Russia

The largest country in the world, at 17,075,200 sq.km,  almost double the 2nd largest country, Canada.  It has 11 time zones, the worlds largest forest (The Taiga) and the deepest lake (Lake Baikal).  The longest train journey on earth is the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is 9,289k, takes 7 days with 58 stops.  A one way ticket 3rd class costs £202, 2nd class £346 and 1st class £694.  People have been taking this journey since 1916.  One of Russia’s most urgent problems is its grave population decline, in response they have created incentives including cash rewards for families to have more children.  It has the largest McDonalds in the world with 700 seats.  Moscow has more billionaire residents than any other city in the world. There are a total of 74 billionaires living in the popular city.  Moscow’s amazing metro system is the fastest means of transport. During rush hour, trains are scheduled for every 90 seconds. It is estimated that over 9 million passengers ride the Meto every day. The Metro of St. Petersburg is also the deepest subway in the world, clocking in at a whopping 100m deep.  Home to the Bolshoi Ballet, an internationally renowned classical ballet company, based at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. Founded in 1776, it is among the world’s oldest ballet companies.  Vodka is worth over $12 billion in global sales annually and there are hundreds of different Russian brands.  Stolichnaya is the 4th best selling vodka in the world, with the French ‘Grey goose’ being no.1.

As for the food, there’s plenty of choice .. Shchi (cabbage soup), Pirogi (dumplings) , Borscht (beetroot soup), Honey cake, Bliny (thin pancakes), Kasha (porridge).  I opted for the very traditional Beef Stroganoff, served with lovely creamy mash, much to Bern’s delight 🙂 .. and a sneaky shot of Vodka!
Rating: 9/10
½  tbsp oil
½ tbsp butter
½ onion, thinly sliced
120g crimini mushrooms, sliced
300g beef steak, cut in strips
2 tbsps brandy
salt
pepper, freshly ground
¼ cup beef stock
1-bay leaf
½ tsp whole grain mustard
½ cup- full fat creme fraiche
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
 

Heat oil and butter in a heavy skillet and cook onions and mushrooms over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add cut steak to the same skillet and quickly fry over high heat for 3-5 minutes.
Add brandy and continue cooking until alcohol burns off, add stock, mustard, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to release all the brown bits, they will add much flavour to the sauce.
Bring mushrooms and onions back to the pan and cook for 3 minutes until everything is heated through and bubbling.
Stir creme fraiche and parsley and take off the heat.

Serve quickly whilst its hot with mounds of mashed potatoes or rice.

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Georgia

T’bilisi, the capital of Georgia, has been home to human territory since 4th millennium BC.  Georgia is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world, with climatic zones ranging from subtropical to high alpine to semi-desert.  Georgia has the world’s deepest cave – Voronya Cave and it’s highest mountain is Mount Shkhara with an altitude of 5,201 meters (17,059 feet).

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Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions of the world.  The fertile valleys of the South Caucasus are believed by many archaeologists to be the source of the world’s first cultivated grapevines and neolithic wine production, over 8,000 years ago.  Chateau Mukhrani – Goruli Mtsvan 2009 (a white wine from Georgia) costs just under £10 from thedrinkshop.com or treat yourself to a bottle of Orovela Saperavi from Waitrose cellars costing £16.79.
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One can ski or indeed snowboard, in Georgia.  There are several ski resorts of varying sizes, Gudauri seems to be the largest with 57km of pistes & 7 lifts.  From a very rough search, a 7 night ski trip might cost:
Cheapest return flight from London to Tsibili – £216 (via Turkey as there are no direct flights)
Taxis from Tsibili to Gudari – £30 one way
Cheapest hotel (White Shino Hostel) – £204
Most expensive hotel (Hotel Gudauri Marco Polo) – £2,122
A total of £476 for cheap as chips, or £2,398 for top dollar, excluding meals.
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In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece is the fleece of the gold-hair winged ram, which was held in Colchis, Georgia. The fleece is a symbol of authority and kingship and figures in the tale of the hero Jason and his band of Argonauts, who set out on a quest for the fleece by order of King Pelias, in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly, Greece. Through the help of Medea, they acquire the Golden Fleece.
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I was quite surprised by the variety of the Georgian recipes I came across, to name a few – Lobio (between refried beans and soup), Kharcho (slow cooked meat stew), Lobiani (bean filled dough), Khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) and Khinkali (dumplings)
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As it was a Friday night, I thought I’d be adventurous and dare 2 dishes. The links below were the recipes I followed.  I did about a 3rd of the chicken recipe for the 2 of us and there were still leftovers.  I actually used 2 chicken breasts rather than chicken pieces, which I think worked just fine.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find dried marigold (it is available on amazon though!), so I substituted turmeric, mainly for the colour.  I served it with rice.
Rating: 7/10 overall
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Haiti

