United States of America

The United States of America is made up of 50 states, covering 3.8 million square miles with 9 time zones and a population of over 324 million people. It is home to the world’s largest immigration population at 46.6 million. The UK is 5th with 8.5 million.

Some interesting facts about America:
The current 50-star US flag was designed by a 17-year-old as a school project in 1958
The first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge and arrived at least 15,000 years ago
The US purchased Alaska from Russia for just US$7.2 million in 1867
The average US employee stays at each of their jobs for 4.4 years
Christmas was illegal in the US until 1836 as it was considered an ancient Pagan Holiday
The first Friday of June is National Donut Day in the US
GPS is owned and controlled by the U.S. Government. It can be ‘switched off’ at any time
The US uses less water now than it did in 1970
It takes a single one-page form and about 4 minutes to apply to become an official presidential candidate in the US
By law, only dead people can appear on US currency

Nine of the world’s most visited tourist attractions are in the US. The Las Vegas Strip tops the charts with 40 million visitors each year. It is a 4.2 mile stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard in Clark County, Nevada known for it’s casinos and hotels. Fourteen of the world’s 25 largest hotels by room count are on the Strip, with a total of over 62,000 rooms. Times Square is the world’s second most visited tourist attraction, drawing an estimated 39 million visitors each year. It was formerly known as Longacre Square, but was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building.

One of my favourite films is Julie and Julia which, if you haven’t seen it, is about Julia Child, an American chef, author and tv personality and Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about her challenge to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s cookbook in 365 days. Julia Child is recognised for bringing French cuisine to the American public with her debut cookbook, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. In the present day 21st century, the modern cuisine of the United States is very much regional in nature. Some popular dishes include Cobb salad, New England clam chowder, Buffalo wings, Cheeseburger, Gumbo (meat or shellfish stew), Sloppy joe sandwich (ground beef with ketchup in a burger bun), Barbequed ribs, Pecan pie, Mississippi mud pie and Persimmon pudding (steamed pudding with crème anglaise). I decided to cook one of my all time favourites – Southern fried chicken. It was finger licking good!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 8 hours marinating
Cook time: 12 minutes

300ml buttermilk
1 tsp salt
6 pieces of chicken (I used a mixture of breast qtrs and thighs on the bone)
150g plain flour
2 tsps salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
Vegetable oil, for frying

Combine the buttermilk and salt in a sealable bag, add the meat and mix it so the meat is fully coated
Cover and refrigerate for about 8 hours, allowing it to return to room temperature before cooking
Put the flour, salt and spices in a large, flat dish and whisk briefly to combine
Put 1.5cm of vegetable oil into a wide, straight-sided pan with a lid and heat until very hot: a cube of bread should brown almost immediately (about 170C)
Wipe as much buttermilk off the chicken pieces as possible then roll them in the seasoned flour until thoroughly coated
Put the chicken in one layer in the pan (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan) and cover
Turn the heat right down and simmer for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces over, cover again and cook for another 6 minutes
Prepare a rack to drain the chicken
Turn the heat up and fry the chicken until it’s a deep golden colour on all sides
Transfer to the rack and blot with kitchen paper
Allow to cool slightly before serving

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Ingredients for Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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US Flag
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Yosemite National Park, California
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Times Square, New York
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Las Vegas Strip
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Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yemen

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gabon

Gabon, independent from France since 1960 is a country on the west coast of Central Africa. It was politically dominated by one of the longest serving heads of state in the world, President Omar Bongo who led the country from 1967 until his death in 2009 when his son, Ali Bongo, took power. The economy, which was dependent on timber and manganese, until oil was discovered in the 1970s, is one of the highest in Africa.

In 2002, President Omar Bongo designated that roughly 10% of the nation’s territory was to be part of its national park system (with 13 parks in total), one of the largest proportions of nature parkland in the world. The largest of the parks is Minkébé National Park in the northeast, which the WWF have been actively working to protect since 1997. The forest elephant is particularly important to the park and is believed by the WWF to contain one of the largest populations in Africa. It has been proposed as a World Heritage Site. Another of Gabon’s parks is Loango National Park, part of the African lagoon system and considered the jewel of Africa’s west coast. After South Africa, the world’s largest concentration and variety of whales and dolphins can be found off the Loango coast.

Gabonese cuisine includes food staples of cassava, rice and yams and there are notable French influences. Recipes I came across were Gabon mustard chicken, Cucumber salad, Baked bananas, Gari (manioc porridge) and Dongo dongo (vegetable and smoke-dried fish stew). I made the popular dish of Chicken Nyembwe (chicken with palm oil), which I served with rice. I was slightly alarmed by one recipe I found which suggested ‘some people may need to take a diarrhoea tablet after consuming this dish’, but thankfully we weren’t affected! It had quite a sweet tasty flavour.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

4-6 chicken pieces (bone in)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp or 40g palm oil (available from African/Asian supermarkets)
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 large yellow pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, sliced
2 Maggi cubes or vegetable stock cubes
3/4 cup water
salt and pepper (to taste)
1 bay leaf

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper
Fry the chicken in the vegetable oil in a casserole dish until brown all over, about 6 – 8 minutes, then set aside and cover
In the same dish fry the onion and garlic in the palm oil for a few minutes
Add peppers, tomato, salt, Maggi cubes and water
Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes
Add the chicken pieces to the dish cover and continue to simmer for 15 – 20 minutes
Serve with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Chicken Nyembwe
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Chicken Nyembwe
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Chicken Nyembwe
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Chicken Nyembwe with rice
Loango National Park Gabon
Loango National Park Gabon

Comoros

A volcanic archipelago off Africa’s east coast, the Comoros are situated in the Indian Ocean and consists of three major islands – Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan as well as numerous smaller islands. It has a claim on a fourth major island, Mayotte (Maore), though Mayotte voted against independence from France in 1974, it has never been administered by an independent Comoros government, and continues to be administered by France. The Comoros have been called the “perfumed islands” for their fragrant plant life including frangipani, jasmine, and lemongrass and they are also known for their great scenic beauty.

