Recipes from Kurdistan

OK, so last week was kind of disastrous, but at least it makes for fun reading, right? This week was not nearly so bad. Kurdistan is located in a land of deliciousness. It may have a few other problems, but lack of delicious food is not one of them.

By the way, I'm switching my updates to Sundays. OK, yes, I'm aware that it's Monday. But for the most part, I feel like I should be able to post on Sundays. Between school and work (the paying kind), it's just getting a little too challenging to hit Thursdays with any real consistency.

I generally enjoy food from this part of the world, so I was happy to see Kurdistan especially following my tragic visit to Kosovo. Kurdistan, as you may know, is not actually a country. Rather, it is a "geo-cultural region," which means that it is the home of a specific ethnic group of people who are spread between several different nations. These are the Kurds, who live in parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. So not exactly a land of stability, but yes, a land of deliciousness.

Akre, Kurdistan, Ninawa, Iraq. Photo by Jan Sefti.

Regionally, Kurdistan occupies about 74,000 square miles. There are between 25 and 30 million Kurds, most of whom live in one of those four Kurdish regions, though some do reside in other regions.

It is pretty remarkable that an ethnic group of that size doesn't have its own state, in fact, the Kurds are commonly thought of as one of the world's largest nationless ethnic groups. The only country where they've really come close to independence is Iraq--they actually govern themselves semi-autonomously there.

The Kurds are known to be fierce soldiers--they're called Peshmerga, which means "those who face death." They have a reputation as being particularly effective compared to the Iraqi military, though not quite effective enough (so far) to deal with some of the recent violence that's been happening over there.

Until pretty recently, the Kurds were a nomadic people, so traditional Kurdish cuisine is what you would probably expect to find in a culture that once depended economically on animal husbandry. Modern Kurdish cuisine has also taken influence from neighboring cultures: there are Arab, Turkish and Persian influences in the food, too. Here are the three dishes I decided to make:

Xorsht Fesenjan (chicken with pomegranate molasses and walnut)
(from Faranak's Kurdish Kitchen)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 whole chicken, cut up
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups ground walnut
  • 1 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1 to 2 tbsp sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Purgach (Shepherd's Bread)
(from Kurdish Cuisine)
  • 8 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 cups Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 sticks margarine
Brinji Sor (Kurdish Red Rice)
(from My Awesome Things)
  • 1 1/2 cups Basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
Let's start with the bread. First, mix together the yogurt, egg and salt. Place the flour in a separate bowl and pour the egg and yogurt mixture over it.

Knead until you get a soft dough. Now melt the butter and pour it over the dough.

Keep kneading. When the dough starts to become firm, spread it out in a metal cookie sheet.

Poke holes in it with your finger at intervals of about two inches.

Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes, then turn off the oven and let rest inside for another 10 minutes. (Note: mine took less time than that, so keep checking it. It's done when it's a golden color.)

Next, the chicken. First heat up the oil in a large pot and add the onion. Saute until translucent. Add the chicken pieces and let cook on both sides until brown. Add the water and ground walnut.

Now add the pomegranate molasses (regular molasses isn't really a substitute) and the sugar. Finally add the salt, saffron and cayenne (if using). Bring to a boil and then let simmer for one hour or until a meat thermometer registers 175 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (note that 165 is actually a safe temperature, but I find that the texture of dark meat is still a little bit unpleasant at 165). The sauce should be pretty rich and thick by the time it's ready to serve.

Yeah, it looks kind of like a train wreck. But oh, so good.

Now for the rice. First rinse it until the water runs clear, then toss it into boiling water for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium-sized pan and lightly saute the onion.

Drain the rice and transfer to a casserole dish and stir in the onions. Mix the tomato paste with the oil and then pour over the rice. Mix well and cover the dish. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Martin raved and raved about the chicken. It was pretty delicious. The sauce actually reminded me of a totally unrelated dish I make with oil-packed sundried tomatoes--it had that really sharp, rich flavor that was similar in a weird way to that sundried tomato sauce. The rice was good too, a nice texture if not really terribly unusual. And we all liked the bread. It was crispy and soft at the same time and was really great for soaking up all that extra yummy sauce.

