Seven years of frying: Tibetan shapale

Regular readers will have noticed that we tend to follow a rough geographical order when making our international recipes, so would rightly be slightly confused by the fact that we’ve now jumped from Bermuda to Tibet. This is because when we started this project, our list of countries followed a rule whereby each country bordered the countries on either side of it on the list, but there was no way to take this linear approach and also include all the countries – so we have a separate list of ‘leftover’ countries. Now that we’ve reached the Caribbean islands (of which there are a lot, and if the Pacific Islands are anything to go by, they’re all likely to offer up quite similar foods), we thought we’d intersperse them with those leftover countries. So: Tibet. Continue reading


Post-holiday poultry: Georgian chakhokbili

We recently returned from a few days away in Madeira, known as a holiday destination for ‘newlyweds and nearly-deads.’ To the best of our knowledge (and optimism), we’re neither of those, but we quite fancied a bit of sunshine and warmth somewhere a bit different, and that’s exactly what we got. Madeira was stunningly beautiful, with its mountainous landscapes and balmy temperatures. You need longer than the three-and-a-half days that we had to properly explore it, but we did our best to scrape the surface in as much detail as possible, despite finding out too late that our last day was a public holiday and therefore some of the things we wanted to do weren’t open! We managed the most important thing, though – drinking madeira in Madeira – and that’s what counts.


735a-madeira-in-madeira-compressed Continue reading

Porridge as you’ve never seen it before: Armenian harissa and khorvadzed vegetables

This recipe will challenge everything you ever thought you knew about both porridge and harissa. Like most people in this part of the world, porridge for us is a breakfast food (or, admittedly for Miranda, a lazy dinner), with a base of oats and greatly improved by such additions as cinnamon, honey, peanut butter or, for a festive twist, fruit mince (seriously – try it). Likewise, as far as we knew, harissa was a delicious chilli paste used in North African cuisine.

Then we searched for ‘Armenian national dish.’

Armenia lies in the mountains between Asia and Europe, and its cuisine is characterised by fresh ingredients, and wheat in a variety of forms. If its national dish of harissa is anything to go by, simplicity is also key, as this dish really only has two main ingredients: wheat and chicken. We opted for a recipe from SBS because it used pearl barley (which we could easily get hold of) rather than wheat (which we couldn’t). It’s therefore not 100% traditional, but seems to be pretty close. Continue reading

Back with basics: Azerbaijani toyug

Hello, blog friends, and apologies for our extended absence! We’re horrified to note that the last time we updated this blog was on 24th August. The only real excuse we can offer is that we have been very busy. Doing what, exactly, it’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s a combination of work, weekends away and the calamitous occurrence of an extinguished pilot light on our boiler. But we managed to keep this blog up to date whilst planning a wedding (two, in fact), so that excuse is a bit lame. At any rate, we’re not going to become world-famous food bloggers with that sort of attitude, so… we’re back!

Admittedly, our choice of Azerbaijani recipe was in many ways a result of the aforementioned busyness rather than an attempt to recreate an unmistakeably traditional dish. It was mid-week, we had all the ingredients required and we hadn’t cooked an international dish for a while, so toyug was what we decided on. There is a version of this dish from many countries, so it’s possibly unlikely that it originated in Azerbaijan, but it was quick, easy and surprisingly tasty given how basic the ingredient list was, so it worked for us. And that said, Azerbaijani cuisine is characterised by its use of fresh herbs, which were certainly present in this dish – so maybe it was traditional after all! Continue reading

Great Turkmen bake off: Turkmen ichlekli

It’s a very exciting time in the UK at the moment and fans of watching nail-biting competition are all fired up. No, we’re not talking about Team GB’s phenomenal success at the Rio Olympics – it’s the return of the Great British Bake Off!

It therefore seems appropriate (yet entirely coincidental, admittedly) that the dish we chose from Turkmenistan was a pie. The native ichlekli, or ‘shepherd’s pie’, is a simple dish that doesn’t resemble the English shepherd’s pie, yet is no less enjoyable. It was traditionally baked by Turkmen shepherds by burying it in hot sand and embers. We assume that it was a source of protein and carbs for the nomads of Turkmenistan’s desert landscape. Our recipe came from Turkmen Kitchen. Continue reading

Return to rice: Afghan kabuli pulao

Before we begin, a word of warning. Do not attempt this dish unless you have the following:
1. A spare few hours
2. The inclination to do a lot of dishes (or, even better, a dishwasher)
3. Considerable patience

As mentioned in our last entry, we’ve been travelling around Spain for the past few weeks, meaning that aside from some paella in Valencia (and some variations on the theme in Córdoba and Madrid), we’ve eaten very little rice, the Spanish preferring to gain their carbs through bread (oh, so much bread) and potatoes. Similarly, we don’t think we’ve eaten lamb since we made beshbarmak nearly two months ago. Reaching Afghanistan on our culinary adventure, therefore, happened at the perfect time.