The first time of sharing (inflicting one could say) my cooking challenge with anyone other than my generally thankful husband!! … Mum and Dad joined us this evening.
Haiti makes up one third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic making up the other two-thirds.
Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Amerindians called Taíno, “the good people.” The Taíno named their land “Ayiti,” meaning “Land of Mountains”—a term that evolved into “Haiti”
In the jungles of Haiti, one can find certain species that do not live naturally on any other part of the globe; some bat species native to Haiti include the Greater Bulldog bat, the Sooty Mustached bat and Waterhouse’s leaf-nosed bat.
There are some quite harsh facts associated with this Caribbean country:
– It has been ranked as one of the five most corrupt countries
– Because of both violence and AIDS, it has the highest percentage of orphans of any country in the Western Hemisphere. Before the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations estimated there were 430,000 orphans
– From 1804-1915, more than 70 dictators ruled Haiti
– It is estimated between 200,000 – 300,000 Haitians died and 1.5 million were left homeless in the devastating earthquake in January 2010.
– c.1% of Haiti’s population owns more than 50% of the nation’s wealth.

These were some of the recipes I found in my research; Diri kole ak pwa (rice and beans), Kribich nan sòs (Haitian Shrimp), Legim (thick vegetable stew), but as I knew I was entertaining, I chose the more popular Griyo or Griot (fried pork).  I found several recipes, all varied quite significantly in both method & ingredients.  This is how I made it:

Rating 7/10

Ingredients for 4 people
6 pork shoulder steaks, cut into 1” square chunks
1 large onion, sliced thinly
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 jalapeno chilli pepper, seeds removed and sliced thinly
1.5 tsp of thyme leaves
Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 orange
3 garlic cloves
500ml water
2 tbsp olive oil

Put the pork with all of the ingredients except the water and oil in a bowl, mix well, cover and refreigerate overnight
Take the pork out of the fridge an hour before you want to start cooking
Drain any liquid and reserve it.  Place the pork, onions & water in an oven proof covered dish
Preheat the oven to 190
Cook the pork for 1.5 hours.
Using a large colander, drain the liquid into a medium saucepan, reserving the pork & onion in the colander.
Put the oil in the same oven dish and place into the oven for 5 mins
Place the pork into the hot oil and cook for 25 mins
Meanwhile heat the remaining liquid in the saucepan with ½ cup of orange juice and reduce by half to make the sauce
When the pork is cooked, remove from the oven and pour the reduced sauce over the pork and serve with cooked boiled rice.

