Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, and the ninth largest in the world. It’s a huge place with a very small population of only 18 million people. The name Kazakhstan translates as “Land of the Wanderers” and with only 6 people per square mile, they have plenty of land to wander! The Kazakh Steppe (plain), with an area of around 310,600 sq mi, occupies a third of the country and is the world’s largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions.

A few facts
It is believed that the first apple trees grew around Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, as far back as 20 million years ago
There are 27,000 ancient monuments throughout Kazakhstan
It is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s oldest and largest operating space launch facility from where the first manned spaceflight with Yuri Gagarin took off into space in 1961

Highlights for visitors to Kazakhstan include the landmark buildings in Astana – Kazakhstan’s new capital, Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve, Almaty’s Central State Museum, enjoying the view from Kok-Tobe hill and Levoberezhny Park.

Traditional foods of Kazakh cuisine include mutton, horse meat and various milk products. Popular dishes are Beshbarmak (boiled horse or mutton meat eaten with pasta and broth, it also called “five fingers” as it is eaten with one’s hands), Zhauburek (kebab), Khazakh lemon chicken , Shelpek ( flatbread) Kylmai (sausage) and Baursaki (Fried Doughnuts). I made Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots) which was fairly simple to make and pleasantly tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr

350-400g of boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into strips
1 cup of rice
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
1½ cups of water
1 tsp of salt
Black pepper

Fry the onions until brown on medium – high heat, then remove on to a plate
Using the same pan fry the meat on high heat until nicely browned and the juices has evaporated
Add the carrots and fry together with the meat for about 10 minutes
Add salt and pepper
Add the onions back into the pan
Slowly add your stock cube blended with the water and bring it to boil
Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes
Meanwhile prepare your rice by rinsing it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear
Add the rice but don’t mix it in. Just let the rice sink into the liquid by spreading it carefully. The rice should be covered with water about 2 cm above it, so add more if necessary
Cover the pan and cook it on a gentle simmer until the rice has absorbed the liquid – about 15 minutes
At this point the top layer of rice is not cooked yet, so you need to flip the top layer and bring the sides to the center by covering the top layer at the same time
Make a few holes all the way through to the bottom, so that the steam can come through from the bottom of the pan to get all the rice properly cooked
Leave it to gently cook for another 8-10 minutes
Taste the rice to ensure its cooked. If the rice is ready, you can now mix the meat and carrots by bringing them from the underneath the rice to the top
Gently mix all together and serve

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Ingredients for Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
astanas-concert-hall
Astana’s Concert Hall
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Almaty, Kazakhstan
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Baikonur Cosmodrome
shymkent-mountains
Shymkent Mountains, Kazakhstan
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Yemen

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zimbabwe

The Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked sovereign state located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. The country is mostly savannah, although the moist and mountainous eastern highlands support areas of tropical evergreen and hardwood forests. There are around 350 species of mammals that can be found in Zimbabwe. There are also many snakes and lizards, over 500 bird species, and 131 fish species.

The interestingly named Canaan Banana was the first President of Zimbabwe from 1980 until 1987, in a mostly ceremonial role. Robert Mugabe was the country’s first Prime Minister and Head of Government. In 1987, Mugabe succeeded Banana as President after he revised the Constitution to make himself Executive President. In 2008, Zimbabwe held a presidential election along with a parliamentary election. The results of this election were withheld for two weeks, after which it was generally acknowledged that the opposition party ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) had achieved a majority of one seat in the lower house of parliament. However at the ZANU-PF congress in December 2014, President Robert Mugabe accidentally let slip that the opposition had in fact won the contentious 2008 polls by an astounding 73%. On 6th July, 2016 a national strike, named “stay-away day,” took place with thousands of Zimbabweans protesting government repression, poor public services, 85 percent unemployment, widespread corruption and delays in getting state salaries.

Since the downward spiral of the economy in 2000, tourism in Zimbabwe has steadily declined, however according to Lonely Planet it is back on the rise. It’s major tourist attractions include Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, Mount Nyangani and the Nyanga National Park, the Great Zimbabwe ruins in Masvingo, the ancient Matobo Hills and Lake Kariba on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, the world’s largest reservoir by volume.