Yes, I will be making chicken in pomegranate molasses again, provided I can find a good source of pomegranate molasses. It's funny, I actually had some in my pantry already, left over from another Travel by Stove recipe. Martin thinks I'm probably one of only a few people in US who can look at most recipes that use unusual ingredients and go, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I already have some of that." Although, I have to say I'm constantly amazed by how many strange and wonderful ingredients there actually are in the world.

Next week: Kuwait
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Recipes from Kosovo

So, the cooking part of this blog is currently about three weeks ahead of the blog posts. Which is usually not a problem, but a few minutes ago when I went to start writing this entry and I looked back at the list I went, "Wait, did I do Kosovo?"

I had to rack my brain and I still couldn't remember doing Kosovo. Which is really telling because I spend literally hours in the kitchen every week doing these meals, so for me to completely forget one either means that A) I am losing it or B) it was really, really, not very memorable.

I am going with B, even though you're all out there nodding your heads going, "Yeah, it's totally A."

Photo by Jarek Jarosz.

Kosovo. Land of mountains and some other stuff. Damn, I just pissed off a bunch of people in Kosovo. Forgive me, for I am an American, and I get all of my information from the Internet. Kosovo is not one of those countries that makes the news, at least not since 1999 when its Albanian and Serbian populations decided to start killing each other. Fortunately NATO put an end to all of that before the end of that same year, after which they put the whole region under transitional UN administration. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, much to Serbia's chagrin (Serbia still doesn't recognize Kosovo as an independent state). So now Kosovo is a very tiny, very independent country all of its own, complete with food so unmemorable that no one ever talks about it on the internet.

It's Eastern European food, which, I don't know. I like some Eastern European food. Who doesn't enjoy a good goulash? But in my (limited) experience, Eastern European food is very heavy and very simple, both qualities I don't really love in a meal. So everything I could find was simple and, yes, dull, and I guess I must have been cooking it in my sleep or something.

Anyway here is the menu:

Mantia Dibrane

Oh yeah, now I remember.
(from Kosova Sot)
  • 8 cups flour
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/3 lbs minced meat
  • 3 large onions
  • Salt, oil and black pepper
Pastiço (spicy potato oven)
  • 1 pound of boiled potatoes
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 2 tbsp parsley, minced
  • salt and olive oil
  • cayenne pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 7 oz tuna
  • a spoonful of mayonnaise
(from The Apricity)
  • 3 eggs
  • Sunflower oil
  • 2 tbsp of brandy
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 oz dried fruit, chopped fine
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups honey
OK, let's do the Mantia Dibrane and get that out of the way, because it's the most traumatic part of the meal. So here's what's going to happen. I am going to post about my experience with this recipe. And then someone from Kosovo is going to come along and say, "You've ruined the good name of Kosovan food! And you didn't even spell "Kosovar" right! You should learn to speak the language, and also I would never serve Mantia Dibrane and Pastiço in the same meal!" That's what will happen. That's what always happens when I get something wrong. And I got this terribly, terribly wrong. But I'm blaming it on Google Translate and also the fact that, seriously, that's the recipe?

Because look at the recipe: flour, water, oil and a little bit of salt. There's nothing in that dough recipe to actually make the dough rise or even just puff up a little. It's a recipe for effing Play Dough. Have you ever tried to bake Play Dough? Then you know what happens.

And it just gets worse from there. I know I am always complaining about Google Translate, but just for kicks I'm going to tell you exactly what Google translate told me to do with this recipe. Are you ready? Here it is:

"In the tray table or thrown flour, lukewarm water, oil, salt and mix, made from pulp forming 30 small cakes. Each cake augmented by depleting as licking the hand. Kuleçtë coated with butter and join tenner. Each tëhollohet tenner in a huge lump and the three layers together in a single lump. PETA divided into squares chess. For fillings squares needed mince, onion, chopped fine, salt and black pepper. Measures prepared in oil and fry the bottom of the rash of little red pepper thrown for color. Measures should be left to cool and then fill the boxes with previously prepared. Each square is rolled diagonally from the four sides (such as envelopes) and put into baking pan to be baked. Mantia baked half an hour. Once ripe covered with a napkin for 10 minutes. Served with yogurt."

OK so first of all, "augmented by depleting as licking the hand." No matter how many times I turned that one over in my head I did not come out any wiser. I sure as hell wasn't going to be licking my hand, I can tell you that much. "Kuleçtë," and "tëhollohet" are typical missed words like you would see in any Google translation, though I don't know what the hell "join tenner" is supposed to mean. And where the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals comes into this, I have no idea.