Agriculture, including fishing, hunting, and forestry, is the leading sector of the economy. It contributes 40% to GDP, employs 80% of the labor force, and provides most of the country’s exports. Economic growth and poverty reduction are major priorities for the government. Customary oral law includes sanctions against disrespect toward elders, disobedience, theft, and adultery. Until a fine is paid in money or cattle, a convicted person is banished, and he and his family are cut off from the village’s social life.

Since independence there have been a number of coups and attempted coups with various heads of state assassinated. In 1997 the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli declared independence, but a new federal constitution in 2001 brought the islands back together.

Despite it’s beautiful beaches, virgin rainforests and historical architecture, a holiday in the Comoros isn’t for everyone. Everything moves ‘mora mora’ (slowly slowly), tourist facilities aren’t plush, women are expected to cover up and alcohol is a no no, but if you’re feeling brave and up for somewhere exotic it may be for you.

Rice is the staple daily diet with manioc, root vegetables, plantains, fish and coconut milk. It was quite tricky finding authentic Comorian recipes but these were a few I came across; Langouste a la vanilla (Lobster with Vanilla Sauce), M’tsolola (Green plantains with fish in coconut milk), Donas (doughnuts) and Mkatra siniya (rice and coconut cake). I made Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken) which was really simple to make, had a great flavour and went well with the Zimbabwean peanut butter rice. Steamed rice would work equally well.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 2 hours marinating time
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

2 chicken breasts cubed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 cherry tomatoes, peeled and chopped
160ml can of coconut cream
1/4 cup water
fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Mix lemon juice, turmeric and cumin, salt and pepper together in a plastic bag with the chicken cubes and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours
In a frying pan, add a little oil and fry the chicken gently without browning for about 5 – 7 minutes
Add the onion, garlic and tomato, stir well and cook for a few minutes
Add the coconut cream and 1/4 cup of water and bring it to a rolling simmer
Let it simmer away until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has reduced, about 15 – 20 minutes.
If the sauce has thickened too much, you can add a little more water
Sprinkle with coriander and serve with rice

 

Comoros beach
Comoros beach
Comoros
Comoros
Summit crater and crater lake of Kasatochi volcano, August 6, 20
Volcanic crater, Comoros

 

Senegal

Senegal is in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. It remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa and has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation. The landscape consists of mainly rolling sandy plains. It’s highest peak at 584m is found southwest of Kedougou and is unnamed. Senegal has a population of over 13.5 million with a wide variety of ethnic groups including the Wolof, Fula, Toucouleur and Serer.

The lively capital of Dakar was once the finishing point of the Paris-Dakar rally, which originated in 1978 when motorcycle racer Thierry Sabine got lost in the Ténéré desert whilst competing in the Abidjan-Nice rally. He realised that the desert would be a good location for a regular rally where amateurs could test their ability. In 1979, 182 vehicles started the inaugural race from Paris with 74 surviving the 10,000km trip to Dakar, Senegal. Cyril Neveu won the race on a Yamaha XT500. Due to security threats in Mauritania, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, races since 2009 have been held in South America.

Saint Louis, founded in 1659 on an island in the River Senegal, this port town was once the capital of French West Africa. It is now host to the annual Saint Louis jazz festival, the biggest of its kind in Africa, bringing 500 musicians together to play in the central square of the historic quarter. In 2000 it was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Wrestling is Senegal’s most popular sport and has become a national obsession. A type of folk wrestling traditionally performed by the Serer people, it is now the national sport. Adama Diatta and Isabelle Sambou will be competing in the freestyle wrestling category at the 2016 Olympics.

Sengalese cuisine takes influence from North Africa, France and Portugal, as well as its ethnic groups. Sengalese recipes I came across include Mafe (fish, chicken or lamb stewed with peanut butter sauce and vegetables), Thieboudienne (rice & fish), Sombi (sweet milk rice soup), Chere (cous cous) and Ndambé (spicy beans). I cooked Poulet Yassa (chicken marinated with onions and lemons), which is now popular across all of West Africa but it originated in Senegal. It was delicious! Traditionally it is served with rice or sweet potato, however I served it with a green salad of leaves, avocado and soya beans which complemented it very well.

