Niger

Named after the Niger River in West Africa, the Republic of Niger is a landlocked country located in Western Africa. At a length of 2,600 miles the Niger River is the third longest river in Africa, after the Nile and the Congo. It contains 36 families of freshwater fish and nearly 250 fish species, twenty of these are found nowhere else on the planet.

A few interesting facts
Uranium is Niger’s largest mineral export. The country is ranked fifth in Uranium production globally
Niger is one of the poorest nations on the earth. In 2014 it was ranked 188 in the world on the UN Human Development Index
Niger is home to the largest protected area in Africa, covering some 7.7 million ha. The Air and Tenere Natural Reserves is the refuge for animals like addax, Cheetah, Oryx and the gazelle
It is one of the hottest countries in the world and is famously nicknamed as ‘Frying Pan of the World’. It can get hot enough to make raindrops evaporate before they hit the ground
A dinosaur named Nigersaurus has been discovered in Niger. It had a long neck and a mouth like a hammerhead shark with up to six hundred teeth for grazing ferns. It lived during the middle Cretaceous period, about 115 to 105 million years ago

Typical Nigerien meals consist of a starch (rice being the most popular) paired with a sauce or stew. Some dishes I came across were Cecena (black-eyed pea and onion fritters), Fari masa (deep fried dough, served with stews), Beignet (savoury wheat pastry of French origin), Fufu (paste made from yam or manioc), Jollof rice (rice and tomato dish), Dodo (fried plantains), Gumbo stew (sticky stew with okra and beef), Tukasu (mutton stew with dumplings), Salad de mangue (green salad with mango) and Chakery (sweet dessert made with cous-cous, cream, fruit and spices). I opted to make Jo jo meat balls (made with beef, green pepper, potato and egg). They were a little disappointing as they lacked flavour and didn’t hold together particularly well, as I think there was too much moisture (I have adapted the recipe below to hopefully alleviate this).

Rating: 5/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes

500g ground beef
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 medium potatoes
2 eggs
Salt & pepper
Plain flour
Vegetable oil for frying
Jar of tomato sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180c
Place the potatoes in a food processer until they are well chopped
Remove to a tea towel and leave for a few minutes, then wring out any moisture
Place the green pepper and onion in the food processer until well chopped
Put the beef in a mixing bowl and add the chopped potatoes, onion, green pepper and eggs
Season well with salt & pepper and mix together
Place some plain flour on a plate
Roll your mixture into medium sized balls, roll each one in a little flour
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the meatballs for 5 – 8 minutes until browned
Place the meatballs in a dish and cook in the oven for around 10 minutes
You can cover the meatballs with tomato sauce before you put them in the oven or leave them plain
Serve with rice

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Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as it is classified by the UN, is a landlocked country in the Balkan peninsula. There is an ongoing dispute with Greece about it’s name due to the northern part of Greece being called by the same name.

Archaeological evidence shows that old European civilization flourished in Macedonia between 7000 and 3500 BC. Alexander the Great, who was king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, extended his empire across Greece and Persia to India and Egypt. During his time, the Kingdom of Macedonia was the most powerful state in the world; but after his death, the empire fell apart and it became the first Roman province in 146 BC.

Macedonia has three large lakes – Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa and Dojran Lake. Lake Ohrid is considered to be one of the oldest lakes in the world, estimated at 4 million years old. It is a mountainous country with two different ranges – the younger and higher Šar Mountains and the older mountain chain of Osogovo–Belasica. Other tourist highlights include exploring the capital Skopje’s bazaar, the Roman remains at Treskavec Monastery, the 13th century Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo and wine tasting in Tikveš Wine Region.

Notable Macedonian dishes include Tavče Gravče (Bean Stew), Šopska salad, Pastrmajlija (Macedonian Pizza), Burek (savoury filled pastry), Sarma (cabbage rolls), Selsko Meso (roast meat with mushrooms, wine and cheese) and Kifli (bread rolls). I opted to make Kjoftinja (meatballs) with aioli dip which I served as a snack to accompany drinks to celebrate my birthday! My family all really enjoyed them and the only criticism (from my nephew) was that they weren’t uniformly round!

