Recipes from Laos


Look, I'm on "L!" That's not quite halfway through the alphabet, but it sure is close. Yay, progress.

OK let's talk about Laos. We Americans are quite familiar with Asian food—we love our Chinese take-out, and sushi, and Thai food, and Vietnamese and Korean. Although there's a pretty good argument to be made that our Asian favorites are nothing like authentic, but there you go.
We do tend to bypass some of those lesser-known Asian cuisines, though, which is a shame. I've had some great food from places like Burma and Cambodia, and now Laos.

 VangViang, Laos. Photo by Taylor Miles.

Laos, as you may or may not know, is a small place especially when compared to China and some of its other neighbors. Although with a population of 6.5 million people, I guess you can't really use the word "small."

Laos is a low-income economy and in fact has one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. At least a third of its citizens live below the international poverty line, which is less than $1.25 a day. To put that in perspective, the American poverty line is roughly $16 per day, per person--so yes it is true, to poor Laotions poor Americans look like they're pretty filthy stinking rich. Laos is also the 25th hungriest nation in the world, so it almost feels wrong to cook and enjoy Laotian food when so may Laotians can't even do that on a regular basis. And on that note:

Laotians eat a lot of sticky rice, which is their primary staple. It is generally eaten with the hands, which sounds quite messy. The cuisine of Laos has some French influences but is mostly distinctly its own thing, with unique dishes like a spicy green papaya salad and a raw meat dish called “larb.” I didn’t go with the raw meat dish because, you know, kids, but here’s what I did pick:

Mok Pha (Steamed Fish in Banana Leaves) 
(from The Daring Kitchen)
  • 1 lb catfish or tilapia, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup sticky rice, soaked overnight*
  • 3 shallots, peeled
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, sliced 
  • 1/2 cup green spring onions
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6 to 8 chili peppers (optional)
  • 4 to 6 banana leaves, cut into 10-inch piece 
* I cooked mine. I didn't think soaking it overnight would make it soft enough. 

Nam Kao (Spicy Red Curry Rice Salad with Shrimp) 
(also from The Daring Kitchen
  • 2 cups of cooked jasmine rice, cooled
  • 1/2 cup of fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup red curry paste (Maesri brand)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled, blanched, and coarsely chopped 
  • 1/2 gallon vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp roasted peanuts, finely chopped (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Lettuce or endive
Cheun Yaw (Fried Spring Rolls) 
(from daianddal)
  • Spring roll wrappers
  • 3 to 4 cups vegetable oil 
For the filling:
  • 2 lbs ground pork, cooked
  • 1 1/2 cups carrot, grated
  • 1 1/2 cups cabbage, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 1/2 cups mung bean noodles
  • 1 cup black fungi mushrooms, soaked for five minutes and sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2-3 stalks green onions, sliced
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp chicken bouillion
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp white pepper
Sweet Dressing Sauce 
(also from daianddal)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
I'm going to start with the spring rolls, because they take the longest. Here we go:

First soak the mung bean noodles in cold water for about five minutes, then drain. Now transfer to a large bowl and mix with the rest of the filling ingredients.

Put a little bit of water in a small bowl, and get your spring roll wrappers ready. Put two tbsp of filling into the middle of the first wrapper.

Now bring the sides together so they are just touching. Now fold up the bottom of the wrapper and roll it up like a tiny burrito.

Make sure you have a tight roll, but be careful not to roll it so tightly that you make a hole in the wrapper. Use a little bit of the water to seal the spring roll and then move on to the next one. Keep going until you either run out of filling or wrappers.

When you're ready, start heating the oil up in a large pan over medium-low heat. Test the oil with the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon--if bubbles rise around it, the oil is ready.

Now drop a few of the spring rolls into the oil. There should be plenty of room for them to move around without touching each other--you don't want them to stick. When the rolls are golden on all sides, they're done. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve at once.

I served these with a sweet dipping sauce, which you make like this:

First mix the sugar and water together and heat over a medium flame. After the sugar dissolves, add the crushed garlic. Now turn off the heat and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.

OK, next we'll do this crazy weird rice balls thing. Here we go:

First, mix the shrimp with 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Let chill in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Gently mix the red curry sauce with the rice. Add the egg and 2 tbsp of the fish sauce and mix until sticky.

Now take a small amount of the rice mixture and roll into a two-inch ball. Repeat until all the mixture is gone.

Meanwhile, heat some more oil. Yes, this is a very deep-fried culinary experience. When the oil is ready, drop the balls in and fry until golden. Transfer to a strainer and let drain and cool.

Now crush the rice balls up into roughly 1/4 inch pieces. Stir in the rest of the fish sauce and lime juice. Add the shrimp, herbs, peanuts and red pepper flakes (if using).

Serve over the lettuce or endive. 

OK, now for the fish. The instructions explicitly say that you need to go to the Mekong River to catch a giant catfish, so you'd better get moving on that. I actually cheated and bought some fish at Safeway.

First make the cocktail sauce, like this: put the sticky rice, lemongrass, shallots, chili pepper and green onions into a blender, adding up to a half cup of water as needed. Puree until it is a saucy consistency. Add sugar and salt to taste.

Now put the fish pieces in a large bowl and pour the cocktail sauce over.

Mix gently and add the Kaffir lime leaves and the whole chili peppers (if using).

