Finland

Finland, the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, is situated on a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the world’s northernmost countries. Of world capitals, only Reykjavík lies more to the north than Helsinki. Known as ‘a country of thousand lakes’, it has the most of any country in the world, with around 188,000. A quarter of Finland’s territory lies within the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced for more days the farther north one travels. At Finland’s northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.

A few interesting facts:
Finland’s press has been rated the freest in the world

In Finland, 9 out of 10 plastic bottles are returned for recycling and almost 100% of glass bottles are also recycled
In Finland traffic fines are calculated by the severity of the offence and the offending driver’s annual income
There are around 2.2 million saunas in Finland, 1 for every 2.5 people
At the ‘Wife Carrying World Championships’ in Finland, first prize is the wife’s weight in beer

If you’re planning a visit, Lonely Planet’s highlights include learning about the indigenous Sami people and their environment at the Siida museum, relaxing in the giant smoke sauna at Jätkänkämppä, cruising through the canals of Helsinki and trekking the Karhunkierros Trail in Oulanka National Park.

The Finns are passionate about their food and are fiercely loyal to their culinary roots. In 2000, when Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary as the European Capital of Culture the city initiated a project called the HelsinkiMenu. The aim of the project was to bring global awareness to Finnish cuisine. The HelsinkiMenu featured fish from the thousand lakes, berries, mushrooms and game from the forests as well as special produce from small farms. A few traditional Finnish recipes I came across; Lohikeitto (salmon soup) , Kalakukko (fish pie) , Perunarieska (potato flatbread) , Silakat (pickled fried herring), Korvapuusti (cinnamon and cardamon buns) , Ruisleipä (rye bread), Laskiaispulla (sweet buns filled with jam and cream) and Vispipuuro (whipped lingonberry porridge). I made Kalakeitto (fish stew) which was velvety smooth and had a beautiful flavour. Finishing it off with fresh dill is key, so a big thanks to my local The Rose and Crown for coming to the rescue.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

2 good quality salmon fillets
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp dried dill
2 cups water
1 fish stock pot/cube
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup whole milk or cream (I used cream which gave it an unctuous finish)
1 tbsp butter
Fresh dill for garnish

Cut the fish into 2 inch pieces and set aside
In a saucepan add salt, onion, dried dill, water, stock pot and potatoes
Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender
Add the fish and cook until the fish just starts to flake, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of your fish chunks
Pour in the milk or cream and heat gently for 5 minutes
Add the butter and sprinkle with fresh dill
Enjoy!

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Ingredients for Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Wood houses in the city of Porvoo, Finland
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Oulanka National Park
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Helsinki
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Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been devastated by war since 1978 and it continues today. The US war in Afghanistan (America’s longest war) officially ended on December 28, 2014. However, thousands of US-led NATO troops have remained in the country to train and advise Afghan government forces. Since 2001 there has been over 90,000 direct war-related deaths.

A few non war related facts
The world’s first oil paintings were drawn in the caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan around 650BC.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the poster boy in many of the muscle building centers in Afghanistan, as they say he looks like an Afghan.
Afghanistan’s national game, buzkashi, or goat-grabbing is regarded as the world’s wildest game. It involves riders on horseback competing to grab a goat carcass, and gallop clear of the others to drop it in a chalked circle.
Kandahar airfield is the busiest single runway airstrip in the world.

Despite years of bloodshed, it remains a battered but beautiful and proud country with a rich culture, imposing ancient ruins, old cities and religious shrines.

Afghan cuisines reflects its ethnic and geographic diversity with staple crops of wheat, maize, barley, rice and dairy products. It is also known for high quality pomegranates, grapes and melons. Recipes I came across include Rhot (Afghan sweet bread), Nakhod e shor (spicy crunchy chickpeas), Quorma e Zardaloo (lemon apricot stew), Borani Banjan (layered aubergine), Kebab e murgh (chicken kebab), Mantu (meat dumplings), Mashawa (Afghan chilli) and the national dish of Kabuli Palau (rice with meat, carrots, raisins and pistachios). I decided to make a hearty and warming soup on a chilly September evening – Shorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup), which was tasty and comforting.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours

900g beef steak cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
8 cups water
1 medium russet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander

Add oil to a large casserole dish and place over medium-high heat
Add the onion, brown for 5 minutes until soft, add the garlic and the meat
Mix well and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through and a thick sauce forms
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, coriander, turmeric, salt, pepper and the water, mix well
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a medium heat, cover and cook for 1 hour
Add the potatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, and coriander to the soup
Bring to a gentle boil again, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the meat and potatoes are tender, approx 30 – 45 minutes
Serve immediately on it’s own or with pitta bread

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Ingredients forShorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup)
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Shorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup)

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Bamiyan caves, Afghanistan
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Buzkashi
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Military soldiers in Afghanistan mountains

Ecuador

Ecuador or “the Republic of the Equator” is in northwest South America and includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles west of the mainland. It is known for its rich ecology, hosting many endemic plants and animals. There are 18 main islands in the Galápagos home to many unique species, most famous are the giant tortoises after which the islands are named (‘galapago’ means tortoise in Spanish), the marine iguana lizard and the Galapagos penguin, one of the smallest penguins in the world.