Rating: 9/10
Serve: 4
Prep time: 20 mins + overnight marinating
Cook time: 1 hour

1 small chicken (1-2 kg) or 8 – 10 chicken pieces on the bone
French mustard
Lemon juice or 4 squished lemons
2 cubes of chicken stock
peanut or groundnut oil
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
4 onions
Salt and pepper
1 cup of water

Make the marinade sauce by mixing 2 tablespoons french mustard with 4 tablespoons of peanut or groundnut oil and 6 tablespoons of lemon juice
Cut the chicken into smaller pieces
Pour ¾ of the mix into a plastic bag with the chicken pieces and let it marinate in the fridge overnight or for at least 3 hours
Keep the rest of the marinade for the next day
Cut the onions in to large pieces and mix them with the rest of the marinade
Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or groundnut oil in a large pan
Fry the chicken on high heat for 5 minutes so it browns, then remove from the pan and set aside
Reduce the heat, add the onions and the rest of the marinade and cook for around 10 minutes
Scrap any burnt bits from the bottom of the pan and stir well to blend in
Once the onions are soft, add the chicken pieces back into the pan, then add the chicken stock cubes, 2 cups of water, salt & pepper and chilli flakes
Let it cook for around 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
Taste to check if extra salt or pepper are needed
Serve with rice, sweet potato or a green salad with avocado and soya beans

Mexico

“Fa-heeeee-taaa”, as I am often known to say when thinking about Mexican food! Mexico is situated between the U.S. and Central America and is widely known for its Pacific and Gulf of Mexico beaches and its diverse landscape of mountains, deserts and jungles. With a population of over 122 million, it is the eleventh most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. Mexico is located in the “Ring of Fire”. This area is one of the world’s most violent earthquake and volcano zones. The Ring of Fire, contains more than 450 volcanoes and has approximately 75% of the world’s active volcanoes. Popocatépetl is considered to be the most dangerous volcano in Mexico, located only 70 km southeast of Mexico City.

Mexico was home to several advanced Amerindian civilizations – including the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. Their presence is still felt at the famous sites of
Calakmul (possibly the largest city during Mayan times), Tulum ruins, Monte Albán (Ancient Zapotec capital), Teotihuacán archaeological zone and of course, Chichén Itzá.
I think its safe to say that one wouldn’t get bored on a trip to Mexico. When you’re done with the ancient sites, you can take a road trip down Baja’s endless coast, hike to the peak of Pico de Orizaba, party your heart out in Mexico city and enjoy a well earned laze on the beaches of Puerto Escondido. Mexico has the 23rd highest income from tourism in the world.

Mexico has given the world hot chocolate (sacred drink of the Aztecs), the Habanero Chilli Pepper (packing a punch at 350,000 scovilles) and the Chihuahua, the world’s smallest dog breed. Mexico produces the most automobiles of any North American nation with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler having been in operation there since the 1930s.

Mexican food is know the world over with it’s staple ingredients of corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, chilli peppers and rice. Mexican street food is one of the most varied parts of the cuisine, which includes tacos, quesadillas, pambazos (white bread), tamales (seasoned meat and maize flour steamed or baked in maize husks), huaraches (fried dough base with a variety of toppings) and alambres (grilled beef topped with chopped bacon, bell peppers, onions, cheese, salsa and avocado). I decided to make Chicken enchiladas, which may not sound overly adventurous given the plethora of options available, but sometimes the simplest dishes are the tastiest, which was certainly the case here!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2 hungry people
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins

For the enchiladas:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
2 skinless chicken breasts, diced into small 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 green chillis, diced
1/2 tin black beans (rinsed & drained) or 100g dried black beans, cooked according to the packet
4 large flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and red leicester as I couldn’t get hold of monterey jack cheese)
1 batch of homemade red enchilada sauce (see below)

For the homemade red enchilada sauce:
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 tbsp all-purpose or gluten-free flour
2 tbsp ancho chilli pepper powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
pinch cumin
pinch oregano
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

For the homemade enchilada sauce:
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add flour and stir together over the heat for one minute.
Stir in all the seasonings.
Then gradually add in the stock, whisking constantly to remove lumps.
Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until thick.
Use immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.

For the enchiladas:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
Add onion and fry for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add diced chicken and green chillis, and season with salt and pepper.
Saute for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble the enchiladas, set up an assembly line with the tortillas, enchilada sauce, beans, chicken mixture, and cheese.
Lay out a tortilla, and spread 1 tablespoon of sauce over the surface of the tortilla.
Add beans in a line down the middle of the tortilla, then add in a spoonful of the chicken mixture, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese.
Roll up tortilla and place in a greased baking dish.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Then spread the remaining enchilada sauce on top of the tortillas, and sprinkle on the remaining shredded cheese.
Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve immediately

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Ingredients for Chicken enchiladas
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Frying the chicken
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Homemade enchilada sauce
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Making the Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
Popocatépetl volcano, Mexico
Popocatépetl volcano, Mexico
Chihuahua puppy
Chihuahua puppy
Cancun beach, Mexico
Cancun beach, Mexico
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Filming the Bond film ‘Spectre’ in Mexico City
Teotihuacan, Mexico
Teotihuacán archaeological zone

Morocco

I have visited Marrakesh in Morocco a couple of times and found it to be a heart warming and fascinating city. The central Djemaa el-Fna square is a sight to behold morning, noon and night with snake charmers, orange juice sellers and the general hustle and bustle.