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Iraq

It’s impossible to avoid thoughts of war and destruction when one thinks of Iraq. However it isn’t all doom & gloom …
The region known as Mesopotamia, is most often referred to as humanity’s cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws, and live in cities under an organised government.
One of Iraq’s distinctive plants is licorice, which has been used for thousands of years for its health benefits. Warriors in ancient armies found that chewing it kept them from getting thirsty. For 5,000 years Iraqis have been keeping bees. Honey is an important source of food and income for many Iraq families.  The famous children’s story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was written in Iraq about 1,000 years ago.
After a fair bit of research I found the following recipes: Kubbat Mousel (layers of burghul with a thin layer of minced meat), Fasangoon (chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce), Samak Masgouf (seasoned grilled fish) and Kleicha (filled pastry).  From an Iraqi cookbook, I decided to cook Timman Jazar (rice with carrots).  I served it with red wild rice.
My rating: 7/10 – it had a nice flavour and the rice added a good texture to the dish.  Bern wasn’t so keen,  apparently the cinnamon ‘got up his nose’ :-p
For 2 people with a bit leftover
250g minced meat
2 large carrots
1 large onion
1 tbsp garam masala
½ tsp cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
Vegetable oil for cooking
200g red wild rice
Rinse the rice in cold water
Chop the onions and carrots into small cubes
Cook the minced meat with the garam masala, until slightly brown
Add the chopped onion, season with salt and black pepper; continue cooking for 5-10 minutes over a medium heat
Add the chopped carrots and cinnamon and cook for about 15 minutes, adding a little water
Meanwhile, cook the rice (I did this in the microwave for 15 mins and then let stand for 15 mins)
Add the cooked rice to the meat & veg mixture and serve

Bhutan

A tiny Himalayan kingdom that is best known for things like being great at archery and having no stoplights.  Bhutan is the only country that measures GNH (Global National Happiness) alongside GDP.  There are only 4 airplanes in the entire country, and they all belong to the national airline, Druk Air. There are no private planes for the royals or elected officials.  One more interesting thing to note about Bhutan: there are a lot of penises painted on buildings!  The penis is a symbol of good luck and hospitality, and some people think it wards off evil spirits.
I found it quite tricky hunting down authentic Bhutanese recipes as I kept coming across Nepalese & Chinese influenced dishes.  Ema Datshi is the national dish and is a chilli & cheese stew.  I opted to cook Momos (dumplings).
Ingredients
For the dough:
3/4 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
125g minced chicken breast
1 tbsp chopped onion
1 small chopped garlic clove
1 small piece of chopped ginger
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaf
salt & pepper
For tomato sauce:
100g tomato passata
1 small chopped garlic clove
1 small piece of chopped ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
For the dough, mix the flour and salt, then add oil and water and knead until it forms a ball
Cover and set aside for 30 minutes
Mix together all the filling ingredients in a small bowl
For the sauce, fry the garlic and ginger in oil over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Then add the tomato passata, salt, pepper & sugar and cook over low heat for 10 minutes
Use a pasta machine to roll out the dough thinly (up to setting 5 or 6) and then cut into 4-inch circles.
Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle and fold the circle in half, then pinch the edges to seal
Steam momos for 15-20 minutes in a bamboo steamer
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How to start?

It’s really difficult to know where to start or how to approach this challenge, so I am going to have a bit of a practice run. For 2 weeks I’m going to see how long it takes to do my research, select the recipes, buy the ingredients, cook the recipe and then write the blog.
After several Google searches, I have a list of 196 countries.  Yesterday I printed out all the countries & put them in a pot, except I seem to only have 195 (likely due to poor scissor use!) … so when I pick my last set of countries from the pot, I’ll find out which is the missing one and save it for the final recipe!
The 9 countries I’ve randomly picked from the pot to feature over the next 2 weeks starting from tomorrow (yikes!) are:-
       Singapore
       Iraq
       Bhutan
       Guinea
       Central African Republic
       Kyrgyzstan
       Haiti
       Cyprus
       Panama

The challenge

Inspired by a TED talk I recently listened to by Ann Morgan, I’ve decided to set myself a challenge.  Two of my greatest passions are food & travel, so I am going to cook a recipe from every country in the world over the course of a year.  Not quite Julie & Julia (one of my favourite films), but an exciting foodie adventure none the less.
I would like to think that I’m quite an adventurous cook, but the reality is that I stick to what I know, both in ingredients and recipes.  So in order to broaden my culinary skills and experience .. this is my challenge!
I really want to ensure that I cook authentic recipes that originate from their respective countries, so I am appealing to my friends to help me ‘keep it real’ and if you know of or find any relevant recipes, please do share them with me.
Wish me luck!