Egypt

Egypt is a Mediterranean country linking North East Africa with the Middle East. It is the driest and sunniest country in the world and most of its land surface is desert.

Egypt’s northern coastline runs for 500 km along the mediterranean shores. One of the most popular places for visitors in the height of the summer, is the port city of Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great and once the seat of Queen Cleopatra. Its harbour entrance was once marked by the towering “Pharos Light House”, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it’s great library was renowned as the ultimate archive of ancient knowledge.

Cairo, Egypt’s sprawling capital, is set on the Nile River. At the heart of Cairo is Tahrir Square and the vast Egyptian Museum. Nearby Giza Necropolis is the site of the iconic pyramids and Great Sphinx. The old saying that Egypt is the gift of the Nile still rings true, without the river there would be no fertile land, no food, no electricity. Ancient Egypt experienced some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government.

The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. It was constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859-1869. At the Northern Gate, lies the city of Port Said, this is the third largest city in Egypt and was established in 1859 during the building of the Suez Canal.

Some traditional Egyptian recipes I came across were Ful Medami (stewed beans) , Molokeya (green soup with garlic and coriander) , Koshari (lentils, rice and macaroni, ) Eish Masri (pitta bread) and Basbousa (syrup cake). I opted to make Shawarma Lahme (chicken stuffed in pitta with tahina sauce) which we enjoyed as a tasty snack.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes + 4 hours marinating
Cook time: 10 minutes

250g chicken breasts
1 large garlic clove
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Pitta breads

Tahina sauce
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp warm water
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste

For the tahina sauce
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl

Cut your chicken breasts into long strips. Make sure they are thin
Put the chicken in a bag with lemon juice, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, yoghurt, spices, salt and pepper and put in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight
Heat some oil in a pan and fry the chicken for 10 minutes
Serve with pitta, tahini and salad leaves

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Ingredients for Shawarma Lahme
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Cooking Shawarma Lahme
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Shawarma Lahme (chicken stuffed in pitta with tahina sauce)
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Shawarma Lahme (chicken stuffed in pitta with tahina sauce)
sphinx
Great Sphinx, Egypt
river-nile
The River Nile, Egypt
egyptian-pyramids
Pyramids of Giza
alexandria
Alexandria, Egypt
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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH for short, is located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It declared sovereignty in October 1991 and independence from the former Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992. The country’s name comes from the two regions Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have a very vaguely defined border between them. Bosnia occupies the northern areas which are roughly four-fifths of the entire country, while Herzegovina occupies the rest in the southern part of the country. The name “Bosnia” comes from an Indo-European word Bosana, which means water. (There are 7 major rivers and over 100 lakes).

The town of Međugorje located in the mountains near Mostar has been popular with Catholic pilgrims since 1981, when six local children claimed they had seen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over 1 million people make the pilgrimage each year. The name Međugorje literally means “between mountains”.

Perućica is one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe, located near the border with Montenegro and part of the Sutjeska National Park. The tallest measured Norway Spruce (63 m) is located here.

According to the Guinness book of records the largest fish stew ever made, weighed 3,804 kg was by the Tourist Organisation of the Municipality of Prnjavor in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 19 August 2014. However in April 2015, a dozen Bosnian chefs from Sarajevo outperformed the record by making a traditional stew weighing 4,124 kg. It took 8 hours and served 15,000 portions. The record has not yet been verified by a Guinness World Records committee.

Some of the traditional Bosnian dishes I came across, other than enormous stews, included Zeljanica (spinach and feta pie), Begova Čorba (Bosnian soup), Grašak (pea stew), Sarma (meat and rice rolled in pickled cabbage leaves) and Krofna (filled doughnuts). I decided to make Ćevapi (meat kebabs) which were fairly simple but needed a good amount of seasoning which the recipe I followed had omitted to include, so ours were rather bland. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to include more seasoning.