The Kingdom of Morocco is situated in the north-western corner of Africa and is the only African country that is not a member of the African Union. It is surrounded by the Atlantic to the west, the Mediterranean to the north and the Sahara desert to the south. Almost the entire population are Sunni Muslims. Arabic is the official language but Berber (another dialect) and French are also spoken widely.

The snow topped Atlas mountains are a visible and dominant feature of Morocco’s geography. Highlights for the visitor include Fes, the oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, the quiet mountain town of Chefchaouen, where every house is painted blue, camel trekking in the Western Sahara and the Dades Gorges. You can indulge yourself in a hamman (bath house) or haggle for souvenirs in the souqs.

Moroccan food is a mix of Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber cuisine and is extremely diverse. Some of the dishes I came across include Makouda (deep fried potato balls) , B’stilla (pigeon pie), Khobz (semolina flatbread) and Mechoui (roasted lamb). I decided to cook the traditional Moroccan dish Mshermel chicken tagine, which I served with a Tunisian vegetable cous cous. My family were a little divided by the taste but overall found it enjoyable.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 90 mins

3 chicken breasts, cut into 3 pieces
3 chicken thigh fillets, halved
1 Preserved lemon
Handful of coriander and parsley
2 large garlic cloves
1 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp of pepper
4 tbsp of olive oil
2 onions, peeled and grated
A good pinch of saffron
Small tin of green olives
Salt

Finely chop the preserved lemon, garlic, cilantro, parsley and place in a bag with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, pepper, cumin, ginger, paprika
Place the chicken pieces into the bag and massage well. Marinade in the fridge for 6 hours
When ready to cook, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in your tagine pot
Add the onions and chicken and cook over low heat for 30 minutes
Soak the saffron threads in some warm water then add it to the tagine and cook for 30 minutes
Add the green olives and a teaspoon of salt and cook for a further 30 minutes
Serve with cous cous

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Ingredients for Mshermel chicken tagine
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Marinading the chicken
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Mshermel chicken tagine
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Mshermel chicken tagine
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Mshermel chicken tagine
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Mshermel chicken tagine served with Tunisian vegetable cous cous
View over Marrakesh
View over Marrakesh, Morocco
Fez Morocco
Fez, Morocco
Sahara Desert Morocco
Sahara Desert, Morocco

 

Samoa

The Independent State of Samoa made up from two entities; Independent Samoa (or Western Samoa) and the US territory of American Samoa. The two main islands are Savai’i and Upolu. The Samoan Islands share a history of being one of the strongest cultural forces in the Pacific and were the first small island country in the Pacific to become independent in 1962. Ongoing scientific research suggests that Samoa’s history dates back 3,000 years. It is located south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.

At the end of December 2011, Samoa jumped forward by one day, omitting 30 December from the local calendar, when the nation moved to the west of the International Date Line. This aimed to help the nation boost its economy in doing business with Australia and New Zealand. Before this change, Samoa was 21 hours behind Sydney, they are now three hours ahead.

The famous Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson brought his family to live on Upolu in 1890 and built a large home in the foothills above the city of Apia, where he spent the last five years of his life. His home was destroyed in the cyclones of the early 1990s but was rebuilt and opened as a museum in 1994 on the centenary of his death.

Samoa has all the attributes of island paradise; white sand, blue lagoons and jade jungles, but without the glitz and flashiness of mega tourist resorts. With an average temperature of 26.5 degress, it is a very appealing destination for travellers seeking both serenity and adventure.

Popular food in Samoan cuisine are rice, fish, roasted chicken and pork, yams, taro, fresh fruit and coconut. Dishes I came across include umu (oven-pit-baked meat), sapasui (chop suey), puligi (pudding) and oka (raw fish in lime juice and coconut milk). I cooked Chicken Kale Moa (Samoan chicken curry) which had a subtle flavour but a little lacking in umph. I made 2 versions, one with potatoes, one without (as I’m not a big fan of potato in curry) and we preferred the one without potato. I would be inclined to use hot curry powder next time.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins

1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp curry powder (use hot curry powder if you like heat)
350g chicken breast, cubed
1 cup water
2 cups coconut milk
2 medium potatoes, chopped into cubes
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 tbsp cornflour mixed with 3 tbsp water
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then fry the onion gently for 5 minutes until it is translucent
Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and fry for about a minute stirring well.
Add the chicken, 1 cup of water and 2 cups of coconut milk. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cover.
Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.
Add the vegetables and bring to a boil again. Turn down heat and cover again. Simmer for 20 minutes or until soft.
Add the cornflour mix and turn the heat up to medium, stirring until thickened.
Season well with salt and pepper.
Serve with boiled rice.

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Ingredients for chicken kale moa (Samoan chicken curry)
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Chicken kale moa (Samoan chicken curry
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Chicken kale moa (Samoan chicken curry
Samoa
Samoa
Harvesting coconuts in Samoa
Harvesting coconuts in Samoa
Samoan beach
Samoan beach

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.

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Ingredients for Frango piri piri
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Barbecuing the Frango piri piri
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Barbecuing the Frango piri piri

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

Bangladesh

Bangladesh is located at the apex of the Bay of Bengal and shares borders with India and Myanmar. It is the world’s eighth-most populous country. Three of Asia’s largest rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna flow through Bangladesh forming the fertile Bengal delta, the largest delta in the world.  At 2,172,000 square kilometers, the Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world. Poverty is widespread with many Bangladeshis living on less than $1 a day, however, promisingly the poverty rate has reduced from 57% in 1990 to 25.6% in 2014.

