My top 20 recipes

1. Taiwan – Taiwanese minced pork

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2. Chad – Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

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3. Switzerland – Fondue

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4. Mexico – Chicken Enchiladas

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Chicken enchiladas

5. Paraguay – Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)

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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)

6. Italy – Risotto milanese

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Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron)

7. Finland – Kalakeitto (fish stew)

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Kalakeitto (fish stew)

8. Luxembourg – Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)

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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)

9. Spain – Tapas
Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms)
Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo)
Tortilla (Spanish omelette)
Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes)
Padron peppers

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10. Sweden – Köttbulla (Swedish meatballs)

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11. South Korea – Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)

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South Korea – Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)

12. Honduras – Banana bread

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Honduran banana and coconut bread

13. Nicaragua – Tres leches (Three milks cake)

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14. Guyana – Roti (flatbread)

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Guyana – Rotis (flatbreads)

15. Guatemala – Chicharrónes (crispy pork skin)

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Chicharrones

16. China – Char Sui pork (“Fork roast” – Cantonese barbecued pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

17. Comoros – Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken)

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Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken)

18. France – Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms)

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Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms)

19. Micronesia – Kelaguen Chicken (Marinated chicken with coconut, spring onion & chilli)

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20. Solomon Islands – Fish curry with tomatoes

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Fish curry with tomatoes
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A whole brill

On Friday I was lucky enough to pick up a whole brill half price in my local supermarket. I was quite surprised to see it there in the reduced section and as I like to challenge myself, I quickly grabbed it and put it in my trolley.

Several years ago my sister and I spent a wonderful few days taking a cookery class just outside Toulouse, where we learnt about all things duck, how to fillet flat fish, and what makes the perfect lemon tart. Since then I’ve only attempted to fillet a John Dory once or twice, so a large brill was definitely a step further in testing my knife skills.

When I got home I unpacked the brill and set about filleting it. I certainly wouldn’t win any awards for speed but I was pretty chuffed with my effort. My husband never used to eat fish at all and he is still somewhat nervous when he has to ‘face’ a fish head! Fortunately for him, all of the filleting was done by the time he got home.

I made fish stock from the bones and head, froze 2 large fillets and kept the 2 remaining fillets for our dinner – Brill with butter and tarragon. It’s such a simple recipe and I wonder why I don’t cook it more often. I felt ‘proper cheffy’ as I deftly spooned the frothy butter over the fish in the pan. It was a decadent delicious triumph, even if I say so myself.

Serves: 2

Prep time: 20 minutes (if you are filleting the fish yourself, otherwise 5 minutes)
Cook time: 6 – 8 minutes

2 brill fillets
plain flour
50g butter
2 tbsp veg oil
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of chopped fresh tarragon

Put some flour on a large place, add the fish, cover with flour on both sides and shake off the excess.

Reserve 20g of the butter. Heat the oil and remaining butter over a medium high heat in a non stick frying pan large enough to hold both fish side by side. When it sizzles, add the fish skin side down and cook for 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook them on the other side for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the first side with salt while the second side is cooking.

Transfer the fish to a warmed plate. Return the frying pan to the heat, add the remaining butter and when its melted and starts to sizzle, lower the heat and add the lemon juice. Place the fish back into the pan skin side up, sprinkle with the tarragon and rapidly spoon over the melted butter for about 30 seconds (smile while you do this!). Serve immediately, pouring the sauce equally over each fish.

Kosovo

The Republic of Kosovo is a partially recognised state in Southeast Europe, that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. The capital and largest city is Pristina, which has been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years. The Pristina region is home to Gračanica monastery, a Unesco world heritage site since 2006, which was rebuilt by the Serbian king Stefan Milutin in 1321 on the ruins of a 6th-century early Christian three-naved basilica. Pristina also features the Great Hammam, a 15th century Turkish bath and one of the first buildings built under Ottoman rule. Kosovo was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1455 to 1912.

Kosovo is surrounded by mountains including the Sharr and Kopaonik mountain ranges. It also has a large number of karst springs, thermal and mineral water springs. One of Kosovo’s most prominent geological features is the Rugova Canyon of the Accursed Mountains, which is a 25 km long canyon. It was declared a protected monument of natural heritage due to its geological, hydrological, speleological and botanic values and its spectacular landscape.

Kosovo has large reserves of lead, zinc, silver, nickel, cobalt, copper, iron and bauxite. According to a joint survey conducted in 2005 by the Directorate for Mines and Minerals and the World Bank, it is estimated that Kosovo had €13.5 billion worth of minerals. Since the declaration of independence in 2008 Kosovo’s economy has grown each year. The assets of the banking system have increased from 5% of GDP in 2000 to 60% of GDP as of January 2012.

Kosovo became a full member of the International Olympic Committee on 9 December 2014 and they participated in the 2015 European Games in Baku and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Majlinda Kelmendi, a judoka, was the first Kosovan Olympic athlete to win a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Cuisine in Kosovo has been significantly influenced by Turkish cuisine and Albanian cuisine. Popular recipes include Burek (baked filled pastries), flija (crepe layers brushed with cream and served with kaymak), kebab, suxhuk (spicy sausage) stuffed peppers and sarma (meat wrapped with cabbage or vine leaves). I decided to make Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole), thanks to Mimoze, one of my blog followers for the recipe. It was really delicious and warming on a cold winter’s day.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 3
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

2 400g tins cannellini beans
200g rump steak, chopped into small chunks
50g smoked beef or pork, sliced into small pieces (optional)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1/2 tbsp pimenton
2 tbsp vegetable oil
500ml beef stock
1 tsp flour mixed with 2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly
Heat the oil in a casserole dish
Fry the onion and garlic over a low – medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes until soft
Add the pimenton, salt & pepper
Turn the heat up to medium, add the steak and smoked beef or pork (if using), stirring well to coat
Pour in the beef stock followed by the beans and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring ocassionally
Preheat the oven to 180
Carefully stir in the flour mix and then put the casserole dish in the oven and cook for 20 minutes (you can put them in individual pots if you have them)
Serve immediately with some fresh bread

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Ingredients for Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Rugova Canyon, Kosovo
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Gračanica monastery, Kosovo
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Kopaonik mountain range

Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines is a Southeast Asian country in the Western Pacific, comprising more than 7,000 islands and named after King Phillip II of Spain.

