Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Haiti

The first time of sharing (inflicting one could say) my cooking challenge with anyone other than my generally thankful husband!! … Mum and Dad joined us this evening.
Haiti makes up one third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic making up the other two-thirds.
Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Amerindians called Taíno, “the good people.” The Taíno named their land “Ayiti,” meaning “Land of Mountains”—a term that evolved into “Haiti”
In the jungles of Haiti, one can find certain species that do not live naturally on any other part of the globe; some bat species native to Haiti include the Greater Bulldog bat, the Sooty Mustached bat and Waterhouse’s leaf-nosed bat.
There are some quite harsh facts associated with this Caribbean country:
– It has been ranked as one of the five most corrupt countries
– Because of both violence and AIDS, it has the highest percentage of orphans of any country in the Western Hemisphere. Before the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations estimated there were 430,000 orphans
– From 1804-1915, more than 70 dictators ruled Haiti
– It is estimated between 200,000 – 300,000 Haitians died and 1.5 million were left homeless in the devastating earthquake in January 2010.
– c.1% of Haiti’s population owns more than 50% of the nation’s wealth.

These were some of the recipes I found in my research; Diri kole ak pwa (rice and beans), Kribich nan sòs (Haitian Shrimp), Legim (thick vegetable stew), but as I knew I was entertaining, I chose the more popular Griyo or Griot (fried pork).  I found several recipes, all varied quite significantly in both method & ingredients.  This is how I made it:

Rating 7/10

Ingredients for 4 people
6 pork shoulder steaks, cut into 1” square chunks
1 large onion, sliced thinly
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 jalapeno chilli pepper, seeds removed and sliced thinly
1.5 tsp of thyme leaves
Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 orange
3 garlic cloves
500ml water
2 tbsp olive oil

Put the pork with all of the ingredients except the water and oil in a bowl, mix well, cover and refreigerate overnight
Take the pork out of the fridge an hour before you want to start cooking
Drain any liquid and reserve it.  Place the pork, onions & water in an oven proof covered dish
Preheat the oven to 190
Cook the pork for 1.5 hours.
Using a large colander, drain the liquid into a medium saucepan, reserving the pork & onion in the colander.
Put the oil in the same oven dish and place into the oven for 5 mins
Place the pork into the hot oil and cook for 25 mins
Meanwhile heat the remaining liquid in the saucepan with ½ cup of orange juice and reduce by half to make the sauce
When the pork is cooked, remove from the oven and pour the reduced sauce over the pork and serve with cooked boiled rice.

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Iraq

It’s impossible to avoid thoughts of war and destruction when one thinks of Iraq. However it isn’t all doom & gloom …
The region known as Mesopotamia, is most often referred to as humanity’s cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws, and live in cities under an organised government.
One of Iraq’s distinctive plants is licorice, which has been used for thousands of years for its health benefits. Warriors in ancient armies found that chewing it kept them from getting thirsty. For 5,000 years Iraqis have been keeping bees. Honey is an important source of food and income for many Iraq families.  The famous children’s story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was written in Iraq about 1,000 years ago.
After a fair bit of research I found the following recipes: Kubbat Mousel (layers of burghul with a thin layer of minced meat), Fasangoon (chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce), Samak Masgouf (seasoned grilled fish) and Kleicha (filled pastry).  From an Iraqi cookbook, I decided to cook Timman Jazar (rice with carrots).  I served it with red wild rice.
My rating: 7/10 – it had a nice flavour and the rice added a good texture to the dish.  Bern wasn’t so keen,  apparently the cinnamon ‘got up his nose’ :-p
For 2 people with a bit leftover
250g minced meat
2 large carrots
1 large onion
1 tbsp garam masala
½ tsp cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
Vegetable oil for cooking
200g red wild rice
Rinse the rice in cold water
Chop the onions and carrots into small cubes
Cook the minced meat with the garam masala, until slightly brown
Add the chopped onion, season with salt and black pepper; continue cooking for 5-10 minutes over a medium heat
Add the chopped carrots and cinnamon and cook for about 15 minutes, adding a little water
Meanwhile, cook the rice (I did this in the microwave for 15 mins and then let stand for 15 mins)
Add the cooked rice to the meat & veg mixture and serve