The country is the world’s largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping. In 2006, Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Prize in Peace “for efforts to create economic and social development from below”.

Bangladesh is home to much of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other highlights include the Buddhist remains at Paharpur and the 15th-century mosques and mausoleums of Bagerhat, both of which are also Unesco World Heritage Sites. Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s longest natural sea beaches, which are 75 miles long including mud flats. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated cities, with a population of nearly 17 million people. It is known as the rickshaw capital of the world, with daily traffic of over 600,000 cycle rickshaws.

The Royal Bengal Tiger is Bangladesh’s national animal. This majestic creature has a roar that can be heard up to 3 kilometers away. Sadly, it is now an endangered species. Bangladesh has an abundance of wildlife including clouded leopards, saltwater crocodiles, black panthers and fishing cats. It also has one of the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins and Ganges dolphins.

Rice is the main staple of Bangladesh cuisine and is served with a wide range of curries. There are regional differences in the cuisine, the Western region is known for authentic Bengali recipes while the Central region including Dhaka, favours fresh water fish. Dishes include Murgir Jhol (chicken curry), Chirer Polao (flattened rice with vegetables), Rui maacher kaalia (fish curry), Doi Maach (fish in yoghurt sauce), Sandesh Mishti (milk based sweet), Bandhakopir Torkari (Bengali Cabbage, Potato and Pea Curry) and Cholar daal (lentils). I opted to cook Dhaka Chicken Karahi (chicken curry) which was particularly spicy and tasty. I added lime juice and creme fraiche to tone it down a little.

Rating: 8/10 (although Bern said it was 9/10 with the additions I made to the dish!)

Serves 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

2 tbsp oil
1 & 1/2 ginger & garlic paste
2 large chicken breasts cut into chunks
1 medium piece ginger, sliced
1/2 tbsp crushed cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tbsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 green chillies
Fresh coriander
1/2 tsp all spice powder

Heat the oil in a pan to a medium heat and fry the ginger and garlic paste for a few seconds.
Add the chicken and stir well to coat.
When the chicken changes colour (after a few minutes), add sliced ginger, cumin, coriander, red chilli flakes and salt and mix.
Add the water, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add sliced green chillies, onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander, stir well and cook for 15 minutes. Add more water if it starts to dry out.
Add the all spice powder, stir well and cook for a minute.
Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve with cooked basmati rice.

Guinea-Bissau

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau on the Atlantic coast of West Africa is bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east.
Guinea-Bissau is among the world’s least developed countries, with most people engaged in subsistence agriculture and fishing.  More than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.  It’s history is one of painful wars and coups and since 1974, no president has successfully served a full five-year term.

 

Tourist attractions include the Former Presidential Palace in the capital of Bissau, Orango Islands National Park (home to rare saltwater hippos) and the beautiful island of Bolama.

 

The food of Guinea-Bissau is dominated by rice, fruit, vegetables and peanuts.  Soups and stews are popular.  Recipes I came across include Frango com bagique (chicken with spinach) , Macarra with Citi (Chicken with peanuts and palm oil), Bolinhos de mancarra com peixe (fish and peanut balls).  I decided to cook Cafriela de Frango (grilled spicy chicken) which was very simple and really tasty.

 

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 mins + 3 hours marinating time
Cook time: 45 mins
1 medium chicken, jointed
1 tsp salt
5 hot chilies, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, sliced
1 1/2 lemons, juice only
salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Place the chicken pieces in a large plastic zipper bag with the garlic, chilies, half the sliced onions and lemon juice. Marinate for 3 hours (or more) in the fridge.
Add the oil to a large skillet and add the marinated ingredients.
Add 3/4 cup of water and cook over a medium heat, covered, for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, adding a little more water if it is drying out.
Preheat the BBQ or grill.
Remove the chicken to a plate leaving the excess liquid in the pan.
BBQ or grill the chicken pieces for 15 minutes or until well browned.
In the meantime heat the liquid adding the rest of the finely sliced onions. Cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes, adding a little more water if necessary.
When the chicken is well-browned, place it onto a serving plate and pour the sauce over it.

Moldova

Moldova is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Ukraine and Romania, although it is only a stone’s throw from the Black Sea. Most of Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and two-thirds of Moldovans speak Romanian. It gained independence in 1991.

Moldova has a very vibrant wine industry dating back many many years. 67 Million bottles are exported every year. Vineyards planted in villages around the houses used to make home-made wine, or “vin de casa”. Many families have their own recipes and strands of grapes that have been passed down through the generations. Since 2013 Russia has imposed a ban on Moldovan wine being sold in the country, ever since Moldova signed a draft treaty with the European Union. This has damaged the wine industry of Moldova significantly.

According to Trip Advisor the top 3 things to do in Moldova are: 1. Stefan cel Mare Park in Central Chişinău (the capital). Formerly known as Pushkin Park, it is the oldest park in Moldova and spans about 7 hectares. – Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame is the national memorial commemorating the nameless Moldovan soldiers who fell during WWII. – Milestii Mici winery. Its underground wine city in limestone stretches for 250 km of which 120 km are currently in use. Milestii Mici cellar complex is recognized to be the largest in the world.