A few interesting facts:
The world’s largest pearl was discovered by a Filipino diver in the Palawan Sea in 1934. The gem weighs 14 pounds, is valued at US$40 million and is believed to be 600 years old.
The Philippines is the world’s largest producer of coconuts producing 19,500,000 tons in 2009
The Philippines is one of only 3 countries where skunks are found (Indonesia & US are the other two), they are known as skunk badgers
The city of Manilla is the world’s most densely populated city with 41,515 people per square kilometer
The Philippines is home to the world’s longest snake, the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), which also happens to be the world’s longest reptile. It can grow to 28.5 feet (8.7 m) in length
The Mindanao Trench or Philippine Trench, to the east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, is the third deepest spot under the world’s oceans at a depth of 10,540 metres
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history. It was fought in waters near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon, from 23–26 October 1944

There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in the Philippines, to name a few – the White Beach on Borocay Island (named “Best Island in the World” by travel magazine Travel + Leisure in 2012), El Nido in Palawan (Best Island in 2016), Puerto Galera, Samal Island, Davao City and Panglao Island, Bohol.

Philippine cuisine adopted the preferred Austronesian methods for food preparation; boiling, steaming and roasting and takes influence from by the cuisines of Malay-Indonesia, India, Japan, China, Spain and America. Dishes centre around the combination of sweet (tamis), sour (asim), and salty (alat). Filipino recipes I came across include Afritada (chicken and/or pork and potatoes cooked in tomato sauce), Tinolang Manok (chicken soup), Lechon (roasted whole pig), Torta (omelette), Kaldereta (goat meat stew), Mechado (braised larded beef), Kare-kare (oxtail stew), Sinigang (sour soup) and Bibingka (rice cake). I made Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce), which is one of the most popular Filipino dishes and can also be made with chicken. It was simple to make and full of flavour.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 1 hr 10 minutes

450g pork belly
2 cloves of garlic pounded
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cups water
1/8 cup malt vinegar
1 tbsp cooking oil

Marinate pork belly, soy sauce, bay leaves & garlic for at least 1 hour in a pan or wok.
Turn the heat on the pan to medium and stir well
Add water and simmer for 30-45 minutes
Add vinegar and simmer for 10-15 minutes
Turn off the heat and separate the meat from the marinade
Add the oil to the pan over a medium – high heat
Fry the meat for 5 – 10 minutes
Add the sauce, stir and serve with hot rice

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Ingredients for Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Pork belly pieces
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce) with rice
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Borocay Island
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Manila, Philippines
Aerial of Beach Along St. John Island
Philippines

Sierra Leone

Sierre Leone is located in West Africa and is bordered by Guinea, Liberia and the Atlantic Ocean. The name comes from the words ‘Serra Leão’ meaning ‘Lion Mountain Range’ in Portuguese. About sixteen ethnic groups inhabit Sierra Leone, each with its own language and customs. The two largest and most influential are the Temne and the Mende people. Sierra Leone is considered one of the most religiously tolerant nations in the world. Muslims and Christians interact with each other peacefully and religious violence is very rare.

Sierra Leone’s economy relies on mining, especially diamonds. It is among the top ten diamond producing nations and is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds. Sierra Leone is known for its blood diamonds that were mined and sold to diamond conglomerates during the civil war, to buy the weapons that fuelled its atrocities. Between 1991 and 2001, about 50,000 people were killed in the civil war and hundreds of thousands became refugees in Guinea and Liberia.

The capital, Freetown sits on a coastal peninsula next to the Sierra Leone Harbour, the world’s third largest natural harbour. It has a population of just over 1 million people. The Freetown peninsula is ringed by long stretches of white sand. Lumley Beach, on the western side of the peninsula, is a popular location for local parties and festivals.

Popular staples of Sierra Leone’s cuisine include rice, cassava, peanuts and stews. Commonly eaten meats include goats, chickens and beef. Recipes include Foo-foo (ground plantain or cassava), Fried cassava bread with gravy, Stewed beans, Pumpkin “punky” stew, Pepper soup, Fry stew (onions, hot peppers, tomato paste with meat or fish), Fry fry (street food served on bread) and groundnut cakes (like peanut brittle). I opted to cook the national dish – Groundnut stew (chicken and peanut stew) which we had with rice. It was strong with peanut flavour and served as a comforting dinner.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 – 40 minutes

1 cup peanut butter
85g tomato puree
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 green chilli peppers, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
cayenne pepper to taste

Melt peanut butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in tomato paste, and blend with peanut butter until smooth
Mix in chopped tomatoes, chilli pepper and chicken stock and leave to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
Meanwhile heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and fry the chicken and onions for 5 – 10 minutes until chicken is cooked
Add the chicken, onions, and mushrooms into the peanut butter mixture, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes
Season with cayenne pepper and serve with rice

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Ingredient for Groundnut stew (chicken and peanut stew)
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Groundnut stew (chicken and peanut stew)
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Groundnut stew (chicken and peanut stew)
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Groundnut stew (chicken and peanut stew)
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Groundnut stew (chicken and peanut stew)
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Freetown, Sierra Leone
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Diamond workers, Sierra Leone
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Fishing village in northern Sierra Leone
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Beach, Sierra Leone

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American country known for its beaches, volcanoes and biodiversity. More than 25% of Costa Rican land is protected national parks and refuges. There are over 130 species of fish, 220 of reptiles, 1,000 butterflies (10% of the world’s butterflies), 9,000 plants, 20,000 species of spiders and 34,000 species of insects. Costa Rica has successfully managed to diminish deforestation from some of the worst rates in the world from 1973 to 1989, to almost zero by 2005. It was identified by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) as the greenest country in the world in 2009.

Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American region, with 2.66 million foreign visitors in 2015. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples and coffee exports combined. Elected in 2007 by Costa Ricans through an open contest in a leading newspaper, the 7 natural wonders of Costa Rica are:
1. Cocos Island
2. Arenal Volcano
3. Chirripo Mountain
4. Celeste River
5. Tortuguero Canals
6. Poás Volcano
7. Monteverde Reserve

Costa Rican fare is nutritionally well rounded, and nearly always cooked from scratch from fresh ingredients. Rice and black beans are a staple of most traditional Costa Rican meals. Recipes I came across included Olla de carne or “pot of beef” (beef stew with potatoes and vegetables), Casado (rice, black beans, plantains, salad served with tortilla and meat), Gallo pinto (spotted chicken with rice and beans), Patacones (fried plantains), Arroz con Pollo (chicken and fried rice), Sodas (savoury pastries), Ceviche (raw seafood salad) and Arepas (crepes). I made Sopa Negra (black bean soup) which was simple to make, healthy and flavoursome.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2 as a starter or light lunch
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours (if cooking the beans)

1 can of cooked black beans drained or 100g dried black beans
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup oil
350 ml water
1 hard boiled egg per portion (optional)

If using dried black beans, cook according to packet instructions
Fry the onion and coriander until onion is softened
Add the beans and the remaining ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth
Put it back in the pan and heat for 5 minutes but don’t boil
It is a hearty soup and can be served with a hard boiled egg in it

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Ingredients for Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Tortuguero Canals, Costa Rica
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Costa Rican beach sunset
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Poás Volcano, Costa Rica
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Costa Rican Red-Eye tree frog

Rwanda

Rwanda is a small landlocked country in Central East Africa. It is in the African Great Lakes region and its geography is dominated by mountains in the west and savanna to the east. The highest peaks are found in the Virunga volcano chain in the northwest including Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda’s highest point, at 4,507 metres. Volcanoes National Park is home to an estimated one third of the worldwide mountain gorilla population and it is one of only two countries where mountain gorillas can be visited safely.

A few facts
Rwanda has the world’s highest representation of women in parliament. 64% of Rwanda’s members of parliament are women
In 2007, Rwanda became the first country in the world to legislate an outright ban on plastic bags
Rwanda the most densely populated country in Africa with 445 inhabitants per square km
A dramatic improvement in healthcare delivery and health outcomes has seen life expectancy in Rwanda rise by 10 years in the last decade
Rwanda has two public holidays mourning the 1994 genocide. The national mourning period begins with Kwibuka, the national commemoration, on April 7 and concludes with Liberation Day on July 4

The cuisine of Rwanda is based on local staple foods produced by subsistence agriculture such as bananas, plantains, pulses, sweet potatoes, beans, and cassava. Recipes I came across during my research Rwandan Fruit Salad, Umutsima (a dish of cassava and corn), Isombe (cassava leaves with aubergine and spinach), Mizuzu (fried plantains), Rwandan Beef Stew, Ugali (African Cornmeal Mush) and Pinto Beans and Vegetables. I opted for Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad) which made a very tasty lunch.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 1 as a starter or light lunch
Prep time: 15 minutes

1/2 onion, very thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 baby avocado, sliced
1/2 red chilli, sliced
1/2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Layer the tomatoes, chilli coriander, avocado and sliced onions in a dish
Mix together the lime juice and olive oil then season with salt and black pepper
Pour the dressing over the salad and serve

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Ingredients for Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad)
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Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad)
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Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad)
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Rwandan countryside
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Lake Kivu, Rwanda
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Traditional Rwandan intore dancers

Uganda

Uganda is situated in East Africa and takes its name from the Buganda kingdom, which encompasses a large portion of the south of the country, including the capital Kampala.
Much of the south of the country is heavily influenced by Lake Nalubaale or Lake Victoria, which contains many islands. It is the source of the Nile and is the largest tropical lake in the world.

During his 1907 visit Winston Churchill said of Uganda “For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa”. It gained independence from Britain in 1962 as a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. In 1963, Uganda became a republic but maintained its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Idi Amin ruled Uganda from 1971 until 1979. He carried out mass killings within the country and an estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives during his regime. Amin’s rule was characterised by human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement.

Uganda is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. As of September 2016, the estimated number remaining is about 880 and they are found in Bwindi National Park in Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ugandan cuisine consists of traditional and modern cooking styles, practices, foods and dishes. Main dishes usually consist of a sauce or stew with groundnuts, beans or meat. Recipes I came across included Ugali (maize porridge), Matooke (mashed plantains), Luwombo (meat stew) and Nsenene (pan fried grasshoppers). I made Sim Sim Cookies (sesame seed biscuits) which were very sweet, but tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Makes 10 – 12
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup sesame seeds

Heat together over a low temperature until the sugar liquefies. Keep an eye on it constantly and stir it gently to bring it together
Be careful not to let the mixture cook too long, or the cookies will be too brittle
Pour the hot mixture onto a flat, greased surface. Work quickly to pat or roll the hot mixture into a flat sheet, approximately 1/4 inch thick
Cool until warm to the touch, but not hot and slice into squares
Separate the square cookies and remove them to another surface to continue cooling

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Ingredients for Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Making Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Sim Sim cookies (sesame seed biscuits)
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Mountain Gorilla, Uganda
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Lake Victoria, Uganda

Austria

The Republic of Austria is a highly mountainous country in Central Europe. Only 32% of the country is below 500 metres. The Eastern Alps constitute 62% of the total area. At 3,797 m, Großglockner is the highest mountain in Austria. The majority of the population speak local Bavarian dialects of German as their native language.

