi (cabbage rolls), Biezpiena sieriņš (pressed cottage cheese) and Skābeņu zupa (sorrel soup). I decided to make Pīrāgi (bacon pies), which I served as a snack to guests and they went down very well indeed.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 75
Prep time: 1.5 hour + 1.5 hours proving time
Cook time: 45 mins

For the dough
500ml milk
125ml cream
125g sugar
4 tsps dry yeast
125g butter, cubed
125g sour cream
1kg plain flour
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp salt

For the filling
500g streaky bacon
1 small onion
salt and pepper
Extra flour for rolling
1 egg for egg wash

Put 385ml of milk and cream in a saucepan and add the sugar. Heat the mixture until it becomes blood warm. (Test by placing couple drops on your wrist, if the milk feels very hot, let it cool down a bit. Do not get the milk to the boiling point as it will kill the yeast.)
Place the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and add 115ml of milk. Combine well and set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, pour the heated milk mixture and add cubed butter, sour cream and the whisked egg, combine well.
Add the yeast, sifted flour and salt and mix until all is combined well to create the dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and does not stick to the hands or the bowl (add a bit more flour if necessary).
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Meanwhile, make the filling: finely cut the bacon and the onion, add a teaspoon of finely ground pepper and combine well.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Whisk the egg in a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of milk and set aside.
Sprinkle some flour on the rolling surface and place the dough on it. Cut it in quarters and work on each quarter at a time by rolling it until the dough is 5 mm thick.
Cut out circles about 6 cm in diameter. Place one teaspoon of filling on one side of the circle and fold over. Tightly press the dough together using your fingers, place pīrāgis seam side down and bend in a shape of a half moon.
Transfer pies on to the baking tray, spaced about 2 cm apart. Using a pastry brush, brush each pie with the egg wash.
Place the tray in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.

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Ingredients for Pīrāgi
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Pīrāgi dough
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Pīrāgi (space them further apart than shown in this picture)
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Pīrāgi
Latvia old town
Riga old town
Riga art nouveau
Art nouveau, Riga

Chile

I’m lucky enough to have been to Chile and it really is one of the most stunning countries in the world with a remarkable variety of climates and landscapes. It stretches for 4,000 km down the west coast of South America between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, but averages only 175 km wide. Chilean territory also includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile claims about 1,250,000 square km of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty. 80% of Chile is covered by mountains.
The diverse climate of Chile ranges from the world’s driest desert in the north—the Atacama Desert—through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, humid subtropical in Easter Island, to an oceanic climate, including alpine tundra and glaciers in the east and south.

Some facts about this extremely diverse nation:
The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world. It witnessed the longest record of 40 years without rain.
The world’s southernmost city “Puerto Williams” is in Chile.
Chile has the second largest volcano chain in the world after Indonesia and Ojos del Salado Volcano, located on the border of Chile and Argentina, is the highest active volcano in the world.
Escondida is the largest copper mine in the world and Chile produces a third of the world’s copper.
It ranks 5th in the world for wine production, at 1,832,000 tonnes per annum.
Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.
Chile’s national bird, the Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight and wingspan. It has a maximum wingspan of 3.3 m.
The largest bunch of grapes ever grown was by Bozzolo Y Perut Ltda of Santiago, Chile weighing 9.4 kg (20 lb 11½oz).

Having had first hand experience, there are so many attractions for the visitor. My highlights would include the breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park, meandering up the steep hills in Valparaiso, the peace and tranquility watching El Tatio Geysers in the Atacama desert at sun break and sipping wine whilst watching the beautiful sunset at La Serena beach.

Chilean cuisine takes influence from traditional Spanish, as well as the indigenous Mapuche culture. Recipes in Chile are notable for the variety of flavours and ingredients, with the country’s diverse geography and climate. There are many regional specialities including asado (barbequed meat) in the north, Pastel de choclo (layered pie with meat and corn) from the central valley and Mapuche chicken in the south. Other popular recipes include cazuela (stew with fish, meat or poultry), Chicharrón de papa (meat and fat from llama and lamb, boiled and then fried) and Leche asada (baked milk dessert with caramel). I decided to make empanadas, as I remember enjoying them very much when I was in Chile. They can be filled with a variety of ingredients, but traditionally they are filled with minced beef & onions. The recipe I found also included raisins, olives & hard boiled egg in the filling, which I’m not a fan of, so I opted to leave these out. The pastry was very simple to make and easy to work with. I will definitely be experimenting with different fillings.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 10 – 12
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour 10 mins

For the dough:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp table salt
1 lb all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
3 oz melted butter

For the beef filling:
2 tbsp of oil
2 lb good quality minced beef
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp of cumin
1/2 cup water
1 large onion chopped
1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Optional other filling ingredients:
20 black olives, chopped
40 raisins
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

To make the dough:
Mix together the milk, water and salt and stir until salt is completely dissolved
In a large bowl combine the flour and egg yolks, and mix using a knife
Add butter and gradually add the milk & water mix to form a dough
Knead dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic
At this point you can put it in clingfilm in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

To make the filling:
In a large frying pan, heat oil at medium to high heat
Fry the meat for 3 minutes without mixing
Turn over and brown for another couple of minutes
Add paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and cumin, and mix well
Add water and chopped onion
Cover and cook for 30 minutes on low heat
Add flour and mix well, modifying the seasoning if you like
Turn off heat, leave to cool and refrigerate

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 175c
Separate dough into 10 – 12 portions and cover with a clean kitchen cloth
Working each portion individually, shape into a ball and with a rolling pin smooth out the dough to about the size of a side plate (8 inches)
Fill each with 2 tablespoons of beef (you can also add a few raisins, chopped olives & chopped hard boiled egg if you like them)
Make sure to release trapped air before closing. Lightly brush the edges with milk, press firmly and fold. Brush the top of the empanadas with egg before putting them in the oven.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until browned, keeping a close eye on them. If they bubble up or swell, poke with a toothpick, so that they don’t come undone or open up.
Serve hot

 

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Torres del Paine
el-tatio-1038353_1280
El Tatio geysers, Atacama desert
easter-island-1336918_1280
Maoi statues, Easter Island