Some traditional Zimbabwean recipes include Covo neDovi (Greens in Peanut Butter sauce), Sadza (cooked cornmeal), Biltong (cured beef), Bota (breakfast porridge) and Mutakura (boiled corn, peanuts and beans). I opted to cook a favourite dish in Zimbabwe – Peanut butter rice, which was very simple to make. Although it is usually served with meat, vegetables and a thick gravy, I paired it with Poulet Coco from Comoros and we thought they complemented each other well.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

1 cup long grain rice or brown rice
1 1/2 cups water
Salt to taste
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp peanut butter

Put rice in a pan with the water, add salt and oil and bring to the boil, then simmer until all the water is absorbed (or you can cook the rice in the microwave as I usually do with a drizzle of oil and salt)
Fluff the rice with a fork
Add peanut butter and mix with a spoon. The rice should be a bit sticky in appearance
Add more peanut butter according to your taste as needed

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Ingredients for peanut butter rice
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Zimbabwean peanut butter rice
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Zimbabwean peanut butter rice with Comorian poulet au coco
Victoria falls2
Victoria Falls
Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe
Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe ruins, Masvingo
Great Zimbabwe ruins, Masvingo
Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe
Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

Bahrain

Bahrain, meaning ‘two seas’ in Arabic, although which two seas originally intended remains in dispute! Today, the two seas are generally taken to mean either the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. Bahrain is an archipelago of 84 islands and island groups situated in the Gulf of Bahrain between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It is 92% desert and dust storms transported by northwesterly winds from Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the main natural hazard. The King Fahd Causeway, 15 miles long, linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia was completed in 1986 at a cost of $1.2 billion.

It was the first emirate where oil was discovered in 1932. Bahrain’s economic activity, has centred on the production of crude oil and natural gas and on refining petroleum products, making the country sensitive to fluctuations in the world oil market. It has however been more successful than some other states in the gulf in developing manufacturing and commercial and financial services. Before the discovery of oil, pearling was the economic mainstay of Bahrain. The quality and the abundance of the pearls in Persian Gulf waters are unsurpassed anywhere.

Bahrain has 4 protected marine environments; Hawar Islands, Mashtan Island, Arad bay and Tubli Bay. The breeding colony of Socotra cormorant (aquatic birds) on Hawar Islands is the largest in the world. In 2003, Bahrain banned the capture of sea cows, marine turtles and dolphins within its territorial waters.

Millions of tourists visit Bahrain each year and the highlights include Qal’at Al Bahrain or the Bahrain fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bahrain National Museum, home to artefacts dating back to the island’s first human inhabitants some 9000 years ago, Beit Al Quran, meaning ‘House of Qur’an’ is a museum that holds Islamic artefacts of the Qur’an and the Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in the Sakhir desert with no nearby water and is visited by approximately 50,000 tourists every year.

The cuisine of Bahrain is a mix of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Balochi, African, Far East and European food. Popular dishes include nekheh, bajelah and loobah (trio of spicy bean soups), Qoozi (lamb with rice), Khabees (date dessert) and Muhammar (sweet rice). I opted to cook their national dish, Machboos (spicy chicken and rice). It was relatively simple and quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 40 mins

1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 tbsp baharat (see below)
1/3 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil
400g chicken thighs, legs or breasts
1/2 hot green chilli, seeded and diced
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 large cloves or garlic, thinly sliced
5 cherry tomatoes, diced
2 green cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tsp salt
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup basmati rice (soaked for at least 15 minutes, then rinsed and drained)
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Rosewater for sprinkling (optional, but recommended)

For the baharat
1/3 tbsp black peppercorns
1/3 tbsp cumin seeds
2/3 tsp coriander seeds
1/3 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
1/3 tsp whole cloves
seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
1/3 tbsp paprika powder teaspoon ground pinch nutmeg

For the Baharat:
Set the paprika and nutmeg powders aside. Place all remaining ingredients (whole seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves) in a small frying pan and dry roast over medium-high heat, tossing regularly to prevent burning, for 2 minutes or until very fragrant
Transfer to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and let cool
Add the paprika and nutmeg and grind all the ingredients to a fine powder

Heat the oil in a casserole dish over medium-high heat and fry the chicken pieces on both sides until the skin is brown and crispy
Transfer the chicken to a plate and leave the remaining oil in the casserole dish
Add the ghee (or butter), reduce the heat to medium, and fry the onions until starting to brown, about 8 – 10 minutes
Add the ginger, garlic, and green chilli and fry for another 2 minutes
Add the baharat and turmeric and cook for another minute
Return the chicken pieces to the casserole along with the tomatoes, cardamom pods, cinnamon and salt
Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 40 minutes
Add the coriander, parsley and drained rice and stir to combine
Return it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the rice is done and has absorbed the liquid
Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving dish (either leave the chicken pieces tossed in with the rice, or place the chicken on top of the rice), and sprinkling with 1-2 tablespoons of rosewater (optional)
Serve with a green salad and yogurt raita

 

Bahrain
Bahrain
Hawar Islands, Bahrain
Hawar Island, Bahrain
Tree of Life Bahrain
The Tree of Life, Bahrain
Bahrain sunset
Sunset in Bahrain

Oman

I’ve always wanted to go to Oman, well actually, I’ve always wanted to go the Chedi hotel in Muscat. Pouring over glossy travel magazines, as is my want, I came across it’s magnificent white Omani architecture and calming pools many years ago. It just oozes luxury and zen like serenity. However at £230 per night for a sea view room or £450 for a club suite, I’ve not quite got there yet.