We visited the beautiful capital city of Vienna a few years ago to visit my friend Julia. It is a stunning place that has so much to offer the visitor. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Our highlights include the impressive Schönbrunn Palace, Stephansplatz square, Hofburg Palace, Ringstraße, coffee shops and the Vienna food festival. The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as being the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013. It attracts over 3.7 million tourists a year.

Famous Austrians include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adolf Hitler and Sigmund Freud. Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud is best known as the founding father of psychoanalysis, which has heavily influenced modern psychology as well as other domains of science and culture. Salzburg born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started composing at the age of five and performed before European royalty. He composed more than 600 works.

Austrian cuisine is most often associated with Viennese cuisine, but there are significant regional variations. Popular dishes include Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Tafelspitz (boiled veal stew), Käsespätzle (Austrian macaroni cheese), Rindsuppe (beef soup), Marillenknödel (apricot filled dumplings), Linzer Torte (Austrian lattice cake) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel). I opted to make probably the most famous Austrian dish – Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet) which I served with roasted rosemary potatoes and spinach. It was thoroughly delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6 – 8 minutes

2 veal sirloin steaks
1 egg
50g plain flour
50g panko breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper
20g butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Lay out the sirloin remove any skin and beat until thin. Season on both sides with salt and pepper
Place flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs on separate flat plates
Coat each schnitzel firstly on both sides in flour, then draw through the beaten eggs, ensuring they are fully covered
Lastly, coat in the breadcrumbs and carefully press down the crumbs using the reverse side of the fork (this causes the crumb coating to “fluff up” better during cooking)
In a large pan, heat the butter and oil
When the pan is hot place the schnitzel in the pan
Depending on the thickness of the meat, fry for between 2 – 4 minutes until golden brown
Carefully flip over using a spatula (do not pierce the coating) and fry on the other side until similarly golden brown
Remove the crispy schnitzel and place on kitchen paper to dry off
Serve with your choice of potatoes and vegetables or salad

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Ingredients for Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
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Schönbrunn Palace
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Salzburg, Austria
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Hofburg Palace, Vienna
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Austria Alps

Nepal

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia with a population of 26.4 million. The capital, Kathmandu is called the living cultural museum of the world, with 7 World Heritage Cultural sites within a radius of 15 km.

Nepal has 8 out of 10 of the world’s highest mountains, including the world highest – Mount Everest. It was named in honour of Colonel Sir George Everest, a Welsh geographer who was responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from southern India extending north to Nepal, a distance of about 2,400 km. Mount Everest is called Sagarmatha (“Forehead of the sky”) in Nepali and Chomolungma (“Goddess mother of the world”) by the local Sherpas and Tibetans.

Nepal is the only country with altitudinal variation that ranges from 59 meters to 8848 meters. Nepal holds some of the most extreme places on the earth such as the highest lake on the earth (Tilicho 4800 meters), the highest valley on earth (Arun valley), the deepest gorges (1200 meter) in Kaligandaki and the tallest grassland in the world in Chitwan.

Nepal was the last Hindu country in the world when it was declared secular by the parliament in 2006. Although many religions harmoniously co-exist in the country, 81.3 percent of the population in the country follows Hinduism and it still has the highest proportion of Hindus in the world.

Some popular dishes from Nepalese cuisine include Tarkari (vegetable curry), Farsi ko Achar (pumpkin pickle), Bhuteko bhat (fried rice), Alu Tareko (fried potatoes), Thukpa (noodle soup), Khasi Ko Masu (mutton curry), Kwati (bean stew), Gwaramari (Nepalese bread snack), Aaloo ko Achar (spicy potato salad) and Aloo masu chop (spiced beef and potato croquettes). I decided to make one of their main staples – Dal (spiced lentil soup). It was so simple and extremely tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

2 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2″ piece ginger, grated
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chilli powder
225g /1 cup red lentils
750ml/3 cups water
½-1 tsp-salt
2 tbsp coriander, chopped

Heat oil in a deep pan and and cook onion over medium heat for 5-7 minutes without browning too much
Turn heat to low and add garlic, ginger, crushed coriander seeds, turmeric and red chilli powder, stir to combine and cook for 3-5 minutes
Add washed red lentils and stir to coat them with the onion and spice mixture, cook them while stirring for 2-3 minutes. (This step helps the lentils to keep their shape and texture).
Add water, turn heat up and bring it to a boil, add salt, then turn it to a medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes
When the lentils are tender but still mostly hold their shape, stir in fresh chopped coriander and take it off the heat
Serve on their own or with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Annapurna, Nepal
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Durbar square, Kathmandu
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Kathmandu
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Mount Everest

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso, once named ‘Upper Volta’, was renamed “Burkina Faso” on 4 August 1984 by then President Thomas Sankara. The words “Burkina” and “Faso” both stem from different languages spoken in the country. “Burkina” comes from Mossi and means “honest” or “honest people”, while “Faso” comes from the Dyula language and means “fatherland”. The capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou, it literally means “You are welcome here at home with us”.

Gold is Burkina Faso’s main export, followed by cotton and animal products. Together gold and cotton make up 70% of the country’s exports. It is Africa’s largest producer of cotton.
However it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with around 44.5% of its population living below the poverty line and it ranks 183 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2014. The World Food Programme has several projects geared towards increasing food security in Burkina Faso.

According to Lonely Planet, highlights for visitors to Burkina Faso include:
Colourfully painted fortress like houses in Tiebélé
Mud-brick mosques of Bani
Gorom Gorom market
Fespaco – Ouagadougou’s film festival and
Moro-Naba ceremony, a throwback to the Mossi’s golden age.