So armed with these explicit details I set out to make Mantia Dibrane. First, I mixed together the Play Dough ingredients. Then I fried up the mincemeat with onions, salt and pepper and nothing else, because god forbid there should be any actual flavor in there or anything.

Then I rolled out the dough and cut it into squares about the size of chess pieces, which is one of the few instructions I actually gleaned from that mess Google Translate gave me. I also saw that bit about red pepper "for color" and figured I could add a little paprika. At this point I stopped caring because I could see all the way to the end of this terrible road, so instead of trying to bundle up the meat in little packets I just put half the squares down in a greased casserole and then spread the meat over that, then I put down the rest of the squares.

Then I baked the whole mess for 30 minutes.

So there's your answer. I couldn't remember Kosovo because I actually blocked it out of my traumatized brain. 

So meanwhile make the potatoes, which weren't actually so bad. First parboil them until they are just tender, then let them cool down. Slice them and mix with lemon juice, parsley salt and a minced chili pepper (I read that as ground cayenne, which is the only sort of cayenne we get here, so instead of a minced chili I just used powder).

Now transfer half of the potatoes to a glass serving dish, and then spread the tuna over the top of that.

Now add the rest of the potatoes and transfer to the fridge to chill.

Did you notice the part where there wasn't any oven involved, even though "oven" is in the (translated) name? Me too.

Now for the dessert. First beat the eggs with the oil, brandy and lemon rind. Now add the flour bit by bit until you get a soft dough. Divide into 32 pieces and roll each piece into a small ball.

Heat about two inches of oil in a pan until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon. Drop the balls in and let them fry until golden on all sides. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Now mix the fruit with the almonds and honey. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens a little, then drop in the fried balls. Roll them around so that they are completely covered with the honey mixture, then remove and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

So what do you think happened to the Play Dough? You're right! Solid rock. It was completely inedible, at least I thought so. Martin ate it. He said the biscuit type stuff was like dumplings. Yeah, like petrified, 100 year old dumplings. Awesome. Oh and the meat had no flavor, like I didn't know that was going to happen.

This was clearly a translation failure combined with a recipe that probably had missing ingredients. My suspicion is confirmed when you look at the photo that went with the original recipe: that's clearly a yeast bread. With a few more seasonings and a bread that actually had some sort of leavening agent, this would have been a completely different experience. But I can only critique the recipe I actually made, and I was faithful to it. In all its awfulness.

I did like that potato salad though. I have no idea why it was an "oven" anything, but it was pretty good. I ate the leftovers for a couple of days, and that's always an indication.

The dessert was OK. It smelled divine, but the balls themselves were kind of chewy and not very nice in texture. Again, nothing went into the dough to stop them from being stodgy, and I don't really like stodgy. But it was OK. It's not like we threw any of them out.

So yeah, that's Kosovo. If you are from there, I welcome your comments. But please, don't just drop in here and curse my name and then fly off again. I want to know what the right recipe is, or I want a better one. I am always happy to do over, and if there was ever a better candidate ... well ...

Next week: Kurdistan
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Recipes from South Korea

So, I'm sure that North Korea is a lovely place to live and work, but I have to say, I really found the differences between North Korean food and the stuff served just to the south to be quite telling. North Korean food: a little bland, and, dare I say, sort of, um, oppressed. South Korean food, on the other hand ... huge difference.

Of course, it was only one meal. Maybe I got the most flavorful thing on South Korea's menu, and the least flavorful thing on North Korea's. Maybe it was just bad luck. But I sure did like my South Korean meal.

Gyeonghoeru Pavillion, Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul, South Korea.
Photo by Scott Rotzoll.
Let's start, as usual, with a little bit of background about South Korea. First and foremost, it is not North Korea. As you know--because you memorized the facts from my post about North Korea, right?--North and South Korea were once a part of the same nation, right up until the end of World War II when it was divided into Soviet and US occupied regions. This eventually led to the Korean War in 1950. After that ended in 1953, the two nations sort of went their separate ways, with South Korea prospering and North Korea, not really. In fact South Korea became so prosperous that despite its relatively small size it is the eighth largest country in the world for international trade, has the highest human development index in East Asia and in terms of wages also has Asia's highest income. In fact, pick an index--education, healthcare, job security, tolerance and inclusion--and South Korea is always close to the top. And also, the food is awesome.

