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

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South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is Africa’s largest and most developed economy.  It’s main exports are gold, diamonds, metals, minerals, cars & machinery.  It is an extremely diverse nation, home to hippos, penguins, zebras, dolphins and of course ‘the big five’ (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros).  It hosts four of the seven fastest mammals in the world, namely the wildebeest, the African lion, the springbok and the cheetah.
A turbulent political history, dominated by apartheid from 1948 to 1994.  Racial segregation had been in place for centuries but a new policy, started in 1948 made it stricter and more systematic.  The people of South Africa were divided by their race and were forced by law to live apart from each other.  In 1990 President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid.  The multi-racial democratic elections in 1994 were won by the African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela and he became the first President of South Africa and also the first black president.   Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of anti-apartheid activism in 1993.  The apartheid system was banned in 1994.
There are many inviting tourist highlights for visitors to South Africa; The Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, Kruger National Park, The Garden Route, Cape Town, Johannesburg to name a few!
South Africa’s Garden Route is the longest stretching wine route in the world.  Route 62 is 850 km long from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.  There are over 560 wineries in the Cape area.
It also has the highest commercial bungee jumping bridge in the world at Bloukrans, which is 216 metres long.  It’ll set you back £39.50 for the privilege.
When it comes to the food, again it is very diverse with influences from the Dutch, French, Indians and Malaysians.  Some of the recipes I came across were
Bobotie (meatloaf with egg based topping), Chicken Curry Potjie, Buttermilk pudding and Koeksisters (sweet twisted pastries).  I decided to cook Sosaties (grilled lamb kebabs).
Rating: 8/10.
Prep time: 40 minutes + 24 hours marinating time
Cook time: 15 – 20 minutes
Sosaties:
500g trimmed lamb leg cut into chunks
200g dried apricots
8 metal or wooden skewers
Sosatie Marinade:
1 tbsp apricot jam
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp crushed garlic
6 cloves
3 bay leaves
2 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp malt vinegar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp fresh ginger
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 cup water
Place all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well together.
Add the lamb to the marinade and mix well.
Cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours (or more). Stir the lamb 3 or 4 times during the marinating process.
If using wooden skewers, soak in water for a couple of hours before using.
Soak the apricots in warm water until they plump up.
Remove the lamb from the bowl and thread it on to the skewers alternating pieces of lamb and apricots.
Reserve the marinade.
Preheat the grill or BBQ and cook the sosaties for 10 – 15 minutes, turning regularly so they don’t burn.
Meanwhile pour the marinade into a saucepan and heat until almost boiling.
When serving pour the hot marinade over the sosaties and serve.
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Sosatie ingredients
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Lamb marinating in sosatie marinade
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Marinated lamb in sosatie marinade
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Lamb Sosaties
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Hippo
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The Cape of Good Hope
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Cape Town
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Stellenbosch

Azerbaijan

South of Russia, Azerbaijan is on the west coast of the Caspian Sea with the Caucasus Mountains in the northwestern border of this republic. The oil rich capital is Baku, with a population of c. 2m. Marco Polo visited Baku in 1264 and witnessed the oil being collected, he said “there is a fountain from which oil springs in great abundance”. Azerbaijan gets its name from Atropates, a Persian nobleman. He ruled over the present-day Azerbaijan. His name evolved over a millennia, and in modern Persian translates to “The Treasury” and “The Treasurer” of fire or “The Land of the Fire”.
Azerbaijan is home to the first known fireplace, discovered in Azikh Cave, the largest cave in Azerbaijan, and also one of the ancient proto-human habitations in human history, that dates back to 700,000 – 500,000 years ago.
In 1879, the Nobel brothers, founders of Nobel Prize, set up their oil company in Azerbaijan; The Nobel Brothers Petroleum country. The Nobel brothers from Sweden acquired much of their wealth from Azerbaijan’s oil industry.
The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov hails from Baku.
Tea is the most popular drink in Azerbaijan. Traditionally served in a pear shaped glass, the drink is often consumed through lumps of sugar or jam, held in the mouth.
A few of the popular dishes in Azerbaijan cuisine include Plov (saffron covered rice), Dolma (minced and spiced lamb wrapped in vine leaves), and Dyushbara (meat dumplings). Also very popular are kebabs, which is what I opted to cook – Lyulya (lamb kebab). There is an Azerbaijan restaurant near Ravencourt Park, where they serve ‘Lulle’ kebab for £9.49.
Rating: 8/10

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Serves 2 as a large starter

220g lamb neck fillet
20g suet
1/2 onion chopped
Salt & pepper

Blend the lamb, suet and onions in food processor. Add salt, pepper and then leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Rinse your hands in salted water, mould into 6 sausages and skewer.
Preheat the grill and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning so they are brown on all sides.
Serve with flatbread and chutneys.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan, a landlocked former Soviet republic, covers an area of 142,000 sq km (55,000 sq miles). It borders Kyrgyzstan in the north, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south and Uzbekistan in the northwest. The capital is Dushanbe.
The area of Tajikistan has been inhabited since 4000 BC.
The Pamir mountains, topping 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) and known locally as the “Roof of the World”, make up more than 90 percent of its territory There are more than 900 rivers in Tajikistan and about 20 main lakes.
The legendary Silk Road passed through Tajikistan going from China to Europe. The Silk Road (or Silk Route) is an ancient network of trade routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East from China to the Med. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk carried out along its length.
Tajikistan remains the poorest of the 15 post-Soviet nations.
According to wiki, part of the 1985 American comedy film, Spies Like Us, directed by John Landis starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd was set in Tajikstan. Although they didn’t actually do any filming there.
The cuisine of Tajikstan includes Plov (a rice dish fried with vegetables & meat), Qurutob (salted cheese) and Fatir (flaky flatbread). I decided to cook lamb kebabs with mint & star anise.  They were a very unusual (if not an acquired) taste.
Rating: 7/10

Kebabs:
400g ground lamb
1 large red onion
1 medium tomato
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
4 star anise corms, ground
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh, chopped mint leaves
1 small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
3 hot, dried, red chili peppers
1/4 cup flour (optional)
Stew:
2 large yellow onions, peeled, sliced and separated into crescents
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 generous tbsp of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 hot, dried red chili peppers
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup plain yogurt

1. In a food processor combine onion tomato and spices and blend lightly so that the vegetables are chopped but still have their form. Add meat, blend lightly again to mix. Let set in the refrigerator for several hours before rolling into kebabs.
2. Preheat grill on the highest setting. Remove meat mix from refrigerator and roll the kebabs into sausages or loaves about 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Flour very lightly, if desired, to help the meat hold together.
3. Place on a baking sheet that has been oiled or sprayed. Cook about 6 inches from the flame for 5 minutes on each side. If meat still feels soft to the touch, cook for another few minutes, but do not let the kebabs burn. When done, remove from heat and set aside as you make the stew.
4. Melt butter in a large saucepan or sauté pan. When hot, add onions and sauté briefly to coat the onions. Cook for a few minutes stirring often and then add the sugar and lower the heat to the lowest setting. Let onions cook and caramelize, stirring them only every 10 minutes or so. When they are light brown and very soft, add the garlic, chili peppers and coriander and stir well. Cook until garlic begins to brown.
5. Add the yogurt and the beef stock to the onions and garlic, stirring well. Add the lamb kebabs and, if necessary, add more beef stock. Cover and continue to cook over a low flame until the kebabs are hot. Serve the kebabs on a bed of rice or bulgur and spoon the onions and sauce over the kebabs for a bit of extra flavor.

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