Recipes that I came across during my research include; Ciorba (sour soup) , Mititei (minced meat), Mamaliga (cornmeal mash) , Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), Colțunași (dumplings). I opted to cook the popular dish Zeama (chicken noodle soup). It had a subtle flavour and felt like a healthy bowl of goodness! According to my husband a bit of chilli would’ve given it a nice zing!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2 hungry people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours + 30 mins standing time

4 chicken thighs on the bone
800ml water
salt & black pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 big fresh tomato, chopped
100g egg noodles (I used medium but fine would be better)
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped medium celery stalk (reserve celery leaves, if any)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill weed
3 fresh thyme sprigs

Saute the onion and carrots until soft in a deep stock pot. Add the chicken and water then bring to a boil.
Turn heat down to medium-low heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Skim any froth.
Add a teaspoon of salt, black pepper, tomato and celery and cook for 5 minutes.
(The recipe didn’t say to do this, but I’m not a fan of chicken on the bone in a bowl of noodle soup so at this point I removed the chicken to a plate, removed the skin & bones, cut it up and then placed it back into the pot)
Add the egg noodles and lemon juice.
Continue cooking on medium-low for about 5 more minutes.
Add the fresh herbs (including celery leaves, if any).
Cover, remove from heat. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blend.

 

Eritrea

Eritrea is bordered by Sudan to the north and west, the Red Sea to the north and east with Ethiopia and Djibouti to the south.  Eritrea literally means “red”, and gets its name from the Red Sea.  Much of the country is mountainous. It’s narrow Red Sea coastal plain is one of the hottest and driest places in Africa. The cooler central highlands have fertile valleys that support agriculture.The Dahlak Islands, within the Red sea contain untouched sea reefs.

 

Eritrea only has one political party: People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. Isaias Afewerki is the first and the current President of Eritrea. He assumed office on May 24, 1993 after declaration of independence from Ethiopia.  After independence, Eritrea entered into a war over Red Sea islands with Yemen and then a more devastating border war with Ethiopia in 1998, causing an estimated 100,000 casualties. A peace agreement in 2000 established a UN-patrolled buffer zone along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border.

 

Eritrea were subject to a social media hoax earlier this year regarding supposed new marriage laws – “Due to the recent troubles in our country, we are experiencing a serious shortage of men, and an abundance of woman. Men are now legally required to take at least two wives, and any that fail to do so will face strict punishment.”  When the hoax went viral the Government took to twitter to dispel the rumour – “the media frenzy to parrot this ludicrous, fabricated and trite story… on mandatory polygamy is appalling”.

 

Some Eritrean recipes I came across were: Zigini (spicy beef stew) with injera (flatbread),   Gored gored (raw beef dish), Fata (spicy tomato bread salad with yoghurt).  I opted to cook Tsebhi Dorho (spicy chicken) which involved making Berbere (a spice blend) and Tegelese Tesmi (herbed butter).
Rating: 8/10
Serves 4-5 with rice & bread on the side
Prep time: 1 hour + 30 mins marinating time

Cook time: 30 mins for the Tegelese Tesmi & 1 hr 15 mins for the Tesbhi Dorho

 

For the Tesbhi Dorho:
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp Berbere spice – see below
3 tbsp Tegelese Tesmi (herbed butter) – see below
1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp garlic, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
500g chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into serving pieces
Salt & black pepper to taste
Hard boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
For the Berbere spice mix:
1 tsp (level) crushed chillies
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground onion powder
1/4 tsp fenugreek
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground coriander
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch garlic powder (not salt)
2 small cloves ground in pestle
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground allspice

For the Tegelese Tesmi:
100g unsalted butter
50ml water
1 small onion very finely chopped
1 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

For the Tegelese Tesmi:
Put the butter and the water in a frying-pan and heat them until the butter has melted.
Add the other ingredients and simmer the mixture on a low fire for 30 minutes, until the mixture stops skimming and the butter is clear.
Do NOT stir the mixture.
Sieve the butter and allow to cool down in a well closed jam jar.

For the Berbere spice blend:
Mix all the spices together and put in a closed jar until you need to use them.

For the Tesbhi Dorho:
Sprinkle chicken with lemon juice and salt and allow to marinate for about thirty minutes.
In a skillet, sauté onions in a small amount of water.
Add Berbere spice and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add Tegelese Tesmi and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, ginger and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add chicken and 1/2 cup water and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and fully cooked.
If you are using eggs, add them and cook for a couple of minutes.
Serve with cooked basmati rice and plain nan.

