Iran

Iran, known as Persia until 1935, became an Islamic republic in 1979, after the ruling monarchy, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown and forced into exile. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had previously been in exile, returned to form a new government and became the country’s Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. He was named Man of the Year in 1979 by American news magazine TIME for his international influence, however he remains a controversial figure and was criticised for human rights violations of Iranians.

Iran is one of the world’s most mountainous countries with ranges such as the Caucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains. The northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. One of the most famous members of Iranian wildlife is the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, also known as the Iranian cheetah, whose numbers were greatly reduced after the 1979 Revolution.

Iran ranks seventh among countries in the world, in terms of the number of World Heritage Sites recognised by Unesco. These include the Persepolis ruins, Golestan Palace, The Persian Garden, Susa (Archaeological mounds) and Meidan Emam, Esfahan public square.

Popular dishes in Iranian cuisine include Luleh Kabob (lamb kebab), Chelo (plain rice), Āsh-e anār (soup made with split peas and pomegranate juice), Gormeh Sabzi (Green Herb Stew), Bademjan (Eggplant And Tomato Stew), Baghali Polo ba Morgh (chicken with fava bean and rice) and Sohān-e-Asali (honey toffee). I decided to cook Khoresht-e Karafs (lamb and celery stew) which I served with saffron infused rice. It had a sweet flavour and the lamb was really succulent.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr 15 minutes

500 g lamb or beef, cut into cubes
5 celery stalks
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch fresh parsley
3 medium onions
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of cooking oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper

Peel and thinly slice onions
Fry in oil until slightly golden
Add the meat to the onions with turmeric and black pepper until color changes
Add 2-3 glasses of hot water and bring to boil
Cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes, adding more hot water during cooking if needed.
Wash celery and cut into 3 cm pieces
Finely chop mint and parsley and fry slightly in oil
Add celery, mint, parsley, salt to the meat and continue cooking for about 20 minutes (celery should not become too soft).
Add lime juice and sugar to taste and cook for another 3-4 minutes
Serve with saffron infused rice

Persepolis, Iran
Persepolis ruins, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Iran
Mountains in Iran
Mountains in Iran
Iranian_Cheetah_roars
Asiatic cheetah
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Portugal

I’ve visited Portugal a few times and was looking forward to what the cuisine had in store for me. Piri Piri chicken is one of my favourites, so I was optimistic and fortunately not disappointed!
Portugal is situated on the Iberian Peninsula and was founded in 1139, making it one of the oldest nations in Europe. It is also the most westerly and it’s 754 mile long border with Spain is the longest in the EU.

Here are a few interesting facts I came across:
Portugal was the first county in the world to decriminalize the usage of all common drugs.
The biggest wave ever surfed, at 90ft (27.5m) was at Praia de Norte in Portugal by Hawaiian Garret McNamara.
The longest bridge in Europe, measuring 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) in length, is the Vasco da Gama bridge in Lisbon, completed in 1998 to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the discovery of the sea route between Europe and India.
The largest community of Portuguese outside Portugal is in Paris.
There are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal and more than 13 million tourists visit the country each year.
The largest artificial underwater park in the world – The Ocean Revival Underwater Park is in Portugal.
The oldest director in the world, Manoel de Oliveira lived until he was 106 and continued to make films until his death on 2 April 2015.
Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world, around 70% of total production.

Besides the obvious Piri Piri, there were plenty of tasty recipe options I found including Cataplana stew with Sausage and Clams , Cabidela (rice with chicken or rabbit), Caldeirada (fish stew) , Canja de galinha (chicken soup) , Espetada (chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered and barbequed), Queijada (a sweet made with cheese, milk, sugar & eggs) , Peixinhos da horta (deep fried green beans) and Camel’s drool (a portuguese sweet that recently featured on Master Chef, UK). I opted for Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork and clams). It was relatively simple and tasted really good. I served it with Portuguese style fried potatoes, which were equally delicious.

Rating: A high 9/10!

Serves 2
Prep time: 30 mins + 10 – 24 hours marinating time
Cook time: 45 mins

450g pork fillet cut into 2″ thick slices
50 ml dry white wine
250 ml milk
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
100 ml vermouth
500g clams (fresh or frozen)
175 ml (3/4 cup) chicken stock
1 bunch thyme, tied with kitchen string
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

For the roast pepper paste
2 long red peppers
6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make roast pepper paste
Preheat oven to 200°C. Place peppers and garlic cloves in an oven tray with olive oil. Season well and roast for 35 – 40 minutes or until softened and slightly blackened. Transfer to a bowl, cool slightly, then remove the skins and seeds from the peppers and the garlic skins.
Blend the peppers and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and cover with oil.

To make the Porco à Alentejana
Place pork in a bowl with white wine, milk, bay leaves, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp white pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 10 – 24 hours.
Drain, discard liquid and pat dry with paper towel.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Heat oil in a large ovenproof and lidded casserole dish over high heat and brown the pork for 3 minutes.
Remove the pork using a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.
Add garlic and onions to the same pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened.
Stir in ¼ cup roast pepper paste, vermouth and pork.
Place the dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until pork is tender.
Add clams, stock and thyme, cover the pan and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the clams have opened.
Remove the thyme sprig.
Season and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with Portuguese style fried potatoes.

Greece

Greece is on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It is mostly dry and mountainous with a large mainland and more than 1,400 islands, of which 227 are inhabited.  Greece has 9000 miles of coastline, making it the 10th longest coastline in the world.