Rating: 6/10

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

1 tbsp butter
1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
250g lean lamb mince
250g lean beef mince
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp salt
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp onions, finely chopped
4-6 pitta breads

Melt the butter over medium heat, add the onions and fry until translucent
Add the garlic for a few minutes whilst stirring to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes
Mix the ground lamb, ground beef., the cooled onion/garlic mixture, egg white, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well.
Shape the meat into unappetizing looking little cylinders, which are the traditional shape
Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least one hour
Pan fry the cevapi in a little olive oil until nicely browned, about 8 – 10 minutes
To serve, toast the pitta, then cut in half and make a pocket in each one
Stuff a few finely chopped onions inside the pita, then add the cevapi and top with a few more of the onions

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Making the world’s largest stew in Sarajevo!
Međugorje_St.James_Church
St James Church, Međugorje
Stari Most bridge, Mostar
Stari Most Bridge, Mostar
Perucica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Perućica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Una River, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ana River, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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

Guatemala

Guatemala, meaning ‘place of many trees’, is a heavily forested and mountainous nation in Central America. The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. Today over half of Guatemalans are descendants of the indigenous Maya peoples with the majority living in the western highlands. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821.

Guatemala’s highlands lie along the Motagua Fault, part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. This fault has been responsible for several major earthquakes in historic times, including a 7.5 magnitude tremor on February 4, 1976 which killed more than 25,000 people. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, four of them active: Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego and Tacaná. Both Fuego and Pacaya erupted in 2010. In May 2010, an area of 65 ft (20 m) across and 300 ft (90 m) deep, collapsed in Guatemala City, swallowing a three story factory. The sinkhole occurred for a combination of reasons, including Tropical Storm Agatha, the Pacaya Volcano eruption, and leakage from sewer pipes.

Despite it having the largest economy in Central America, it is one of the poorest countries with over half the population living in poverty. Tourism has become one of the main drivers of the economy, worth $1.8 billion in 2008. There are many highlights for the visitor including the Mayan archaeological sites of Tikal, Quiriguá, Iximche and Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan (named by some as the most beautiful lake in the world) and the natural pools of Semuc Champey.

Guatemalan cuisine is based on Spanish and Mayan cuisine. Some popular dishes include Chicken Pepian (chicken in spicy pumpkin and sesame sauce), Chiles rellenos (stuffed chilli peppers), Caldos (stews), Tamales (filled corn dough) and Kaq ik (turkey stew). I decided to make Chicharrones (fried pork rinds), basically pork scratchings as we like to call them! It is a popular snack found across Latin America with different variations. In Guatemala they are usually eaten with tortilla, some salt, and maybe a pickled Jalapeño pepper. Although it was a lengthy process for what is just a snack, it was definitely worth the effort – the best pork scratchings you’ll ever taste!

Rating: 10/10
Serves: 2 as a snack

Prep time: 10 mins + 8 hours cooling
Cook time: 1 hour boiling + overnight drying in the oven

350g pork skin, trimmed of excess fat
Salt
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper
Plenty of cooking oil or lard (for frying)

Put your pork skin in a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and allow to cook for 1 hour
Boil until the skin is softened (but not falling apart) and the water is white
(To keep the skins submerged in the water, you may want to weigh them down by placing a heat-resistant plate on top of them as they boil)
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove your pork skin from the boiling water and lay it on a cooling rack set over a baking tray. Discard the cooking water
After 5 minutes, put the pork skin still on the cooling rack over the baking tray in the fridge for 8 hours
Use a spoon to remove any fat clinging to the bottom of the pork skin. The fat should separate from the skin easily. Be careful not to tear the skin, as it will be still be soft from cooking
Set the oven to its lowest setting. Aim for no higher than 93c. Place the skin on their cooling rack and baking sheet in the oven overnight
Remove from the oven and leave to cool
Cut the dried skin into long strips or small squares and sprinkle with a little black pepper and cayenne pepper (or you can just leave them plain if you prefer)
Heat a deep-sided pan over high heat. When it is hot, add lard or cooking oil. Fry the chicharrónes one or two at a time, prodding them until they puff up and start to float. When done, remove the chicharrónes to a paper-towel lined plate.
Sprinkle with a good amount of salt and serve (with a cold beer!)