Rating: 9/10

Makes 44
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

500g ground beef
300g ground pork
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 slices white bread
1/2 cup white wine
1 egg
flour for rolling
vegetable oil for frying
chopped parsley

Quick aioli dip
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Pepper

Remove crusts from bread slices and soak them in a bowl with the wine
Mix together the beef and pork mince, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and mint
Add the bread and egg and knead the mixture to blend well together (you can put the mix in the fridge if you’re not ready to cook them yet)
Preheat the oven to 160
Shape into 1-inch balls, dust with flour, and fry in hot vegetable oil for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to burn them
When meatballs are browned on all sides, place in them in the oven on a covered tray for 10 minutes
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with aioli dip

Aioli dip
Mash garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in small bowl until paste forms
Whisk in mayonnaise, olive oil, and lemon juice
Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper

Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, Macedonia
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo overlooking Lake Ohrid
Skopje square
Skopje square

Denmark

Denmark is an archipelago made up of 406 islands and 7,314 miles of coastline, which is longer than the Great Wall of China.  No place in Denmark is more than 30 miles from the sea.

 

The Danish monarchy is the oldest continuing monarchy in the world and has existed for over 1,000 years.  Queen Margarethe II is the current head of state.

 

Denmark has more than twice the amount of bicycles (4.2 million) than cars (1.8 million). Copenhageners pedal more than 1.13 million km on their bicycles each day.

 

Salaries in Copenhagen are the third highest in the world – only surpassed by Zurich and Geneva.  The UN World Happiness Report has rated Danes as the happiest people on earth two years in a row.

 

With its palaces and gardens, Copenhagen hosts more visitors than any other Nordic city.  The name Lego® is an abbreviation of two Danish words leg godt, meaning “play well.” The company was started in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Lego began producing its iconic bricks in 1958. For more than 60 years, over 320 billion Lego bricks have been sold worldwide—nearly 60 bricks for every human on the planet.

 

The Danes are certified foodies. They are the fifth largest exporter of food in the world, despite their small population.  Copenhagen has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in Scandinavia.  Some of their traditional dishes include Æblekage, (apple charlotte) , Hakkebøf (ground beef steak), Stegt flæsk med persillesovs (pork slices with potato and bechamel sauce) and Klipfisk (dried cod).  I decided to cook Frikadeller (pan fried meatballs) with Danish brown gravy.
I was skiing in France when I cooked this dish for 18 people!! (I quadrupled the volume of ingredients).  It was generally well received, although some felt the gravy was a little too vinegary.
Rating overall 7/10

 

Serves 4 hungry people
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15-25 minutes

 

For the Frikadeller:
275g ground pork
275g ground veal
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 large onion
2 tbsps flour
1 small egg

 

Chop the onion into fine pieces, and mix meat and onions together.
Add egg and mix again.
Add flour and remaining ingredients.
Form mix into 6-8 balls.
Melt butter in frying pan and cook for 10 min on each side over a medium heat.
(If you are doing this for a large volume of people you can brown the meatballs in the frying pan and then transfer to the oven for about 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through)

 

For the brown gravy:
4 tbsps Danish butter
4 tbsps flour
3 cups beef stock
3 tbsps white vinegar
Salt and pepper
3 tbsps sherry
Colouring to darken the gravy (optional)

 

Melt butter over low heat in a pot.
Add flour and stir until smooth.
Add half of the meat stock slowly while constantly stirring.
Add the rest of the stock with vinegar and boil slowly, while constantly stirring.
Add salt and pepper.
Add sherry at the very end, just before removing from heat.
Remove from heat, allow gravy to cool for 4-5 minutes while stirring constantly.

 

I served the dish with buttered tagliatelle.

 

IMG_8337
Danish dinner for the skiers!!