Afghanistan’s national dish is kabuli pulao, although it seems that the concept of spelling is a loose one where this dish is concerned: for the first word, we’ve also seen qabuli, kubali or kabili; for the second, palaw, palau, pilau, palao and pilaf. However, even Miranda is not enough of a spelling pedant to let this get in the way of what promised to be a gently spiced, fragrant dish. The main ingredient is equally variable, with chicken, beef and lamb all being possibilities, but we opted for lamb for the reason mentioned above. Continue reading

Changing our instincts: Kyrgyz kuurdak and shirin paloo

One of the roles of a secondary school teacher is to take responsibility for a form group, which essentially involves taking the register twice a day, passing on messages and then keeping the students entertained until it’s time for them to head on to their timetabled lessons. Miranda had a year 11 form group this year and one of their favourite ways of being entertained was doing quizzes on Sporcle, which, if you’re not already aware of it, is a superb way to kill some time in any situation, not just the classroom.

To begin with, their favourite quiz topic was Geography; specifically, quizzes that involved naming countries on a map (like this one). In practice, this involved twenty 16-year-old shouting out names of countries while Miranda (manning the computer) frantically tried to type them as quickly as possible. Kyrgyzstan always slowed down the typing proceedings somewhat – and even after typing it many times whilst researching the country’s cuisine, it still takes a second to remember which comes first out of the S and the Z.

Something else that isn’t obvious to many of us is what the country is actually like – but we are here to help (a bit)! It is a mountainous region, Russian is the most widely-spoken language, and Islam is the dominant religion. Traditional Kyrgyz food largely revolves around mutton, horse meat and beef, as well as some dairy products, which reflects the historically nomadic way of life of the Kyrgyz people. Thus, we opted for kuurdak (a meat stew – we used beef but traditionally it would have been made with organ meat) and a rice dish called shirin paloo. This is the vegetarian version of paloo, where the typically-used meat is replaced with dried fruits, which made it work well as a side dish. We got our recipes from a website called The Kyrgyz Children’s Future, which supports disadvantaged children from Kyrgyzstan.


1kg beef shin, cut into small chunks
4 onions, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 peppers (preferably green but doesn’t really matter), sliced (the ingredients list in the original recipe said julienned, the method said cut in circles, the accompany image showed them cut into chunks… feel free to do what you like!)
1 cup cabbage, julienned
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
2 cups water (approx.)
2 tbsp tomato purée

1. In a large pot, fry the meat in the oil until browned. You will probably need to do this in batches.
2. Add everything else and simmer until the water is absorbed and the ingredients are soft – about an hour.
3. Remove bay leaves and serve hot.
Serves 4

673a Beef compressed

674a Starting paloo and kuurdak compressed

675a Start of kuurdak compressed

678a Kuurdak compressed

Shirin paloo

1/4 cup vegetable oil
4-5 carrots, peeled and julienned
3 onions, sliced
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup seedless golden raisins
1 cup prunes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
5-6 cups water
2 cups rice

1. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan and fry the onions and carrots until softened (about 10 minutes).
2. Add the water and bring to the boil.
3. Add the rice in a flat layer and boil until the rice soaks up all the water (the water should be about 1/2 inch above the surface of the rice in the beginning).
4. Add the dried fruits and mix in. (The original recipe didn’t say when to add the salt and cinnamon. We realised this at this point and added it, but it could probably also go in when the rice does. Perhaps it actually should.)
5. Make a mound of rice in the centre of the pan, put on the lid and put on low heat for 15-20 minutes. Periodically, let out excess steam. It will probably form a crust on the bottom, but make sure it doesn’t burn.
Serves 5-6

676a Cooking paloo compressed

677a Paloo compressed

These were two very interesting recipes because they both required us to do things that went against our culinary instincts. For the kuurdak, the original recipe said to only cook the meat for 30-45 minutes, as did every other recipe we looked at. We’d have gone along with this in the name of authenticity, but we tasted it after that time had passed and decided that we weren’t willing to waste a kilo of beef by serving it up with the texture of leather – hence the extended cooking time in our recipe (although it still could have happily cooked for a while longer)! Aside from that, we enjoyed the kuurdak, which had a lot of flavour despite not having a lot of ingredients to provide said flavour.

As for the paloo, the recipe didn’t say to cut up the apricots or prunes, so we didn’t, even though we felt that it they would sit better alongside the raisins if they were cut into smaller pieces. In the end, we were proved half-right. We still think the apricots could have been smaller – even just cut in half – because they could be a bit overpowering left whole, but the prunes became rather deliciously melty and gooey so were fine just the way they are. Overall, we were divided on the rice: we both agreed that it was nice, but Miranda found it a bit too sweet and cloying, whereas Ash thought it went well alongside the beef.

679a Shirin paloo and kuurdak compressed

Stay tuned for our next Central Asian experiment, which takes the region’s cooking in a whole new direction!