I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I've eaten at some Korean places but don't recall what I really thought of it. The stuff I made was fabulous. I am told that South Korean cuisine is actually quite diverse from province to province, so my generalizations are probably not fair. On paper, South Korean ingredients are similar to what you might find anywhere else in Asia--noodles, rice, vegetables, meat and tofu. On the plate, well, yum. Here's what I made (all these recipes came from Easy Korean Food):

Korean fried chicken
  • 2 lbs chicken drumsticks
  • 5 tbsp of soy sauce
For the batter:
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup water
For the sauce:
  • 3 tbsp catsup
  • 1 tbsp Gochujang*
  • 1 tbsp sugar
Bokkeum bap
  • 3 1/2 oz spam, cubed**
  • 3 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1/2 carrot, cubed
  • 1/2 zucchini, cubed
  • 1 mushroom, cubed
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 large Napa cabbages, cut into chunks
  • 8 oz rock salt
  • Water
For the sauce:
  • 10 tbsp fish sauce
  • 10 tbsp ground red pepper***
  • 1 onion
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 Asian pear
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • small piece of ginger
  • 4 green onions, sliced fine
Spicy Cucumber
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground red pepper
* Gochujang is a Korean hot sauce. It's yummy. Buy some.

** Sorry food purists, spam is indeed a popular ingredient in South Korea. In fact, South Korean spam is actually made with better quality ingredients than American spam, so I guess you could call it "gourmet spam." Its presence in this recipe didn't actually surprise me because I've seen a lot of fried rice recipes that include it.

*** 10 tbsp red pepper is a TON. You don't have to use this much, I didn't. I used maybe half and it was still almost inedibly spicy.

Do the kimchi first, because that takes a few hours. If you're really ambitious, you could do it a few days or a week in advance to give it time to start fermenting. I did mine on meal day. Here's how:

Combine the cabbage and the salt and cover with water. Let soak for four to five hours (one recipe said one to two hours, if you're in a time crunch).

Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the sauce except for the green onions into a blender. Pulse until fine, then remove from the blender and add the green onions.

 At the end of the soaking time, drain the water. Rinse the cabbage in a sieve, then mix with the sauce. You can serve kimchi fresh or you can let it ferment in the fridge for six to 12 months. There's so much salt and spice in this stuff that trust me, no harmful bacteria is going to touch it.

Now let's do the chicken. First lightly spray a roasting pan, and put the drumsticks into it. Pour the soy sauce over them and roast at 425 degrees for 45 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the drumstick reads 175 degrees. Remove and let cool for five or 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the flour with the cornstarch, baking powder and salt and pepper. Add about a half cup of water to the mix, then add more as necessary to make your batter a bit thicker than a pancake batter.

In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients.

This is Gochujang. Put it on everything.
Heat about an inch of oil in a large pan (you can use more, I just don't like to throw out oil) until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon. Pat the chicken with a paper towel to help absorb some of the excess oil. Dip each drumstick into the batter. Drop the chicken into the oil and deep fry on both sides until golden brown. Just do a few at a time and take care not to let them stick to each other. Drain on paper towels and serve with the sauce.

Now for the rice. This recipe calls for boiling, which is easy. When it's al dente, drain and set aside.

Simple ingredients, yay!

Meanwhile, heat some oil in a wok or other large pan and add the vegetables and spam. Add a pinch of salt and let cook until the vegetables and spam are just starting to brown.

Now add the cooked rice and stir in the soy sauce. Let cook for another three to five minutes and serve.

So while the chicken is roasting and/or the rice is cooking, you can make the cucumbers because they are ridiculously easy. Just put everything in a bowl and mix. Done!

Here's what we thought: Martin said, "These are the best drumsticks I've ever had!" Which coming from him is huge, because he really dislikes meat on the bone. But I had to agree that they were pretty I danged tasty drumsticks. They came out really crispy and the sauce, oh my. It was a little fruity and just spicy enough without being overwhelming.

Now the kimchi was actually a bit overwhelming. This was the first time I've had it but Martin has eaten it a few times, and didn't like it this time, either. It was kind if over the top spicy, even though I didn't use as much red pepper as it called for. It was also really salty. I think I would have liked to let it ferment for a while to see what that did to the flavors, but Martin was pretty adamant that we wouldn't ever eat it, so it got tossed. The cucumbers were also quite spicy but the fire was a really good combo with the mellow cucumbers. And I liked the rice, spam and all. With all that spicy food the salt in the spam was kind of needed to help cool things down.