 

Côte d’Ivoire

The Ivory Coast or Côte d’Ivoire is considered the cultural hub of West Africa.  It has two official capitals. Yamoussoukro is the political and administrative capital, while Abidjan serves as the economic capital of the country. Abidjan is often called the “Paris of West Africa,” and much of its beauty derives from its setting on the rim of a lagoon at the edge of the ocean.
A few interesting facts …
Ivory Coast is one of the largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro is the largest church building in the world with an area covering 323,000 sq ft.
The trade in ivory which gave the country its name had almost died out by the 18th century.
The Ivory Coast national football team is nicknamed “Les Eléphants” (the elephants).
Côte d’Ivoire (which is the country’s preferred name for itself) is an anagram of “erotic video”.
According to Lonely Planet some of the highlights include surfing at Assinie beach, the rainforest of Parc National de Taï and hiking to the summit of Mt Tonkoui for a view of 3 countries.
Some recipes I came across for Côte d’Ivoire – Maafe (meat in peanut sauce), Attiéké (grated cassava) and poulet bicyclette (guinea fowl).  I opted to cook Kedjenou (slow cooked chicken) with rice.  It was very simple and pleasantly tasty.
Rating 7/10
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
Serves 2-3
4 chicken drumsticks & 2 chicken breasts
1 medium onion
1 spring onion
1/2 fresh red or green pepper
1 can of tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon bouillon (1 maggi cube)
1/2 tablespoon ginger paste
1/2 tablespoon garlic puree
1 fresh sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 habenero chilli pepper
Salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 170.

Remove the skin from the drumsticks and trim off excess fat, pat the chicken dry with a kitchen towel and sprinkle with salt.
Slice the onion, spring onion and pepper.
Add all the ingredients to an oven proof casserole dish with lid and stir until everything is mixed together.
Seal the dish with aluminum foil and then cover it with the lid.
Place in the oven and shake the pot once or twice during cooking without removing the lid.
Cook for 1 & half hours.
Let it stand for 5 minutes, then remove the chicken from the bones and serve with rice.

Ghana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burma / Myanmar

Well is it Burma or is it Myanmar?

That’s a tricky question … so we’ll start with the basics.  It is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the 40th-largest in the world.  It has a population of over 55,000 with the majority being Buddhist.  The capital is Yangon.

There has been a hell of a lot going on here so I’ve tried to do my best to summarise (very badly).  There’s a bit more info here than I would usually go into, which is at the request of one of my intellectual readers!

The country has been called “Burma” in English since the 18th century.
General Aung San, who was generally considered the father of independent Burma was assassinated in 1947.
Burma became independent from the UK in 1948.
In 1962, left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of socialism.”
In 1987, Ne Win suddenly cancelled certain currency notes which caused a great down-turn in the economy as it wiped out the savings of the vast majority of people. The main reason for the cancellation of these notes was superstition on Ne Win’s part, as he considered the number nine his lucky number—he only allowed 45 and 90 kyat notes, because these were divisible by nine.
After 25 years of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. These were brutally quashed by the State Law and Order Council (SLORC).
In 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country to Myanmar.  At the same time, they changed the name of Rangoon, the former capital, to Yangon.
Daughter of the assassinated general Aung San and leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which focused world attention on SLORC’s repressive policies.
In Nov 2005, the military junta, in a massive and secretive move, relocated the seat of government from the capital Yangon to a mountain compound called Pyinmanaa in Naypyidaw. The move perplexed many, and the junta was vague in its explanation, saying, “Due to changed circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to develop a modern nation, a more centrally located government seat has become a necessity.”
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon, killing 22,500 people and leaving up to a million homeless. Another 41,000 people were reported missing and feared dead. Most of the death and destruction were caused by a 12-foot high tidal wave that formed during the storm.
Days after elections in Oct 2010, the country’s first elections in 20 years, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed after nearly 20 years under house arrest, she won a seat in parliament and took office in May.  Thousands of supporters gathered outside her home, where she gave a speech calling for a “peaceful revolution”.
The country’s first Parliament in 20 years convened in Jan. 2011 and elected Prime Minister Thein Sein as president. The military junta officially disbanded in March 2011. However, Parliament is civilian largely in name only. The military won about 60% of the seats in October 2010 elections, and another 25% are reserved for members of the military
In his first year as president, Thein Sein initiated stunning changes in political and economic philosophy that saw a loosening of the tight grip the authoritarian junta held on the country. He initiated talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, allowed her and her party, the NLD, to run in upcoming parliamentary elections, freed more than 800 political prisoners and signed a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels.
In Jan. 2012 the U.S. restored full diplomatic relations with Myanmar following a visit from Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State in Dec 2011.
In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), would take part in the election after boycotting the previous one in 2010, which was condemned for irregularities by international organisations.
In Feb 2016 Aung San Suu Kyi won the election in a landslide victory, but she cannot become president due to the constitution, which among other things:
i) prevents leaders having foreign relatives, her two sons are both British citizens; and
ii) demands the president has military experience, of which she has none.
According to Transparency International, Burma ranked 157 out of 177 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions
And on to the cooking.  Through my research I came across Mohinga (rice vermicelli with fish soup), which is the traditional breakfast dish and Burma’s national dish, Sanwinmakin (Semonlina cake) and Laphet Thohk (pickled tea leaf salad).  Also popular are curries of many varieties.  I chose Kyetha hin (chicken curry).
Rating: 9/10
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
390g chicken breast cut into bite size
1/2 med onion, chopped roughly
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 strip of lemon peel, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
Vegetable oil
3/4 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 cups water
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp tamarind paste or use tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Pinch ground cardamom
Blend the onion, garlic, lemon peel and ginger with a little oil to make a smooth paste.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and when hot add the paste, salt, turmeric & chilli powder.
Fry over a med heat for a few minutes stirring regularly and add a few drops of water if it starts to stick to the pan.
Reduce to a low heat and simmer for 10 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and its turned deep brown.
Add the chicken pieces, stirring well to coat with the paste.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. T
hen add the water, potato, tomato puree, fish sauce, tamarind or lemon juice and stir to mix well.
Cover and continue to simmer for another 20 – 25 minutes, until the potato is soft.
Turn the heat off, sprinkle over the coriander & cardamom.
Serve with boiled rice.