Burkina Faso’s cuisine is based on staple foods of sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams and okra. The most common sources of animal protein are chicken and fresh water fish. Grilled meat is also common, particularly mutton, goat and beef. Recipes I came across included Tô or Saghbo (a dough-based meal of cooked millet, served with a sauce of vegetables and mutton), Ragout d’Igname (lamb and yam stew), Gombo (okra sauce), Maan Nezim Nzedo (fish stew) and Krakro (sweet potato fritters). I opted for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat), which had a pleasant spicy warmth and good flavour.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

1 habanero or jalapeno chilli pepper
1-2 garlic cloves
1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1⁄4 cup oil
250g beef or chicken, cubed
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cups water
1 maggi seasoning, cube (or chicken bouillon)
1 cup long grain white rice
salt and pepper

Put the chilli, garlic, tomatoes and onion into a food processor and pulse until you get a nice paste
Add the oil to a pan over medium heat and add the paste
Cook for 8 minutes, then remove from the heat and set asid
Use a little bit of water (about 1/2 cup) to rinse out your food processor, then put the water in a separate pot along with the meat
Bring the meat and water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
Add the meat to the pan containing the paste, along with the tomato puree remaining water and Maggi (or stock) cube and stir
Wash the rice under the tap until the water runs clear, then add it to the pot and bring to a boil
Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes
Check it, then cook for another 10 minutes or until the water has been absorbed
Season to taste and serve

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Ingredients for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Sauce for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Gurunsi tribe houses in Tiebélé
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Ouagadougou
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Mud Mosque Bani

Armenia

Armenia is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia in Western Asia. It has a population of approximately 3.2m, but there are more Armenians living abroad than in Armenia, estimated at around 5.6m.

A few interesting facts
Armenians have their own distinctive alphabet and language. The alphabet was invented in AD 405 by Mesrop Mashtots and consists of thirty nine letters
The Armenian capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, constructed 29 years before Rome
It is home to the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car, the Tatev Aerial Tramway, which is 5,752 m (18,871ft) long
Chess is a compulsory subject in schools
It was the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion, converting en masse in AD 301

Armenian cuisine belongs to the family of Caucasian cuisines, and has strong ties with Turkish cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Persian cuisine, and Levantine cuisine. The flavour of the food relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices. Typical dishes of Armenian cuisine include Khash (slow cooked beef or lamb feet), Harissa (porridge made with wheat and meat), Bozbash (mutton or lamb soup), Khorovats (grilled meat), Dzhash (meat and vegetable stew), Eetch (cracked wheat salad) and Yospov Apur (Lentil soup).
Soups are very popular so I decided to make Snkapur (mushroom soup), which was simple and had a good mushroomy taste!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

100g dried mushrooms (porcini, ceps etc)
200g fresh mushrooms, chopped finely
2 small onion, quartered
3 potatoes, peeled & chopped into cubes
2 tbsp oil
800ml water
1 vegetable or chicken knorr stock pot
50g butter, cut into small pieces
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 190c
Roast the onion for 15 – 20 minutes
Soak the dried mushrooms in a little warm water for 10 minutes
Meanwhile heat the oil in a pan and fry the potatoes over a low heat for 15 minutes
Put the soaked mushrooms in a saucepan with the soaking liquid, remaining water, stock pot and bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes
Using a slotted spoon lift the out dried mushrooms and finely chop them
Add them back in the saucepan with the fresh mushrooms and season to taste
Chop the roasted onion and add to the pan with the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes
Add the butter, stir in and season again to taste
Remove from the heat and serve in hot bowls

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Ingredients for Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Family enjoying Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Ruins of Zvartnots Temple, Armenia
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Khor Virap monastery, Ararat, Armenia
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Yerevan, Armenia

Laos

Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the only landlocked country in South East Asia. I visited Laos in 2002 and found it to be a beautifully scenic, peaceful and relaxed country. However it’s had its fair share of trouble. Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world and it ranks 29th hungriest nation out of the list of the 52 nations with the worst hunger situations in the world. Along with China, Cuba and Vietnam, it is one of the world’s four (or five – South Korea is disputed) remaining socialist states that openly espouse Communism. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide, human rights and religious freedom violations against the Hmong ethnic minority within its own borders.

Laos has been named the world’s most bombed country. Over two billion tons of bombs (i.e. more than all of the bombs dropped on Europe during WWII) were dropped in Laos by the USA during the Vietnam War. The highest point in Laos, the Phou Bia, is unfortunately not open to tourists because it is filled with un-exploded ammunition.

The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.87 million in 2010. The official tourism slogan is “Simply Beautiful”. The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang, gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane, backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng, ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region. My highlights include the trip down the Mekong, white water rafting in Vang Vieng and the chilled out vibe in Luang Prabang.

Grin khao “Eat Rice”, the staple food of Lao people is steamed sticky rice, which is eaten by hand. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Popular dishes include Som Tam (green papaya salad), Kaeng jeut (vegetable and pork soup), Mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaf), Khao phat (Lao fried rice), Kai Aw (Lao chicken stew) and Khanom maw kaeng (coconut custard cake). I decided to make a famous Lao dish – Larb (marinated meat salad). It was simple, fresh and completely delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1/8 cup uncooked long grain white rice
450g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced galangal
1 small red chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/2 tbsp shrimp paste
1/2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup lime juice

Preheat an oven to 175c
Spread the rice onto a baking sheet
Bake the rice in the preheated oven until golden, about 15 minutes
Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, grind into a fine powder with a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
Meanwhile, grind the chicken thigh meat in a food processor until finely ground and set aside (or get the butcher to do this for you as I did!)
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat
Fry the shallots over a medium heat for 3 minutes until golden, then set aside
Stir in the garlic, galangal, chilli peppers, spring onions and cook until the garlic softens, about 2 minutes
Add the ground chicken meat and cook, stirring constantly to break up lumps, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes
Season with fish sauce, shrimp paste, and sugar
Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes
Stir in the ground rice, mint, basil, and lime juice
Just before serving, stir in the fried shallots
Serve with lettuce leaves

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Laos Monks
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Mekong River, Laos
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Luang Prabang, Laos
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Patuxai Victory Monument, Vientiane, Laos

Paraguay

Paraguay is a landlocked country between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. Due to it’s central location, it is sometimes referred to as Corazón de Sudamérica, “Heart of South America”.