If you're a fan of spicy foods, make this meal. Maybe skip the kimchi, unless you've already got a taste for it (I hear it's an acquired one). It's a lot if work for something you might end up not liking. But that chicken, yum. Already looking forward to making it again.

Oh and you know, you could substitute diced ham for the spam. I won't tell.
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Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, Italy

I've done a few of the major Italian culinary regions so far, and I don't think any of them have really wowed me. Until this time!

I gotta say, I was thrilled with Emilia-Romagna, Italy. And the best part was, it was super-simple. My favorite blog meals are the ones that come together fast and taste delicious, which doesn't seem to happen a lot with traditional recipes.

Anyway, about Emilia-Romagna--it's located just below the cuff of the boot, and it's one of the wealthiest provinces anywhere in Europe. It has the third highest per capita GDP in Italy, and its capital city has one of the nation's highest quality of life indices. Combine that with good food, and maybe I want to move there.
The capital city is Bologna, which as you probably know is pronounced "baloney." Now if you grew up in the 70s and 80s like I did you probably got baloney sandwiches in your school lunchbox, and that's probably what you think of whenever you hear the word "Bologna." I'm sure you can still get baloney, but frankly I wouldn't ever feed it to my children, because ew. Since you're probably curious, though, the baloney that we know and don't like very much is based on Italian mortadella sausage, which does come from Bologna, but it is not the same thing. The Italian version contains visible chunks of lard, while USDA regulations require American manufacturers to grind up all the lard. Though I'm not sure one is a whole lot better than the other, really.

 Ponte a Fiumalbo, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Photo by  Giuseppe Moscato.

Besides being the homeland for that stuff that was once in every American kid's lunch box, Emilia-Romagna is also home to the world's oldest university. Plus it's a culinary center, and also the place where they make Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Ducatis and a bunch of other fancy cars I never heard of but will probably be familiar to you if you know something about cars.

As far as the food is concerned, this is where pretty much every Italian dish you like comes from. Lasagna, tortellini, polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano all come from here, and this is where basalmic vinegar is made, too. Of course, it's exactly the popularity of all these dishes and ingredients that makes it hard to choose a menu from this place, because so many non-Italians or people from elsewhere in Italy have adopted and adapted these recipes. So it's difficult to know what's truly regional and what isn't. Because of this, I went for some of the lesser known recipes, and here they are (these recipes all come from Emilia Romagna Turismo)

Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
  • 10 oz tagliatelle egg noodles
  • 14 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed slightly with the back if a knife
  • parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper
Ricotta bread
  • 8 cups flour type “00” (it's OK to substitute all-purpose)
  • 1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 4 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp refined sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
For dessert:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 packet of yeast for desserts
  • Rind of 1 lemon, grated
So first a disclaimer: I was so sure I could get porcini mushrooms at the co-op that I went to Safeway and bought everything else I needed for the meal, and then learned afterwards that I could not in fact get porcinis at the co-op, or anywhere else in town. So after a little probing I learned that criminis can be used when porcinis are out of season, though one source suggested adding a little truffle oil to simulate that characteristic earthiness that porcinis have. Which was an idea I loved, because it just so happened that I had a bottle of truffle oil in my cabinet that I'd been dying to use and hadn't yet found a recipe for.

So to make this, first tidy up the mushrooms by scraping them with a knife (don't get water on them, because that's not allowed). Then thinly slice them and set aside. Now heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic.

When the garlic starts to turn a light golden color, add the mushrooms along with the salt and pepper. Sauté for 10 minutes or until soft.

Now take the garlic out of the pan, provided you can identify it, and and add the parsley and the butter.
Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in salted water according to the package directions. When al dente, add to the pan with the mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn off the burner. If you're using truffle oil too, this is where you would add it--after the flame is off. A little goes a long way (I used maybe a teaspoon though I didn't measure it). Oh and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but don't put any cheese on this pasta because then you won't be able to taste the mushrooms.

Now for the bread, which is my new favorite way to use ricotta cheese:

First proof the yeast in warm milk until frothy, then add it to the the rest of the ingredients.