The Sultanate of Oman is a nation on the Arabian Peninsula, it is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the south and southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. Oman is an absolute monarchy, meaning the monarch has unrestricted political power over the sovereign state and its people. The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been the hereditary leader of the country since 1970.

The largest dagger measured 91.50 cm (36.02 in) in length and 21.60 cm (8.50 in) at its widest point and was achieved by Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) in Muscat, Oman, on 12 November 2011. The dagger was produced as a gift to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, to celebrate his 40 years of accession. The dagger was a Khanja- a traditional Omani dagger and Oman’s national symbol. The dagger was made from wood and silver, with ornate carvings and mouldings.

Some of the top highlights for the visitor are Nizwa’s 17th century fort, Wadi Shab gorge, the port and capital city of Muscat, Sharqiya (Wahiba) sand dunes, Masirah’s picture perfect beaches and the Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert (erg) in the world.

Omani cuisine is rooted in a Bedouin culture of hospitality, using whatever is on hand to feed a wandering stranger or a crowd of friends. Dishes are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice. Common dishes include Machboos (rice flavored with saffron and cooked over spicy meat), Sakhana (thick soup), Djaj Fouq El-Eish (spiced chicken and rice) and Mishkak (skewered meat cooked over charcoal). I decided to cook the festival meal of Shuwa, which traditionally is covered with banana leaves and cooked in an underground sand oven for up to 2 days. As my husband wasn’t too keen on me digging a fire pit in our garden, I opted to cook it in the oven! It is served over a fragrant rice and we really enjoyed it.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 mins + 24 hours marinating
Cook time: 3 hours 50 mins

1/2 leg of lamb, pierced in a few places with a sharp knife

For the marinade:
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground pepper
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp red chili powder
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon

For the rice:
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp pepper corns
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

Thoroughly combine all the marinade ingredients
Put the lamb in a bag and pour the spice mix over the lamb leg, massaging it well inside the bag so it’s fully coated and the liquids get into the pierced holes
Place in the fridge for 24 hours

Preheat the oven to 150c
Put the lamb in a roasting tray and cover tightly with foil
Cook for 3 and a 1/2 hours, basting every hour
Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 mins
Put the lamb on a carving board, rest for 5 mins then carve

For the rice (start 20 – 30 mins before lamb is ready)
Soak the rice for 10 mins in water, drain and rinse
Heat a heavy bottom pan to a medium – high heat
Add oil
Add all the spices and fry for 30 seconds
Add the water
When water is boiling, add the rice
Cook until the water has all been absorbed, stir gently, then turn off the heat and cover with a lid
Let it steam until the lamb is ready

 

Wadi Shab, Oman
Wadi Shab gorge, Oman
Muscat Oman
Muscat, Oman
Chedi hotel Muscat
Chedi hotel, Muscat
Masirah beach Oman
Masirah beach, Oman

Mauritania

Situated in West Africa, Mauritania (officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania) is in western North Africa.  The country derives its name from the ancient Berber Kingdom of Mauretania, which existed from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century, in the far north of modern-day Morocco.  Part of French West Africa until independence in 1960, Mauritania is influenced by Arab as well as African cultures.  Some of the world’s richest fishing grounds lie off the coast. The population still largely depends on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood.  Fish exports account for 60% of foreign earnings.
 
Mauritania passed a law to abolish slavery only in 1981. It is one of the last countries to do so.  Despite the legislation against slavery, there still exists around 90,000 slaves in Mauritania according to 2003 estimates.
 
Nouahchott, which means “place of the winds,” was designated as the country’s capital only in 1960 and is therefore one of the world’s newest capitals.  It’s highlights include Port de Pêche (fish market), Mosquée Saudique and the Musée National.
 
Tourists are also attracted to Atar, the ancient capital of the Almoravid kingdom, and Chinguetti, with houses and mosques dating back to the 13th century.
 
The cuisine of Mauritania has an overlap with Moroccan cuisine in the north and Senegalese cuisine in the south.  Some traditional dishes include Thieboudienne (Cheb-u-jin), a coastal dish of fish and rice, considered to be the national dish, Mahfe (goat or camel meat in a peanut, okra and tomato sauce) and Cherchem (lamb couscous).  I opted to cook Méchoui, whole roasted lamb.  I followed a brilliant recipe from a fellow ‘around the world cook’ Sasha Martin.
 