Some interesting facts:
In Paraguay, pistol duelling is still legal as long as both parties are registered blood donors
Paraguay is the only country in the world whose national flag has different emblems on each side. The country’s Coat of Arms is on the front and its Treasury Seal is on the back with its motto, ‘Paz y Justica’ (Peace and Justice)
Following the Paraguayan War (1864–1870), the country lost 60-70% of its population through war and disease, and about 140,000 square kilometers (a quarter of its territory), to Argentina and Brazil, including the popular tourist site – Iguazu Falls
Paraguay is home to the world’s largest rodent called the Capybara, which is basically a giant guinea pig

Staple foods in Paraguay are meat, corn, manioc, milk, cheese and fish. Common recipes include Chipa (Paraguayan cheese bread) which are found everywhere, Tapa de cuadril (Rump steak), Mbeju (starch cake), Guiso popó (stew made with chicken, rice, sweet peppers and garlic), Pira caldo (fish broth), Bori Bori (thick soup with dumplings, cheese, cornmeal and sometimes chicken) and Crema (custard dessert). I made Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread), which was delicious when we first had it and even better for second helpings a day later!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: Makes 6 large slices
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

350 ml cottage cheese
1 cup of mature cheddar or a combination of your favorite kinds of cheese
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
1/8 cup of oil
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup white maiz flour (I used ‘Pan’ brand)

Preheat the oven to 190C
Combine all the ingredients and pour into a well greased round pan
Bake for 40-45 minutes
Serve warm or room temperature

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Ingredients for Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Making Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)
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Rio Paraguay
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Capybara

China

China, the most populated country on the planet, with over 1.3 billion people is the world’s second largest country by land area. Despite its size, all of China is in one time zone. China had the largest economy in the world for much of the last 500 years but as of 2014, it is the world’s second largest economy by nominal GDP, after the US. It is the world’s largest exporter of goods.

A few random facts:
The PlayStation is illegal in China
Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times have been blocked in China since 2009, despite this there are still 95 million Facebook users in China
In China, you can major in Bra Studies
China has treatment camps for Internet addicts
China used more cement in 3 years (2011 to 2013) than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century
China is the world’s largest consumer of red wine
The first toilet paper reportedly was used by a Chinese emperor in 1391

China has the second highest volume of UNESCO world heritage sites in the world with 50 sites, behind Italy’s 51. With around 57 million international tourists each year, China is the fourth most visited country in the world after France, The US and Spain. The most popular tourist site is The Great Wall of China, with over 10 million visitors each year. It is the longest wall in the world and was continuously built from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD. Although the official length of the Great Wall is 8851.8 km, the length of all the Great Wall built over thousands of years is estimated at 21,196.18 km. The Northern West sections of the Great Wall are deteriorating so quickly due to demolishment by nature and human, it is believed that these sections may disappear within 20 years.

The history of Chinese cuisine stretches back for thousands of years. Each dynasty created new recipes and regional cuisine took off with the most influential being Cantonese, Shandong, Jiangsu (specifically Huaiyang cuisine) and Sichuan. Popular dishes include Tea eggs (egg boiled in tea), Suan La Tang (sour hot soup), Zhajiangmian (noodles with bean paste), Peking duck (roast crispy duck), Kung pao chicken (stir fry chicken with vegetables, chilli and peanuts), Dim Sum (bite size food steamed), Cha siu bao (steamed bun filled with pork), Har gow (shrimp dumplings), Phoenix claws (chicken feet) and Chao Fan (fried rice). I opted to make Char Sui pork (“Fork roast” – Cantonese barbecued pork) which you can use in Cha siu bao, Noodle soup, Chao Fan or indeed just gobble it up as it comes! The recipe is very simple and although marinating time is lengthy, it was totally worth the wait – utterly scrumptious!

Rating: 10/10

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

400g pork fillet
2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
2 tbsp ginger, freshly grated
50ml light soy sauce
50ml rice wine (shaoxing)
1/2 tsp chinese five spice powder
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground Black pepper
30ml honey

Cut slashes into the sides of the pork fillet and place in a sealable bag
Add all the other ingredients, only using half the honey and marinate the pork at least overnight, 48 hours is even better
Preheat the oven to 180C
Line a baking tray with foil or baking/parchment paper and place a rack on top
Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade
Place the pork on the rack and tuck the thin end of the the tenderloin underneath so the whole piece is roughly the same thickness
Brush the pork with the remaining honey
Roast for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature is 145 – 160F/ 65 – 70C
Around halfway through roasting, baste generously with the reserved marinade (dab it on so you get as much marinade on the pork as possible – this is key for getting the glossy glaze)
When the pork is cooked, switch the oven to grill.
Baste the pork very generously with the remaining marinade (again, dab rather than brush it on)
Grill the pork until it is nicely charred and caramelised – around 2 to 3 minutes, basting at least twice during grilling
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing

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Ingredients for Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Marinade for Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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The Great Wall of China

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Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

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Li River, Guilin, China

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Sichuan Giant Panda sanctuary

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Shanghai, China

Turkey

The Republic of Turkey is a transcontinental nation, straddling eastern Europe and western Asia. It is a country with a long and very diverse cultural heritage. For more than 2000 years Istanbul was capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.