 

Suriname

Suriname is the smallest country in South America, bordered by Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil.  It has a population of c.542,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo. In 2002, the historic inner city of Paramaribo was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in Paramaribo is the biggest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo.  It is 59.1m long, 14.6m high, 16.5m wide and reaches 44m high in the tower up to the bronze cross.

Tropical rainforests make up about 80% of Suriname´s total landscape.  One of the top tourist attractions, from April to August, is watching the giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach at Galibi Nature Reserve.
Suriname is a member of the Carribbean Community (CARICOM), officially a Dutch speaking country and is the only territory outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by the majority of the population.
Through the services of ‘Cynthia rent a house’, a 4 star, 1 bed apartment within a luxury resort, 20 min drive from Paramaribo, will cost €500 per month for long term rental.

The current president Desi Bouterse is a controversial figure.  In 2007 he was put on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of 15 political opponents as military ruler in 1982.  The case was put on hold when parliament passed a law giving him & his co-defendents blanket immunity for human rights violations committed during military rule.  In 1999, he was convicted in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment for cocaine trafficking, but he remains free in Suriname.

The cuisine of Suriname is a combination of many international cuisines including East Indian, African, Indonesian, Chinese, Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese and Amerindian.  I came across Pastei (creole-style chicken pot pie), Bami goreng (fried noodles) & Roti (flat bread).  However, within the Surinamese community, in both Surinam and The Netherlands, Pom is the most popular and best known festive dish.  It was introduced by the Portuguese-Jewish plantation owners as the Portuguese potato (“pomme de terre”) oven dish. Because the potato did not grow in Suriname and had to be imported it was replaced with the root of the tayer plant – pomtajer.  I used potato in my ‘Pom’ as I didn’t fancy my chances of finding pomtayer in the supermarket and because Bern is obsessed with potatoes!  I found many variations of the recipe in my research so this is my take on ‘Pom’.
Rating: 8/10

 

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
For 2 people
3 med sized potatoes, peeled and grated (remove most of the excess water with a tea towel)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 tbsp brown sugar 1
/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch turmeric
Salt & ground white pepper
1 tsp chicken stock powder or cube
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp chopped parsley
250g chicken chopped in to bite size pieces
50g butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

 

Melt 30g of butter in a pan and saute the onion on a med-low heat for 5 minutes, then set aside.
Add a little oil to the pan and add the chicken on a med heat. After a few minutes, add a pinch of salt, white pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, tsp chicken stock powder, half the lime juice and cook for a further few mins.
Add the onion back into the pan and stir.
Add the chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, mix well and let it simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the grated potato in a bowl with the rest of the lime juice, orange juice, sugar, parsley, a pinch of nutmeg and turmeric and mix well.
Preheat oven to 180c / 350f.
Butter 2 small oven proof dishes or 1 medium sized dish (enough for 2 large portions).
Spread each dish with a layer of the potato mix, using about half.
Let the chicken & tomato mix cool a little, then put a layer of chicken into each dish on top of the spuds.
Drain any excess liquid from the remaining potatoes and then spread the rest over the chicken.
Dot with the remaining butter and bake for 1 hour, until golden brown.

Georgia

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

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

My knowledge of Guinea before I started this challenge, I could have written on my smallest toenail!  I now know that its on the west coast of Africa and it’s capital is Conakry.   Guinea’s National Park of Upper Niger is inhabited by many species but most notably the Giant Pangolin, a scaly anteater, the meat of which is controversially consumed as a delicacy in China & Vietnam.  I also discovered that there are 30 restaurants in Guinea, according to Trip advisor, 7 of which serve pizza!!  My recipe research presented me with Kansiye (stew), Sauce feuille (spinach stew) and Soupou Gertö (chicken sauce with sweet potatoes), the latter is the recipe I decided to cook.
My rating: 5/10 – mainly because it was a little bit too spicy for me to enjoy it.  It might have been improved if we’d had rice with it.

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This is how I made it:
Ingredients for 2 people
600g chicken pieces (I used thighs & breast, skin on)
1 & 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt, black pepper & chilli powder (according to taste)
1 & 1/2 cups water
2 small cloves of garlic
1 fresh tomato, roughly chopped
1 med onion, roughly chopped
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 chicken stock cube
250g sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
150g butternut squash, peeled & cubed
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1/3 scotch bonnet chilli pepper (optional) – I used a whole green jalapeno pepper as I couldn’t find a scotch bonnet
Vegetable oil
Place the chicken pieces in a bowl with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and chilli powder and let it marinate for 1 hour or more.
Place the spring onions, onions and garlic in a food processor with the tomatoes, crumbled stock cube, 1/2 cup water, salt and pepper and blend.
Heat the oil in a stock pot and cook the chicken pieces until browned on all sides.
Once the chicken is browned, add all the other ingredients to the pot and simmer over a medium heat for 25 minutes or until the squash and sweet potatoes are soft, serve either on its own or with rice.
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