Greece has one of the longest histories of any country, and is considered the cradle of Western civilization.  It is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and the Olympic games.  Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities with the first inhabitants present around the 11th-7th millennium BC.

Some interesting stats – it has by far the lowest number of fatal transport accidents per capita in the EU, one of the lowest death rates for cancer and one of the lowest divorce rates in the EU.

Three of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient world were in Greece – the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and Colossus of Rhodes, none of which exist today.  The amazing sights of the Parthenon, the Acropolis and Ancient Olympia are some of Greece’s ancient treasures, which along with it’s striking landscapes, and pleasing climate entices 16.5 million visitors a year.

Greece is the third largest producer of olives in the entire world.  There are estimated to be around 120,000,000 olive trees in Greece, and some of the olive trees from the 13th century are still producing olives today.

The cuisine of Greece dates back several millennia, is hugely varied and includes a wide array of ingredients.  Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences and influenced many cuisines itself.   Some of their typical dishes are Fasolada (bean and vegetable soup), Souvlaki (skewered meat or fish), Moussaka (casserole of aubergine, minced meat and potato), Saganaki (fried cheese), Keftedes Arni (lamb meatballs), Sofrito (veal escalopes from Corfu).  From the many recipes I came across, eventually I decided to cook Rabbit Stifado (slow cooked stew) which originates from Corfu.

Rating: 8/10

Serves 4 (alongside potatoes & veg)
Prep time: 10 mins + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 1hr 15 mins

1 rabbit, jointed
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 bay leaves
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
150ml olive oil
1/4 tsp sugar
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 small cinnamon stick
Salt and black pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
1 sprig rosemary
150ml red wine
300ml hot water
675g button onions, whole

Rinse the rabbit pieces and place them in a mixing bowl together with the bay leaves and vinegar.
Mix well and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Remove the rabbit from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Heat half of the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot, add the rabbit and fry them in until quite brown on all sides.
Add the garlic, bay leaves, spices, rosemary, wine, tomato puree and sugar and the hot water.
Season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil mixing well then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan, add the onions and saute gently for 15 minutes stirring occasionally, until golden all over.
After the rabbit has been cooking for 1 hour, add the onions and oil from the frying pan to the saucepan.
Mix, then re-cover and simmer for a further 15 minutes.

Eritrea

Eritrea is bordered by Sudan to the north and west, the Red Sea to the north and east with Ethiopia and Djibouti to the south.  Eritrea literally means “red”, and gets its name from the Red Sea.  Much of the country is mountainous. It’s narrow Red Sea coastal plain is one of the hottest and driest places in Africa. The cooler central highlands have fertile valleys that support agriculture.The Dahlak Islands, within the Red sea contain untouched sea reefs.

 

Eritrea only has one political party: People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. Isaias Afewerki is the first and the current President of Eritrea. He assumed office on May 24, 1993 after declaration of independence from Ethiopia.  After independence, Eritrea entered into a war over Red Sea islands with Yemen and then a more devastating border war with Ethiopia in 1998, causing an estimated 100,000 casualties. A peace agreement in 2000 established a UN-patrolled buffer zone along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border.

 

Eritrea were subject to a social media hoax earlier this year regarding supposed new marriage laws – “Due to the recent troubles in our country, we are experiencing a serious shortage of men, and an abundance of woman. Men are now legally required to take at least two wives, and any that fail to do so will face strict punishment.”  When the hoax went viral the Government took to twitter to dispel the rumour – “the media frenzy to parrot this ludicrous, fabricated and trite story… on mandatory polygamy is appalling”.

 

Some Eritrean recipes I came across were: Zigini (spicy beef stew) with injera (flatbread),   Gored gored (raw beef dish), Fata (spicy tomato bread salad with yoghurt).  I opted to cook Tsebhi Dorho (spicy chicken) which involved making Berbere (a spice blend) and Tegelese Tesmi (herbed butter).
Rating: 8/10
Serves 4-5 with rice & bread on the side
Prep time: 1 hour + 30 mins marinating time

Cook time: 30 mins for the Tegelese Tesmi & 1 hr 15 mins for the Tesbhi Dorho

 

For the Tesbhi Dorho:
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp Berbere spice – see below
3 tbsp Tegelese Tesmi (herbed butter) – see below
1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp garlic, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
500g chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into serving pieces
Salt & black pepper to taste
Hard boiled eggs, sliced (optional)
For the Berbere spice mix:
1 tsp (level) crushed chillies
1 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground onion powder
1/4 tsp fenugreek
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground coriander
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch garlic powder (not salt)
2 small cloves ground in pestle
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground allspice

For the Tegelese Tesmi:
100g unsalted butter
50ml water
1 small onion very finely chopped
1 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

For the Tegelese Tesmi:
Put the butter and the water in a frying-pan and heat them until the butter has melted.
Add the other ingredients and simmer the mixture on a low fire for 30 minutes, until the mixture stops skimming and the butter is clear.
Do NOT stir the mixture.
Sieve the butter and allow to cool down in a well closed jam jar.

For the Berbere spice blend:
Mix all the spices together and put in a closed jar until you need to use them.

For the Tesbhi Dorho:
Sprinkle chicken with lemon juice and salt and allow to marinate for about thirty minutes.
In a skillet, sauté onions in a small amount of water.
Add Berbere spice and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add Tegelese Tesmi and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, ginger and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add chicken and 1/2 cup water and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and fully cooked.
If you are using eggs, add them and cook for a couple of minutes.
Serve with cooked basmati rice and plain nan.