Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

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

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

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

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

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Bamiyan caves, Afghanistan
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Buzkashi
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Military soldiers in Afghanistan mountains
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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.

 

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is an independent country in Central Europe consisting of the regions of Bohemia and Moravia. It was once part of the Great Moravian Empire formed by Slav tribes in the early ninth century. At the close of WW I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved, with its constituent states becoming the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Some interesting facts:
The Czech Republic possesses a developed high-income economy with a per capita GDP rate that is 87% of the European Union average.
Škoda Auto is one of the largest car manufacturers in Central Europe. In 2014, it sold a record number of 1,037,000 cars.
The Czech Republic has the most Wi-Fi subscribers in the European Union.
Czech people are the world’s heaviest consumers of beer.
The Charles University in Prague, founded in 1348, is the oldest university in Eastern Europe, and one of the oldest in the world in continuous operation.
The Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lím invented the soft contact lenses in 1959.

The Czech economy gets a substantial income from tourism. Prague is the fifth most visited city in Europe after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome. The spa towns of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, Františkovy Lázně and Jáchymov, are also popular relaxing holiday destinations. There are many castles and palaces that appeal to visitors namely Prague Castle, the castle and chateau in Český Krumlov and Karlštejn Castle.

Czech cuisine is marked by a strong emphasis on meat dishes. Pork is quite common, beef and chicken are also popular. Dishes I came across during my research include Houbova Polevka Myslivecka (Hunter’s mushroom soup), Pečené kuře s brambory (Roasted chicken with potatoes), Koleno (Roast pork knuckle), Knedlíky (dumplings) and Schnitzel (fried breaded meat). I opted to cook Hovězí Guláš (Czech Beef Goulash) which I served with rice and thick slices of bread. Along with our guests, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: 9/10

Serves 4 hungry people
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 2 hours

500g sirloin steak, cut into cubes
2 medium size onions, chopped
1/4 cup of oil
2 tsp caraway seeds
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp paprika
4 garlic cloves
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tbsp salt
pepper
5 cups water
1 beef oxo cube
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 tsp marjoram

Fry the onions in the oil over a medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes, so they are soft but not browned
Add the caraway seeds, sugar, paprika, garlic and mix well to coat, cook for 2 minutes
Add the tomato paste and mix well
Add the beef and mix well to coat
Add the salt, pepper, oxo cube and water
Bring to just before boiling point, reduce the heat and simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally
Add the breadcrumbs and stir
Simmer for a further 30 minutes
Turn off the heat, add the marjoram and stir
Serve with rice or thick slices of bread (or both)

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Ingredients for Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)
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Making Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)
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Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)
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Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)

 

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Our guests enjoying Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash) … cheers!

 

South Korea

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea is situated in East Asia in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. The Seoul Capital area is the world’s sixth leading global city, with the fourth largest economy. 75% of South Korea is mountainous, making it a popular winter sport destination. They are to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President PARK Geun-hye, daughter of former ROK President PARK Chung-hee, took office in February 2013 and is South Korea’s first female leader. Her father PARK Chung-hee took over leadership of the country in a 1961 coup. During his regime, from 1961 to 1979, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 17 times the level of North Korea.

Some interesting facts about South Korea
South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world.
They have a very unusual approach to age. Every South Korean child is considered to be one year old when it is born and it will turn two on the next Lunar New Year.
The iconic song “Gangnam Style” by the South Korean musician Psy became the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views (The phrase “Gangnam Style” refers to a luxury lifestyle associated with the Gangnam District of Seoul).
It has the world’s fastest Internet speed and highest smartphone ownership, with half of Koreans paying all their bills using their mobile phones.
Although South Korea has very high living standards, suicide is a serious and widespread problem. It has the second-highest suicide rate in the world according to the World Health Organization.
Since 1997, every July the nine-day Boryeong Mud Festival takes place, attracting 1.5 million attendees. It was started to promote the health benefits of mud.

South Korea has 12 world heritage sites including Changdeokgung Palace Complex in Seoul, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. In 2012, 11.1 million foreign tourists visited South Korea, making it the 20th most visited country in the world. The South Korean government has set a target of attracting 20 million foreign tourists a year by 2017.

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, and meats. Ingredients and dishes vary by province. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes that accompany steam-cooked rice. Recipes I came across include Kalbi Jim (stewed korean short ribs), Dak Galbi (spicy stir fried chicken) and Mi Yeok Gu (seaweed soup). I opted to cook Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) which was absolutely delicious.

Rating: 10/10

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 mins + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 6 mins

450g thinly sliced beef (sirloin or rib eye)
5 tbsp sugar
½ cup soy sauce
2 garlic cloves (bashed)
¼ tsp salt
5 tbsp Mirin (sweet sake, optional)
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 cup spring onions, chopped
2 cups thinly sliced carrots

Mix together all ingredients except carrots.
Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Griddle the beef slices on a medium to high heat for a few minutes.
Add the marinating juice and carrots and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Serve with steamed rice.

 

Russia

The largest country in the world, at 17,075,200 sq.km,  almost double the 2nd largest country, Canada.  It has 11 time zones, the worlds largest forest (The Taiga) and the deepest lake (Lake Baikal).  The longest train journey on earth is the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is 9,289k, takes 7 days with 58 stops.  A one way ticket 3rd class costs £202, 2nd class £346 and 1st class £694.  People have been taking this journey since 1916.  One of Russia’s most urgent problems is its grave population decline, in response they have created incentives including cash rewards for families to have more children.  It has the largest McDonalds in the world with 700 seats.  Moscow has more billionaire residents than any other city in the world. There are a total of 74 billionaires living in the popular city.  Moscow’s amazing metro system is the fastest means of transport. During rush hour, trains are scheduled for every 90 seconds. It is estimated that over 9 million passengers ride the Meto every day. The Metro of St. Petersburg is also the deepest subway in the world, clocking in at a whopping 100m deep.  Home to the Bolshoi Ballet, an internationally renowned classical ballet company, based at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. Founded in 1776, it is among the world’s oldest ballet companies.  Vodka is worth over $12 billion in global sales annually and there are hundreds of different Russian brands.  Stolichnaya is the 4th best selling vodka in the world, with the French ‘Grey goose’ being no.1.

As for the food, there’s plenty of choice .. Shchi (cabbage soup), Pirogi (dumplings) , Borscht (beetroot soup), Honey cake, Bliny (thin pancakes), Kasha (porridge).  I opted for the very traditional Beef Stroganoff, served with lovely creamy mash, much to Bern’s delight 🙂 .. and a sneaky shot of Vodka!
Rating: 9/10
½  tbsp oil
½ tbsp butter
½ onion, thinly sliced
120g crimini mushrooms, sliced
300g beef steak, cut in strips
2 tbsps brandy
salt
pepper, freshly ground
¼ cup beef stock
1-bay leaf
½ tsp whole grain mustard
½ cup- full fat creme fraiche
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
 

Heat oil and butter in a heavy skillet and cook onions and mushrooms over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add cut steak to the same skillet and quickly fry over high heat for 3-5 minutes.
Add brandy and continue cooking until alcohol burns off, add stock, mustard, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to release all the brown bits, they will add much flavour to the sauce.
Bring mushrooms and onions back to the pan and cook for 3 minutes until everything is heated through and bubbling.
Stir creme fraiche and parsley and take off the heat.

Serve quickly whilst its hot with mounds of mashed potatoes or rice.

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