Sunday, December 13, 2009

November 2009 - Kuwait

Kuwaiti food is largely representative of the surrounding food cultures such as Arabian, Indian and Western. There is also a large Bedouin influence. The most common spice mix in Kuwait is a fusion of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cumin, nutmeg, black pepper and paprika. We approached the preparation of the meal by creating an assortment of traditional salads, mezze, Kuwaiti spiced kebabs, rice and the Gers ogaily which is an oil less cake made with cardamom and saffron.

  • hummus and beetroot spreads
  • pita breads and fresh salad

  • Assorted kebabs and rice

Traditional cake

This was a very easy cuisine to prepare and pretty familiar too so I am not going to delve too much into the individual salads and dips. Most of the ingredients were readily available and it felt pretty healthy too. The large assortment of salads and the spicy kebabs and rice worked well together to create a healthy and light meal that is easy to replicate. The kebabs were done on the barbecue and the traditional spices with which they were seasoned made a tasty and aromatic main course. The only disappointment of the evening was the sponge cake which I am fairly sure is supposed to rise to more than half a centimetre in height :) but nevertheless we got the idea of the flavour and texture.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 2009 - Cyprus

Cypriot cuisine has evolved as a fusion of Greek and Turkish cuisines. Halloumi, or known as hellim in Turkish – is the national cheese of Cyprus. Cypriots grill their food over charcoal. Traditionally, artisha (cumin) and kolliandros (coriander) seeds make up the main cooking aromas of the island. Mint is a very important herb in Cyprus. It grows voraciously, and locals use it for everything, particularly in dishes containing ground meat.
Our menu for the evening is:

  • Watermelon and Halloumi Salad

  • Pita and Hummus

  • Chicken Souvlaki

  • Koftes

  • Machalepi and Turkish (Cypriot) Delight

What I love about these evenings is that each one seems better than the last. Cyprus was a huge hit. The watermelon, basil and halloumi salad was a fabulous combination. The saltiness of the cheese versus the intense sweetness of the watermelon created a fusion of flavours which just worked so well. We didn't bother to separate the courses this time and just stuffed our pita breads with the salad, the hummus and the souvlaki and kofte balls. The souvlaki were a mix of chicken and grilled halloumi basted in ouzo, honey, olive oil and vinegar. The kofte balls were heavy on the mint adding a Greek spin on the normal meatball. Dessert was interesting. The machalepi is a rosewater and cornflour dessert with a consistency not unlike jelly. It was pleasant but I don't know if it would hold mass appeal as the rosewater flavour is very strong. We accompanied the dessert with Turkish delight (which is claimed by the Cypriots as being their national food too) and the closest thing to baklava that was available at the local bakery.

All in all it was a very light meal and quite different from all the heavy curries and stews that have preceded it until now. A very nice supper to whip together at the last minute.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 2009 - Sri Lanka

This month's challenge is the island country of Sri Lanka, home to around twenty million people. The food of Sri Lanka is hot and spicy. The base food of the inhabitants of the island is rice which they consume with curry which is both vegetable and fish based. The cuisine of Sri Lanka draws influence from that of India, as well as colonists and foreign traders. As with many of the countries in the area, Sri Lankans traditionally eat with their right hands.

Our menu for the Sri Lankan evening is:
  • Sri Lankan Rolls
  • Home made Rootis
  • Beef Curry and Rice
  • Sri Lankan Love cake

This was probably one the most successful evening yet. Sri Lanka rolls are a curried vegetable (potato and carrot) filled spring roll, which is dipped in a batter and bread crumbs before frying. We ate these with some chili sauce on the side and they were crispy and very filling. They would make for great 'hand arounds' at a dinner party. Very impressive rotis were made from scratch with the addition of coconut making the roti more typical of the Sri Lankan type. The coconut definitely gave the roti an extra nice flavour. The accompaniment was a fairly traditional beef curry and rice which was very tasty and mild. Dessert was a Sri Lankan love cake. Love cake is a spicy cake which tastes a bit like a cross between a Christmas cake and a spice cake. It was sweet and very interesting as all the individual spices each added a bit of zing to the cake in different ways. We had fun trying to taste each component with every bite. Among the ingredients are lemon zest, almond essence, nutmeg and semolina. Strangely there is no oil or butter in this recipe and all the moisture comes from the addition of the stiffly beaten egg whites.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

August 2009 - Zambia

Our food theme for this month is Zambian and it sure has been interesting
trying to find some authentic Zambian recipes which don't involve the use of mice, moths or caterpillars. The staple food of Zambia is a thick maize meal and water 'porridge' called Nshima (South African pap or Zimbabwean sadza) which is served with lunch and dinner. The nshima is traditionally accompanied by a meat stew of whatever animal is available. Peanuts and peanut butter are a common ingredient in Zambian cooking. When you are a guest in a Zambian’s house, refusing to eat completely is considered rude. Even if you are full, you always have to eat everything the host puts in your plate. If you do not, you are considered impolite. So with this in mind, here is the menu for the Zambian evening...