Kyrgyzstan

My first venture in to the ‘Stans’ and sadly found out that it is the second-poorest country in Asia.  The name Kyrgyz is said to derive from the Kyrgyz word for forty and it is a possibility that the people of Kyrgyzstan came from forty families or clans.  It has one of the world’s largest natural walnut forests.  Alcohol is very cheap, a bottle of vodka is priced at around 180 som (3.5 EUR) and beer costs 60 som (1.2 EUR).  A search in Expedia for a flight from London to Bishkek, the capital city, starts around £370 return if you stop at Istanbul on the way.  There are 36 hotels in Bishkek according to Trip advisor, Futuro Hotel being the highest ranked.  They eat a lot of horse meat and mutton, but not many vegetables.  Recipes include Beshbarmak (Boiled meat mixed with noodles & spicy onion sauce, eaten with the hands), Manty dumplings & Lepyoshka (flatbread).  To accompany our Panamanian breakfast doughnuts, I opted to cook Borsok (fried bread).
Rating: 9/10 – we thought these little breads were awesome and could be enjoyed equally with savoury dips or with honey, jam or chocolate spread.
2 cups of flour
½ tbsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp dried yeast
¼ cup milk
¼ cup warm water
1 egg
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and stir in the milk. Combine the two mixtures, stir them together, and stir in warm water slowly until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.
Cover the mixture and place it in a warm part of the house.
After two hours, roll the dough until it is about ¼ inch thick. Cut the dough into 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles.
Pour ¼ cup oil into a saucepan and heat on medium high. Additional oil may be needed depending on the size of the saucepan. Make sure the oil completely covers the surface of the pan.
Once the oil is heated, fry the borsok in the pan. Depending on the size of the pan, you can fry 4-8 borsok at the same time-but be sure that they do not overlap.
Fry the borsok until it puffs up and is golden brown on the bottom.
Flip the borsok over to fry the other side until it is also golden brown.
Add additional oil as needed to keep a thin coat of oil on the surface of the pan.
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Panama

Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic.  It has 5,637 kilometers of coastline and more than 1,518 islands so it boasts plenty of beaches.
The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.  It is 44 miles long and there are 3 sets of locks of 33.5 metres (110 ft) width.  It generates one-third of Panama’s entire economy and serves passage to almost 14,000 ocean-going vessels per year.  The Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador.
The Panamanian recipes I came across were Sancocho (local stew), Tamales (corn dough rolls) & Corvina (local sea bass).  There were also a fair few different breakfast recipes, namely Arepas (corn flatbread topped with egg), Bistek Picado (chopped beef) & Salchichas (sausages).  As it was the weekend and the kids were with us, I decided to cook these easy Hojaldras (doughnuts).
Rating: 8/10
2 cups of flour
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of white sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of oil
½ cup of water
Oil for frying
Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Mound the ingredients and make an indentation in the middle.
Add the oil and one tablespoon of the water.
While kneading, add the water a tablespoon at a time, until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.
Form dough into a ball, cover bowl with a cloth, and let it rest for two hours.  (After the two hours, you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough until the following day, if desired.)
When ready to fry, heat a few inches of oil in a pot over medium heat.
Form the dough into small balls (a little goes a long way), and use your hands to stretch them thin and flat, like pizza dough.
Carefully add the stretched dough balls, one or two at a time, and fry until golden on one side, then flip and fry the other side.  (It helps to place a screen over the pot to prevent oil spatters.)
Remove dough, and allow to cool slightly.
Enjoy your hojaldras plain, or with powdered sugar, cinnamon, or even bacon
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Bhutan

A tiny Himalayan kingdom that is best known for things like being great at archery and having no stoplights.  Bhutan is the only country that measures GNH (Global National Happiness) alongside GDP.  There are only 4 airplanes in the entire country, and they all belong to the national airline, Druk Air. There are no private planes for the royals or elected officials.  One more interesting thing to note about Bhutan: there are a lot of penises painted on buildings!  The penis is a symbol of good luck and hospitality, and some people think it wards off evil spirits.
I found it quite tricky hunting down authentic Bhutanese recipes as I kept coming across Nepalese & Chinese influenced dishes.  Ema Datshi is the national dish and is a chilli & cheese stew.  I opted to cook Momos (dumplings).
Ingredients
For the dough:
3/4 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
125g minced chicken breast
1 tbsp chopped onion
1 small chopped garlic clove
1 small piece of chopped ginger
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaf
salt & pepper
For tomato sauce:
100g tomato passata
1 small chopped garlic clove
1 small piece of chopped ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
For the dough, mix the flour and salt, then add oil and water and knead until it forms a ball
Cover and set aside for 30 minutes
Mix together all the filling ingredients in a small bowl
For the sauce, fry the garlic and ginger in oil over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Then add the tomato passata, salt, pepper & sugar and cook over low heat for 10 minutes
Use a pasta machine to roll out the dough thinly (up to setting 5 or 6) and then cut into 4-inch circles.
Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle and fold the circle in half, then pinch the edges to seal
Steam momos for 15-20 minutes in a bamboo steamer
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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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Cyprus

I have 2 distinct food memories from my first trip to Cyprus.  The first was of Crêpe Suzette – not a Cypriot dish obviously, but it seemed to be the chosen dessert in the restaurants of Ayia Napa in 1990!  I’ve loved it ever since.  The second was a little more authentic, a simple barbecued chicken in a restaurant with no menu, in the heart of the Troodos mountains – it had such an amazing flavour.

