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

 

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.

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Ingredients for Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

 

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Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

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Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)
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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.

 

 

 

 

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