Although it is a lengthy process, it’s not difficult so it may be wise to do double or quadruple this recipe as they will keep for a couple of weeks in a sealed container, if they last that long!

Volcan di Agua, Antigua, Guatemala
Volcan di Agua, Antigua, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Lake Atitlan
Semuc Champey Guatemala
Semuc Champey
Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal, Guatemala

Latvia

The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918 but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 – an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is situated in the Baltic region of Northern Europe and is one of the three Baltic states along with Estonia and Lithuania. Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004. Most of Latvia’s territory is less than 100 metres above sea level and it has the 5th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union. Latvia has a long tradition of conservation. Nationally protected areas account for around 20% of Latvia’s total land area. The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia second, after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country’s policies.

Arvids Blumentāls aka the original Crocodile Dundee (he was the inspiration behind the Crocodile Dundee character played by Paul Hogan) was born in Latvia.

Riga, Latvia’s capital, was the European Capital of Culture 2014 and it’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for notable wooden and art nouveau architecture, a vast Central Market and a medieval Old Town. Riga Cathedral was founded in 1211 and is the largest medieval church in the Baltic. Other Latvia highlights are emerald lakes and blueberry fields in Latgale Lakelands, Cape Kolka (desolate coastal villages) and Gauja National Park. The Venta Rapid, a waterfall on the Venta River in Kuldīga, is the widest waterfall in Europe at 249 metres and up to 270 metres during spring floods. Its height is 1.80–2.20 metres.

Latvian cuisine features meat in most main dishes. Pork and potatoes are common ingredients, along with cabbage, onions and eggs. It also offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are an important part of the Latvian cuisine. Some recipes I found include Rupjmaize (dark rye bread), Kāpostu tīteņi (cabbage rolls), Biezpiena sieriņš (pressed cottage cheese) and Skābeņu zupa (sorrel soup). I decided to make Pīrāgi (bacon pies), which I served as a snack to guests and they went down very well indeed.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 75
Prep time: 1.5 hour + 1.5 hours proving time
Cook time: 45 mins

For the dough
500ml milk
125ml cream
125g sugar
4 tsps dry yeast
125g butter, cubed
125g sour cream
1kg plain flour
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp salt

For the filling
500g streaky bacon
1 small onion
salt and pepper
Extra flour for rolling
1 egg for egg wash

Put 385ml of milk and cream in a saucepan and add the sugar. Heat the mixture until it becomes blood warm. (Test by placing couple drops on your wrist, if the milk feels very hot, let it cool down a bit. Do not get the milk to the boiling point as it will kill the yeast.)
Place the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and add 115ml of milk. Combine well and set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, pour the heated milk mixture and add cubed butter, sour cream and the whisked egg, combine well.
Add the yeast, sifted flour and salt and mix until all is combined well to create the dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and does not stick to the hands or the bowl (add a bit more flour if necessary).
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Meanwhile, make the filling: finely cut the bacon and the onion, add a teaspoon of finely ground pepper and combine well.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Whisk the egg in a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of milk and set aside.
Sprinkle some flour on the rolling surface and place the dough on it. Cut it in quarters and work on each quarter at a time by rolling it until the dough is 5 mm thick.
Cut out circles about 6 cm in diameter. Place one teaspoon of filling on one side of the circle and fold over. Tightly press the dough together using your fingers, place pīrāgis seam side down and bend in a shape of a half moon.
Transfer pies on to the baking tray, spaced about 2 cm apart. Using a pastry brush, brush each pie with the egg wash.
Place the tray in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.

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Ingredients for Pīrāgi
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Pīrāgi dough
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Pīrāgi (space them further apart than shown in this picture)
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Pīrāgi
Latvia old town
Riga old town
Riga art nouveau
Art nouveau, Riga

Chile

I’m lucky enough to have been to Chile and it really is one of the most stunning countries in the world with a remarkable variety of climates and landscapes. It stretches for 4,000 km down the west coast of South America between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, but averages only 175 km wide. Chilean territory also includes the Pacific islands of Juan Fernández, Salas y Gómez, Desventuradas, and Easter Island in Oceania. Chile claims about 1,250,000 square km of Antarctica, although all claims are suspended under the Antarctic Treaty. 80% of Chile is covered by mountains.
The diverse climate of Chile ranges from the world’s driest desert in the north—the Atacama Desert—through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, humid subtropical in Easter Island, to an oceanic climate, including alpine tundra and glaciers in the east and south.