Some interesting facts:
Turkey has 13 sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites including the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, a Mesolithic temple (Göbekli Tepe), a Biblical city (Ephesus) and a WWI battlefield (Gallipoli)
Turkey hosts two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
Turkey is the sixth most visited tourist destination in the world with 37.8 million foreign visitors in 2013
97% of Turkey is in Asia
The Marmaray metro line, under the Bosphorus strait, opened in 2013 and enables you to travel between Europe and Asia underground
The tongue-twisting, 70-letter Muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine, or “as if you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones,” is thought to be the longest word in Turkish
Homer, Aesop and St. Paul the Apostle were all born in Turkey
The earliest coins recorded were made during the reign of King Gyges of Lydia, Turkey, c. 630 BC and consisted of electrum, a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver

Turkish cuisine is regarded as one of the most prominent in the world and the cuisine varies widely across the country. Although meat based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in foreign countries, native Turkish meals largely center around rice, vegetables, and bread. Popular dishes include Lahmacun (Turkish pizza), Adana kebabi (Spiced lamb kebab), Simit (circular bread with sesame seeds), Akçaabat meatballs, Analı kızlı soup (meatball soup with bulgar & chickpeas), Toyga (yoghurt soup with herbs), Hünkar Beğendi (‘Sultan’s Delight’ – lamb with mashed aubergine), Kuzu kapama (spring lamb stewed) and Baklava (filo pastry filled with honey & nuts). I decided to make a type of Turkish kebab – Tavuk Sis Kebap (Chicken Shish Kebab), which were delicious with a lovely spicy tang.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 minutes + marinating time 2 – 24 hours
Cook time: 8 minutes

2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp red pepper, powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
1 tsp pomegranate paste
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the yoghurt with the spices, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bag
Cut the chicken into small cubes and add to the bag
Mix your chicken thoroughly making sure it is well covered
Marinade in the fridge over night or for at least 2 hours
Put your chicken cubes on to skewers
Preheat the barbecue or grill
Grill the chicken for about 7-8 minutes, making sure to turn the skewers so that all sides are cooked equally
Every time you turn the chicken, brush with marinade
Serve with pitta bread, tomato, red onion and lettuce

Slovenia

Slovenia is a mountainous nation state in Central Europe. It is marked with significant biological diversity and is one of the most water-rich countries in Europe. Over half of the territory is covered by forest. Slovenia’s Karst Plateau is a limestone region of underground rivers, gorges, and caves, between Ljubljana and the Mediterranean. The best known caves are Postojna Cave and the UNESCO listed Škocjan Caves.

There are 24,000 animal species, among them marmots, Alpine ibex, chamois, deer, roe deer, boar, and hares. It is believed that Slovenia has one of the largest brown bear populations in Europe with around 400 bears. Among the 13 domestic animals native to Slovenia are the Karst Shepherd mountain dog, the Carniolan honeybee, and the Lipizzan horse, which is associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria.

Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, is home to the oldest vine in the world. The grapevine of Žametovka is about 440 years old and still produce 25 litres of wine every year, however the wine is not available for public sale and has been described by the The Daily Telegraph as “virtually undrinkable”.

Ljubljana City Museum is home to the oldest wheel in the world. The Ljubljana Marshes Wheel is approximately 5,150 years old, has a radius of 70cm and is made of ash and oak.

Slovenian cuisine is a mixture of the Central European cuisine (especially Austrian and Hungarian), Mediterranean cuisine and Balkan cuisine. Recipes I came across include Jota (meat and vegetable hot pot), Ričet (Slovenian Barley soup), Idrija Žlikrofi (dumplings), Čompe s skuto (potatoes with cottage cheese), Prekmurska gibanica (layered cake), Potica (nut bread), baked mushroom with cheese and Kranjske Klobasa (sausages). I opted to make Belokranjska pogača (salted cake), which although quite doughy it was really tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 28 small squares
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

500g flour
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oil
7g (1 pack) of dried yeast
Approx 300ml warm water
1 egg

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
Mix all the ingredients and form a dough
Leave to rise for 30 minutes
Spread the dough evenly onto a baking tray, slice it into squares and glaze it with the beaten egg
Sprinkled with sea salt and bake for approximately 40 minutes
Let it cool on a rack before cutting

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Ingredients for Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Lake Bled, Slovenia
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Slovenian mountains
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Ljubljana City, Slovenia
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)

Cambodia

Cambodia, officially known as the kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is 69,898 sq mi in area, and has a population of over 15 million. Bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, it has a 275 mile coastline along the gulf of Thailand. Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital and is home to the art deco central market, and situated on the riverfront are the glittering Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum.

Probably the most well known site in Cambodia is Angkor Wat situated in Siem Reap Province. The complex of temples make up the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 162.6 hectares. Originally constructed as a Hindu Temple, it was gradually transformed to a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. As with most other ancient temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat has faced extensive damage and deterioration by a combination of plant overgrowth, fungi, ground movements, war damage and theft.

The Vietnam war extended into the country with the US bombing of Cambodia from 1969-1973. Following the Cambodian coup of 1970, the deposed king gave his support to his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge emerged as a major power, taking Phnom Penh in 1975 and later carrying out the Cambodian Genocide from 1975 until 1979. Led by Pol Pot, they changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. The new regime modelled itself on Maoist China during the Great Leap Forward, immediately evacuated the cities, and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately one to three million; the most commonly cited figure is two million (about a quarter of the population).

Industry in Cambodia was badly disrupted by the war. Agriculture is the traditional mainstay of the Cambodian economy, however since the late 1990s, tourism is fast becoming Cambodia’s second largest industry. In 2015, there were just under 4.8 million tourists visits. The key attractions are Angkor, Tonlé Sap, Sihanoukville, Silver Pagoda and Siem Reap.