A few other interesting facts:
According to the CIA factbook because the earth is not a perfect sphere and has an equatorial bulge, the highest point on the planet closest to the sun is Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, not Mount Everest, which is merely the highest peak above sea level. It is 1.5 miles higher than Everest.
Quito is the highest capital on Earth at 2,850m above sea level
The Galapagos Islands and the city of Quito were the first 2 sites on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites
Ecuador is the leading exporter of Bananas accounting for approximately 29%
Oil accounts for over half of Ecuador’s export earnings

Some popular Ecuadorian dishes include Locro de Papas (potato soup), Llapingachos (Potato cakes served with eggs, avocado, chorizo), Seco de Chivo (goat stew), Hornado (roast pig), Encocado de Camarones (prawns in coconut milk) and Patacone (fried green plantains stuffed in pancake). I made Cebiche Guayaquileño (raw prawns cured with lemon) which had a wonderfully sweet and zingy flavour. Lovely on a hot summer’s day!

Rating: 9/10

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

200g raw prawns with shells and no heads
2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 clove of garlic
1 spring onion, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 large tomato, deseeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, sliced in half moons
Juice of 1/2 lemon for the onions
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1& 1/2 lemons
1/3 cup of prawn stock (see below for preparation) or 1/2 fish stock cube
1/4 cup ketchup
fresh coriander, chopped

In a pan combine the water, bay leaf, garlic, spring onions and prawns. Turn the heat to medium and cook the prawns until you see them beginning to turn pink, about 3 minutes
Turn off the heat and remove the prawns from the water. Keep this water
Peel and devein the prawns saving the prawns shells.
(I used raw prawns that didn’t have shells on so I added 1/2 fish stock cube to the water instead of the shells)
Put the prawn shells back in the water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain the prawn stock
In a small bowl, combine the onions with juice of 1/2 lemon and a pinch of salt. Marinate for 15 minutes
In medium bowl combine the diced tomatoes, prawns, onions, ketchup, lemon and orange juices and 1/3 cup of prawn stock
Mix all the ingredients and adjust seasonings as necessary. Add the chopped cilantro and stir it into the ceviche
Chill for about an hour in the fridge and serve

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Ingredients for Cebiche Guayaquileño
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Cebiche Guayaquileño
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Quito Ecuador
Chimborazo Ecuador
Chimborazo Ecuador
Sunset in the Galapagos
Sunset in the Galapagos
Marine iguana lizard Galapagos
Marine iguanas Galapagos
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Cebiche Guayaquileño

Moldova

Moldova is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Ukraine and Romania, although it is only a stone’s throw from the Black Sea. Most of Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and two-thirds of Moldovans speak Romanian. It gained independence in 1991.

Moldova has a very vibrant wine industry dating back many many years. 67 Million bottles are exported every year. Vineyards planted in villages around the houses used to make home-made wine, or “vin de casa”. Many families have their own recipes and strands of grapes that have been passed down through the generations. Since 2013 Russia has imposed a ban on Moldovan wine being sold in the country, ever since Moldova signed a draft treaty with the European Union. This has damaged the wine industry of Moldova significantly.

According to Trip Advisor the top 3 things to do in Moldova are: 1. Stefan cel Mare Park in Central Chişinău (the capital). Formerly known as Pushkin Park, it is the oldest park in Moldova and spans about 7 hectares. – Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame is the national memorial commemorating the nameless Moldovan soldiers who fell during WWII. – Milestii Mici winery. Its underground wine city in limestone stretches for 250 km of which 120 km are currently in use. Milestii Mici cellar complex is recognized to be the largest in the world.

Recipes that I came across during my research include; Ciorba (sour soup) , Mititei (minced meat), Mamaliga (cornmeal mash) , Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), Colțunași (dumplings). I opted to cook the popular dish Zeama (chicken noodle soup). It had a subtle flavour and felt like a healthy bowl of goodness! According to my husband a bit of chilli would’ve given it a nice zing!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2 hungry people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours + 30 mins standing time

4 chicken thighs on the bone
800ml water
salt & black pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 big fresh tomato, chopped
100g egg noodles (I used medium but fine would be better)
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped medium celery stalk (reserve celery leaves, if any)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill weed
3 fresh thyme sprigs

Saute the onion and carrots until soft in a deep stock pot. Add the chicken and water then bring to a boil.
Turn heat down to medium-low heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Skim any froth.
Add a teaspoon of salt, black pepper, tomato and celery and cook for 5 minutes.
(The recipe didn’t say to do this, but I’m not a fan of chicken on the bone in a bowl of noodle soup so at this point I removed the chicken to a plate, removed the skin & bones, cut it up and then placed it back into the pot)
Add the egg noodles and lemon juice.
Continue cooking on medium-low for about 5 more minutes.
Add the fresh herbs (including celery leaves, if any).
Cover, remove from heat. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blend.