Some facts about this extremely diverse nation:
The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world. It witnessed the longest record of 40 years without rain.
The world’s southernmost city “Puerto Williams” is in Chile.
Chile has the second largest volcano chain in the world after Indonesia and Ojos del Salado Volcano, located on the border of Chile and Argentina, is the highest active volcano in the world.
Escondida is the largest copper mine in the world and Chile produces a third of the world’s copper.
It ranks 5th in the world for wine production, at 1,832,000 tonnes per annum.
Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.
Chile’s national bird, the Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight and wingspan. It has a maximum wingspan of 3.3 m.
The largest bunch of grapes ever grown was by Bozzolo Y Perut Ltda of Santiago, Chile weighing 9.4 kg (20 lb 11½oz).

Having had first hand experience, there are so many attractions for the visitor. My highlights would include the breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park, meandering up the steep hills in Valparaiso, the peace and tranquility watching El Tatio Geysers in the Atacama desert at sun break and sipping wine whilst watching the beautiful sunset at La Serena beach.

Chilean cuisine takes influence from traditional Spanish, as well as the indigenous Mapuche culture. Recipes in Chile are notable for the variety of flavours and ingredients, with the country’s diverse geography and climate. There are many regional specialities including asado (barbequed meat) in the north, Pastel de choclo (layered pie with meat and corn) from the central valley and Mapuche chicken in the south. Other popular recipes include cazuela (stew with fish, meat or poultry), Chicharrón de papa (meat and fat from llama and lamb, boiled and then fried) and Leche asada (baked milk dessert with caramel). I decided to make empanadas, as I remember enjoying them very much when I was in Chile. They can be filled with a variety of ingredients, but traditionally they are filled with minced beef & onions. The recipe I found also included raisins, olives & hard boiled egg in the filling, which I’m not a fan of, so I opted to leave these out. The pastry was very simple to make and easy to work with. I will definitely be experimenting with different fillings.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 10 – 12
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour 10 mins

For the dough:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp table salt
1 lb all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
3 oz melted butter

For the beef filling:
2 tbsp of oil
2 lb good quality minced beef
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp of cumin
1/2 cup water
1 large onion chopped
1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Optional other filling ingredients:
20 black olives, chopped
40 raisins
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

To make the dough:
Mix together the milk, water and salt and stir until salt is completely dissolved
In a large bowl combine the flour and egg yolks, and mix using a knife
Add butter and gradually add the milk & water mix to form a dough
Knead dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic
At this point you can put it in clingfilm in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

To make the filling:
In a large frying pan, heat oil at medium to high heat
Fry the meat for 3 minutes without mixing
Turn over and brown for another couple of minutes
Add paprika, oregano, salt, pepper and cumin, and mix well
Add water and chopped onion
Cover and cook for 30 minutes on low heat
Add flour and mix well, modifying the seasoning if you like
Turn off heat, leave to cool and refrigerate

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 175c
Separate dough into 10 – 12 portions and cover with a clean kitchen cloth
Working each portion individually, shape into a ball and with a rolling pin smooth out the dough to about the size of a side plate (8 inches)
Fill each with 2 tablespoons of beef (you can also add a few raisins, chopped olives & chopped hard boiled egg if you like them)
Make sure to release trapped air before closing. Lightly brush the edges with milk, press firmly and fold. Brush the top of the empanadas with egg before putting them in the oven.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until browned, keeping a close eye on them. If they bubble up or swell, poke with a toothpick, so that they don’t come undone or open up.
Serve hot

 

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Torres del Paine
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El Tatio geysers, Atacama desert
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Maoi statues, Easter Island