Rating: 9/10
 
Serves: 6
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
 
1 deboned leg of lamb
1/4 cup raisins
2 pitted dates, chopped
4 dried figs, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 cup rice, uncooked
2 1/2 cups stock
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp coriander
 
Chop the onion, dried fruits, and add to a skillet with rice, stock, salt, pepper and ground coriander. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes and then let it cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 160C.
Stuff the lamb with the rice & fruit mix and then tie up the lamb with string.
Put the remaining rice mix in a small casserole dish and cover with foil.
Roast the lamb for 2 1/2 to three hours. Put the casserole of stuffing in for the last 30-45 minutes of roasting.
Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with the extra rice and roasted carrots.
 

Taiwan

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, is an island of approximately 36,000 square kilometers.  It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 649 people per km2.  The island was given the name “Formosa” (meaning “beautiful”) by the Portuguese in the 16th century.  The political situation of Taiwan is still up in the air and the question remains as to whether it should stay independent as territory of the Republic of China (ROC); become unified with the territories now governed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or formally declare independence and become the Republic of Taiwan.  In July 2009 the leaders of China and Taiwan exchanged direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years, albeit in their respective party functions, and not as national leaders.  In June 2010, the two countries signed an historic trade pact that was described by some analysts as the most significant agreement in 60 years of separation.

 

Taiwan blends scenic mountains, hidden waterfalls, historic temples and technology driven skyscrapers.  The five famous tourist magnets outside Taipei are the Taroko Gorge, Alishan (mountain resort), Sun Moon Lake, Lukang (urban township) and Kenting (national park known for its white-sand beaches, caves, coral reefs & northern mountains).  Taipei is Asia’s 2nd most richest city and features the 3rd tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower.

 

Popular ingredients in Taiwanese cuisine are pork, seafood, chicken, rice & soy.  Some of the recipes I came across include Pork chops with noodle soup , Bah-Tzang (Taiwanese rice dumpling), Gu Bah Mi (beef noodle soup) and Cuttlefish geng (soup).  Chou Doufu ‘stinky tofu’ which is marinated in brine made from decomposing vegetables and shrimps wasn’t high of my choices to cook but is a popular street food.  I opted to cook Ló͘-bah-pn̄g (minced pork rice), which we thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Rating 10/10

 

Serves 3-4
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 45 mins

 

1 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tbsp oil
500g organic minced pork
4 tbsp white wine
60ml soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 cups water
1 tsp black pepper
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 tsp five spice powder
salt to taste
2 spring onions

 

Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat with 1 tbsp of the oil.
Once the oil is hot add the shallots and fry until they turn light golden in color – about 5 minutes.
Remove the shallots from the pan, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.
In the same skillet add the remaining oil and the minced pork on a high heat.
Break up the mince and stir until the pork starts to brown.
Add the wine, soy sauce, sugar or honey, water, pepper, star anise, bay leaf, and five spice.
Stir to combine, bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a low heat.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
While the pork is simmering, take the fried shallots and crush them with a mortar and pestle to a paste or blend them in a mini mixer.
After the pork has simmered for 30 minutes, stir in the crushed shallots and let everything simmer for another 10 minutes.
Salt to taste.
Remove from the heat, garnish with sliced spring onions and serve over boiled rice.
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Ingredients for Taiwanese minced pork

In the same skillet add the remaining oil and the minced pork on a high heat.
Break up the mince and stir until the pork starts to brown.
Add the wine, soy sauce, sugar or honey, water, pepper, star anise, bay leaf, and five spice.
Stir to combine, bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a low heat.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
While the pork is simmering, take the fried shallots and crush them with a mortar and pestle to a paste or blend them in a mini mixer.
After the pork has simmered for 30 minutes, stir in the crushed shallots and let everything simmer for another 10 minutes.
Salt to taste.
Remove from the heat, garnish with sliced spring onions and serve over boiled rice.

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Taiwanese minced pork
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Taiwan

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Ló͘-bah-pn̄g (minced pork rice)

 

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Taiwanese monk

 

Ghana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blend the ginger, garlic, onion, stock cube seasoning with the oil to form a smooth paste.
Add the paste to the chicken and marinate for about an hour.
Skewer the marinated chicken pieces alternating with the peppers and onions and set aside.
Combine all the ingredients for the suya seasoning and mix together.
Sprinkle some of the suya spice on the skewered chicken and grill till it is cooked and browned both sides.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle a bit more of the suya powder on it, then serve.
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Jollof rice ingredients
IMG_7303
Kyinkyinga ingredients
IMG_7306
Kyinkyinga kebabs
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Cooking the jollof rice
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Kyinkyinga & Jollof rice
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Fishermen in Ghana
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Castle of Elmina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Ghanaian children enjoying the beach