Recipes I came across during my research included Pleah (hot and sour beef salad), Amok Trey (fish curry), Bai Sach Chrouk (BBQ pork and rice), Kuy Teav (noodle soup), Chhnang Plerng (hot pot), Samlor Kako (soup made with spice paste, fish paste, meat, fish and vegetables) and Bai chha (fried rice). I decided to make Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef) served in lettuce leaves with rice. It was really enjoyable.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 1 hour marinating
Cook time: 20 minutes

300g sirloin steak, sliced (or you can use chicken if you prefer)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper
2/3 tsp chilli sauce (optional, preferably vietnamese or chinese chili sauce)
2 tsp oil + extra for cooking
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
A few lettuce leaves
Cooked rice
For the pepper sauce:
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed back pepper
1 tsp crushed garlic
juice of a lime

Mix sugar, salt, pepper, oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup and garlic in a sealable bag, add meat and coat thoroughly
Marinate in the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes
Mix salt, sugar, pepper and garlic in a bowl
Cook the rice
Add oil to a wok, fry the onion until brown and add steak and stir fry 5 minutes, until done (don’t over do it)
Mix in chili sauce as desired
Prepare a serving plate with a bed of lettuce and rice
Just before serving, squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime into the pepper sauce and stir lightly
Serve the steak over the rice and lettuce with pepper sauce on the side

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Ingredients for Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh
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Kompong Phluk Kompong, Tonle Sap, Cambodia
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Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Djibouti

Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, is a country of dry shrublands, volcanic formations and Gulf of Aden beaches. It is a small country, occupying a total area of just 8,958 sq m. Djibouti is strategically located near some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, serving as a key refueling and transshipment centre. It is home to one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, the low-lying Lake Assal, in the Danakil Desert. The Djibouti firm Salt Investment (SIS) began a large-scale operation to industrialise the lake, with an annual capacity of 4 million tons, the desalination project has lifted export revenues, created more job opportunities, and provided more fresh water for the area’s residents.

76% of the population live in the capital, Djibouti City, which is also the principal tourist destination for visitors. Places to explore in the city include Place Ménélik in the European Quarter, Place Mahmoud Harbi (Place Rimbaud) in the African Quarter, L’Escale marina, Église Éthiopienne Orthodoxe Tewahido St Gabriel du Soleil and Les Caisses Market.

Despite it’s small size, there are plenty more highlights for the visitor. From the ancient Juniper forests in the Day Forest National Park to snorkelling alongside whale sharks in the Gulf of Tadjoura, feeling the eerie atmosphere at Obock’s Ras Bir Lighthouse and the calmness of Moucha coral Island. It is a melting pot of weird landscapes.

Djiboutian cuisine consists of a mixture of Somali, Afar, Yemeni, and French cuisine, with some additional South Asian influences. Popular dishes include Sambusa (Samosas), Fah-Fah (Soupe Djiboutienne), Yetakelt W’et (Spiced Vegetable Stew), Lahoh (pancake like bread), Garoobey (porridge), Xalwo (halva confection) and Banana fritters. I made Djibouti’s national dish – Skoudehkaris (spiced lamb stew) which was very simple and full of interesting flavours.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

300g lamb, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin
4 cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 /214 oz can diced tomatoes
1 /2 cup water, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup long-grain rice
salt & pepper

Add the vegetable oil, onions, cumin, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and cinnamon to a medium pan with lid and cook until soft and fragrant
Add the lamb and brown it a little
Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup of water, salt & pepper
Cover and simmer for 45 minutes
Add the rice to pan and 1/4 cup of water
Cover and simmer for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked

Syria

This challenge is about learning about different cuisines and expanding my cooking skills, however it’s difficult to ignore the pain and suffering that the people of Syria are experiencing. According to Mercy Corps, the Syrian civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four and a half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. Prior to the outbreak of the war in 2011, according to the U.S. government’s estimates, Syria’s population was 18 million. The UN estimates about 11 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including about 4.8 million refugees who have been forced to seek safety in neighbouring countries. During 2016, the U.N. predicts $7.7 billion is required to provide emergency support and stabilisation to families throughout the region.

Since approximately 10,000 BC, Syria was one of the centers of Neolithic culture (known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilisation in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth, perhaps preceded by only those of Mesopotamia. The earliest recorded indigenous civilisation in the region was the Kingdom of Ebla, near present-day Idlib, northern Syria, founded around 3500 BC.

Syria has 6 UNESCO world heritage sites:
Ancient City of Aleppo (1986)
Ancient City of Bosra (1980)
Ancient City of Damascus (1979)
Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (2011)
Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (2006)
Site of Palmyra (1980)

They also hold a number of Guinness world records:
Longest marathon TV talk show by one team – 70 hr 5 min in Damascus (2014)
The largest copper bas-relief measures 122.5 m² (1,318.5 m²) in Qurdaha, Lattakia, Syria (2009)
The oldest surviving Christian church in the world is a converted house in Qal’at es Salihiye in eastern Syria, dating from AD232. In the 1930s, Yale archaeologists dismantled it and rebuilt it back in the United States.

Syrian recipes I came across include Yakhanit batata (potato and lamb stew), Sharhat Mtafay (Lemon garlic steak), Kufta kabab (lamb kebab), Dawood basha (Syrian meatballs), Kibbeh bil sanieh (kibbeh pie), Mujaddara (lentil pilaf), Fatti dajaj (chicken fatti – bread, rice and chicken in yoghurt and nut sauce), Muhammara (red pepper dip) and Makdous (Pickled stuffed eggplant in olive oil). I opted to cook Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven), which was a little oily but tasty nonetheless.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes

4 chicken pieces on the bone
3-4 medium potatoes
1/2 head garlic, peeled and mashed with a little salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp pimenton
1/2 tsp dried coriander leaf
Salt & pepper

Rub the chicken pieces with the mashed garlic all over (reserve 1/2 tsp for the potatoes) and place in a casserole dish
Season the chicken with pimenton, salt & pepper
Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthways then cut each half into half cm slices and place on top of the chicken pieces
Season the potatoes with the remaining garlic, salt, pepper and dried coriander
Drizzle over the olive oil
Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, uncover and roast for a further 5 – 10 minutes to brown

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Ingredients for Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Mashing the garlic
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Crac-des-chevaliers, Syria
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Site of Palmyra, Syria
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Bosra amphitheatre, Syria
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Ancient city of Aleppo
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Aleppo, Nov 2014