  • Mielie (Corn) Soup
  • Fresh meat stew (not pictured) with Nshima balls

  • Golabjamoun (sweet potato cakes)

  • Milk Tart (with Western style 'snakes')

The meal started off on a very high note as the corn soup was absolutely delicious! Chock full of corn and very thick, it was a meal on its own especially with a hunk of crispy bread. The main course was definitely for a more traditional palate. The beef stew was made according to Zambian tradition with very little by way of herbs and spices, so it was quite bland. It was served with nshima which is a mixture of maize meal and water. Nshima, or pap, as it is known in South Africa is a very filling starch accompaniment with very little flavour, but it serves its purpose as a cheap way to feed a very poor community. The golabjamoun was a welcome addition to the meal, as it was quite yum. Golabjamoun is mashed sweet potato with flour, sugar and cinamon, rolled into balls (didn't quite get that part right) and then fried until the outside is crispy. This was a tasty addition to the otherwise bland stew and nshima.
Dessert was milk tart which is eaten throughout Africa. It is a custard topping on a biscuit type base, sprinkled with cinamon. For authenticity and because insects are not readily available at any supermarket in the Western world, we threw on some jelly snakes.
All in all, Zambia is not a country that one would go out of one's way to, in order to taste their food, but there definitely are a few hidden delights in the Zambian repertoire.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 2009 - Laos

Our food theme for July is Laos. The Lao national dish is laap which is a spicy mixture of marinated meat or fish that is sometimes raw with a combination of greens, herbs, and spices. Savoury Lao dishes are never sweet and many are actually bitter. Food is frequently eaten at room temperature. The staple food is sticky rice which is traditionally eaten by hand.

Our menu for the Laotian evening is:

  • Chicken soup

  • Chicken Stew

  • Vegetable Stir Fry
  • Sticky rice
  • Sticky rice pudding with mango

A seemingly simple soup to prepare, getting the balance of flavours correct in this dish took an age. The spices are lemongrass, chili, garlic, coriander, mint and lime. Together they have to make a slightly lemony, slightly spicy broth which is served with shredded chicken. It is was a very refreshing and palateble soup.
The main courses of chicken stew and vegetable stir fry also relied heavily on Laotian spices (such as lemongrass, ginger and coriander) to give them their tang. The chicken stew was based with a roasted eggplant. Both were served with sticky rice, but I am sorry to say we didn't eat it with our fingers :) They were both excellent.
The dessert was sticky coconut rice pudding with mango. The coconut sauce was a hit all round. Definitely a recipe to be revisited in the future!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 2009 - Republic of South Africa

The first country picked is South Africa, which is actually quite ironic and totally coincidental seeing as three of the four of us, grew up there. South Africa has a huge culinary culture, with influences from Holland, India and other African countries.

South African food is a meat eaters paradise, with the braai or barbeque being the weekend norm for almost all cultures. Meats commonly available in South Africa range from the normal beef, lamb and chicken to the rather more exotic venison, ostrich, crocodile and kudu. Traditional foods include : mopani worms which are usually served deep fried with a crispy outer coating; pap which is a porridge-like mixture of mealie meal; bobotie which is a South African take on shepherd's pie where the mash is replaced by a egg and milk mixture and malva pudding which is the world's best version of a fruity cake with a sweet toffee coating.

Our menu for the South African evening is:
  • Biltong Salad

  • Butternut Bredie with yellow rice

  • Cape Brandy Pudding with custard

The whole menu was delicious!

Biltong is similar to beef jerky but with a distinctive flavour. The meat is cured and dried until the meat is hard on the outside with a slightly moist centre. The biltong was sprinkled over mesclun, baby tomatoes, carrots, spring onions and seeds. A superb sweet dressing was poured over just before serving.

A Bredie is a Cape Malay stew. It is a barrage of flavours - the sweet butternut coated in cinammon and sugar mixes with the cardamom, cloves and ginger in the meat. The trick is to cook the bredie for a long time so that the meat is tender and the flavours are infused into the rich, thick gravy. Rice, cooked in turmeric to make it yellow, with a few raisins added are the usual accompaniment to this style of cooking.

Cape brandy pudding is just delicious. It is a warm cake seeped in brandy and topped with a sugary sauce that will keep the winter chills away. Cape brandy pudding is also known as Tipsy tart because if you eat enough (which I think we all did) you will definitely start feeling the alcohol.