Knead and let rise in a warm place. OK the recipe said 10 minutes, which seemed crazy because why would you even bother to use yeast if you aren't going to let it rise? So maybe my bread wasn't exactly correct, because I let it rise for more like an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until you hear a hollow sound when you thump on it.
And finally, the cake. Beat the eggs together with the sugar in one bowl, and in another bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Now add the milk and oil to the yolks, and sift in the flour. Finally, add the lemon rind and blend.

Fold the egg whites in gently and pour into a buttered/floured cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 I sprinkled powdered sugar over mine.
It's OK, that's what the picture showed.
So the first time I ever had truffle oil was at a gourmet pizza place in Sacramento a few months ago. Ever since then, I've been pining for food made with truffle oil because it's exotic and earthy and really, really tasty. Now, I know this is a variation on the recipe and not in the original recipe but damn, it was good. If you can't do the porcinis I highly recommend the crimini/truffle oil combo, because yum. I could eat this every day and probably not ever get sick of it.

My oldest son, who is a gourmet at heart, also liked the pasta though he still can't bring himself to try a mushroom. The rest of the kids, well, I don't think any of them even tasted it. The bread on the other hand, I'm sure you can guess what happened to that. Five minutes equals gone. And the cake was a hit too, because what cake isn't? Well, there was that one from Iraq, but I'm not sure that was really a cake.

Next week: South Korea
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Recipes from North Korea

My kids went back to school this week, so yay. Not because I didn't enjoy having them home (I did) but because now I'm really hoping I will have enough time to keep up with the work I get paid for and the work I don't get paid for (this blog). 

Anyway this week we are  in the world's most scary place, I mean the world's most wonderful place. Because if you say anything bad about this place, the person who is currently in control of it starts whining--I mean legitimately complaining--to the United Nations that you have committed an act of war. So let me just begin this entry by saying, North Korean food is fabulous and not at all bland or boring.

OK, so about North Korea, it's a magical land full of unicorns and fairies. Super macho, manly fairies and unicorns that have nuclear launch capabilities. You may know it as that country that the US got involved with in 1945, back when we were sort of irrationally afraid of communism. We occupied the south, Russia occupied the north, and five years later both sides started fighting each other. Technically, the two nations are still at war since no one actually got around to signing a peace treaty, and each one thinks it is the legitimate government of the entire region.

Pyongyang, Arirang, North Korea (Mass Games). Photo by (stephan).
North Korea is the most militarized nation in the world, with a total of nine and a half million military personnel, which includes an active duty army of 1.21 million, the fourth largest in the world. Oh, and it is led by a person who is not at all crazy.

I got all of this week's recipes from the North Korean government's online recipe website (no, really!) which I'm not going to link to because frankly, I don't want my website linking to it. Evidently, North Korea launched the site a couple of years ago for "housewives' convenience." How thoughtful. If you're interested, The Guardian has published a link to it here:

North Korean food is less spicy than South Korean food, which doesn't necessarily mean it's boring or tasteless ;). Most of the recipes I found seemed very simple, and the meal didn't take a lot of time to put together, so that was a definite plus. Here's what I made:

Beef Stir
  • 2 lbs beef, sliced
  • 3/4 small onion, sliced
  • 1 /2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Bibimbap shrimp
  • 3 3/4 cup cooked rice
  • 10 1/2 oz prawns
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 a small onion, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium potato, sliced
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch pepper
And that was all, because I was kind of feeling like I wanted a slow week, and frankly I didn't find any recipes that qualified as Must-Make.

Again, these recipes are really simple, so no need to wait until you have half a day to make them. Starting with the beef:

First whisk the soy sauce together with the spices. Add the vegetables to a hot pan and stir fry until the softened. Add the beef and fry quickly on both sides until brown.

Pour the soy sauce mixture over and stir until well-incorporated. That's it!

Now for the rice:

Boil the rice and drain. Set aside. Now place the shrimp in boiling water until just pink. Remove and set aside. In the same pot, add the potatoes and onions and let cook until just soft.

Transfer to a pan and stir fry with the oil, peas, rice and shrimp. Season with salt and pepper and serve. 

That's all there is to it. See? Simple. And very simple-tasting too, which is fine if that's what you like. All joking aside, it was OK and perfectly edible, but I was left wanting a little bit more. So I added soy sauce.

Next week: Emilia-Romagna, Italy
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