I found a number of recipes, namely Tavas (lamb stew), Kaloirka (tortellini) and Loukoumades (doughnuts). I came across a fair few Turkish and Greek originated dishes but I wanted to select something authentically Cypriot, so I decided on Afelia (pork with red wine and spices).  I served it with red peppers stuffed with cherry tomatoes & fried potatoes.  I used pork fillet, but I’d like to try pork shoulder next time.
My rating 8/10
This is the really easy recipe I followed:
Ingredients
500g pork
200ml red wine
1 tbs coriander, crushed
2 tbsps olive oil
salt, pepper
roughly chopped parsley to garnish
Method
Cut the meat into small pieces and marinate in the red wine and coriander overnight.
Drain and reserve the marinade.
Heat the oil and fry the meat in batches on a medium heat until slightly brown.
Add salt, pepper and the remaining marinade
Add some water, enough to reach the top of the meat.
Cover the pan and simmer until the meat is tender (approx 30-40 mins)
Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley

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Singapore

Day one of my challenge, I’m starting simple with Singapore.  I have a little bit of an inkling as I’ve actually been there 🙂
Friends suggested a few ideas – Chilli crab, Laksa and some others I came across – Hokkien Mee (noodle soup) , Murtabak (stuffed pancake).  In my endeavours to start my project off on a positive note I opted for the relatively straight forward Hainanese Chicken.
There were a fair few recipes on the web with varying levels of difficulty and duration but I opted for the one below.
I found it simple to follow and the end result was enjoyable.  It was fresh tasting and healthy.  I might be tempted to add some coriander leaves and a few fresh chilli strands to give it an even fresher zing!
My rating – 7/10.
This is the recipe I followed:
Ingredients
1.6 kg chicken
2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
6 slices root ginger, plus 2 tbsp grated root ginger
4–5 garlic cloves
400 g long-grain white rice
salt
4 spring onions thinly sliced
chilli sauce to serve
Method
Place the chicken in a large saucepan so that it fits snugly.
Cover with water, then add the rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced ginger and one of the garlic cloves, lightly bruised.
Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to stand for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, strain and reserve the stock. When the chicken is cool enough to handle pull the meat away from the bones. Discard the bones and most of the skin (reserve some for later).
Cut the chicken meat into small pieces.
Heat a large heavy-based saucepan over medium–high heat. Fry the reserved chicken skin until the oil is released. Chop the remaining garlic cloves and add to the pan with the grated root ginger. Cook for 1–2 minutes, or until just fragrant, taking care not to burn the garlic. Remove the chicken skin from the pan, then add the rice and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring, until all the flavours are well combined.
Add 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) of the reserved stock. Season with the salt, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is cooked and the stock has been absorbed.
Remove from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.
Heat the remaining stock to use as a broth.
Check the seasoning, adding more soy sauce if needed.
To serve, spoon the rice into bowls, add a ladle of hot stock and some pieces of the cooked chicken. Sprinkle with the spring onions and serve with chilli sauce.

How to start?

It’s really difficult to know where to start or how to approach this challenge, so I am going to have a bit of a practice run. For 2 weeks I’m going to see how long it takes to do my research, select the recipes, buy the ingredients, cook the recipe and then write the blog.
After several Google searches, I have a list of 196 countries.  Yesterday I printed out all the countries & put them in a pot, except I seem to only have 195 (likely due to poor scissor use!) … so when I pick my last set of countries from the pot, I’ll find out which is the missing one and save it for the final recipe!
The 9 countries I’ve randomly picked from the pot to feature over the next 2 weeks starting from tomorrow (yikes!) are:-
       Singapore
       Iraq
       Bhutan
       Guinea
       Central African Republic
       Kyrgyzstan
       Haiti
       Cyprus
       Panama

The challenge

Inspired by a TED talk I recently listened to by Ann Morgan, I’ve decided to set myself a challenge.  Two of my greatest passions are food & travel, so I am going to cook a recipe from every country in the world over the course of a year.  Not quite Julie & Julia (one of my favourite films), but an exciting foodie adventure none the less.
I would like to think that I’m quite an adventurous cook, but the reality is that I stick to what I know, both in ingredients and recipes.  So in order to broaden my culinary skills and experience .. this is my challenge!
I really want to ensure that I cook authentic recipes that originate from their respective countries, so I am appealing to my friends to help me ‘keep it real’ and if you know of or find any relevant recipes, please do share them with me.
Wish me luck!