Now place some of the fish mixture on a banana leaf. Fold into a triangle shape and secure with toothpicks. Steam for 25 minutes (I used a vegetable steamer. It was messy, but it worked fine.)

One thing that really struck me about this meal was this: you would not taste anything like it in a restaurant in the US, at least not one designed to appeal to Americans. It was very, very different. I'd like to say that means it was authentic and I did a good job cooking it, but if I do say that then someone is going to email me and tell me the opposite. So I will say, I've never tasted anything quite like it, and in a good way.

I liked the fish, though it definitely maintained a banana leaf flavor, which for some people can be a bit too earthy. It was also very heavy on Kaffir lime flavor, which I happen to like, but again it's an odd flavor that I don't think a lot of Americans are used to. But over all, not terribly strange. The rice and shrimp salad on the other hand was crazy weird. it was really spicy and the texture was very unusual. The spring rolls were the most familiar of the three dishes. I've had plenty of fried spring rolls, but probably not with these particular fillings. They had a great crunch to them, both inside and out, and the sweet dressing was a perfect match for them. My kids, of course, preferred the spring rolls and not really anything else. Martin was OK with the other two dishes but I think he preferred the spring rolls, too. I liked it all--it was exotic and interesting and tasted great, too.

Moving on down the alphabet now! Next week: Latvia.
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Recipes from Kyrgyzstan


Disappointingly, I came up short on my search for recipes for the second week in a row. This surprised me a little because this week we're in Kyrgyzstan, which is much father east than the other "-stan" nations, so I guess I expected the cuisine to be a little more unique. It must be because delicious food becomes sort of pandemic, like pizza. It jumps cultures.

Anyway this week's rice dish and the bread dish I chose are both hauntingly familiar. Think way, way back to the Kabuli Pulao in Afghanistan and not so very long ago to the baursak in Kazakhstan--both recipes are pretty similar to the ones I did this week both in ingredients and in name. But the main dish not as much. More on that in a sec.

 Lake Toktogul, Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan.
Photo by NMK Photography.

Kyrgyzstan is actually closer to China than it is to either Afghanistan or Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan is one of those former Soviet Republics, and it actually did quite well as such–especially during the 1920s, when the region made great strides both culturally and socially. Literacy was improved, too, and so was education overall. After its split from the Soviet Union in 1991, some poop started to go down–organized crime groups started vying for power, a bunch of people were assassinated and there was civil unrest that persisted for a long time, even as late as 2010, when at least 75 people were killed in “bloody clashes” with the police. A bunch of religious and community members were subsequently arrested, and then the country passed a law prohibiting women under the age of 23 from traveling internationally without a “parent or guardian,” get this–in order to support “…increased morality and preservation of the gene pool.” Yeah, this was recently. So I would not really want to live there, even though they do a lot of cool stuff on horseback, like picking up a coin at a full gallop, mounted wrestling and running super long-distance horse races, though maybe not that thing where they have to do battle over the headless carcass of a goat.

Anyway, they eat fruity rice dishes and fried bread, which are both delicious. And this thing that they also eat was traditionally made with organ meat, but thank goodness can now be made with other things, because I don’t do organ meat. So that said, here are the recipes:

Kuurdak (Chyz-Byz)
  • 2 lbs beef or lamb or mutton, cut into small chunks
  • 4 onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil 
  • 3 green bell peppers, seeded and julienned
  • 1 cup cabbage, julienned
  • 1/2 tsp ground red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • About 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
A rice dish:

Shirin Paloo
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 4 to 5 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips

  • 3 onions, sliced
  • 1 cup dried apricots

  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 
1 cup prunes
  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 5 to 6 cups water

  • 2 cups basmati rice
Some fried bread (yum!):

Borsok
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
Let's do the meat first. Start by browning the meat in the oil ...

... then add the rest of the ingredients.


Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the water is absorbed and the vegetables are tender (30 to 45 minutes). Remove the bay leaves and serve immediately.

Now for the rice:

First heat the vegetable oil over a medium flame and fry the onions and carrots until soft (10 to 15 minutes). Now add the water and bring to a boil.

Add the rice and and continue to boil until the water has been almost completely absorbed.  Add the dried fruits and mix well. Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. Let cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed (note you can add a little more water if the rice dries out too soon).

Finally, the bread:

First mix the flour with the sugar, yeast and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add the milk. Add the egg and milk mixture to the flour and stir, adding enough water to make a firm dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place for two hours. Roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into rectangles of 1 inch by 2 inches.

Now pour 1/4 cup of oil into a pan and heat over a medium-high flame.

Fry the dough pieces on both sides until they puff up and turn a golden brown color.

So I will bet you can guess what my kids thought of the bread. Do you see that giant pile of bread in the photo? It was gone in about 15 minutes. That was by far the favorite part of the meal, though it really was not unique compared to the many other versions of fried bread I've made over the course of this endeavor. The rice: also not that unique, but still pretty tasty. The beef, which was the only unique thing on the table, was a little meh. It was a little too vegetable-heavy for my tastes, and also it wasn't as tender as I like beef to be in a stew. For that, I think it should have been cooked a lot longer.

Anyway, moving on. Next week: Laos.
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Recipes from Kuwait


Part of the reason I moved away from the Bay Area was because of the crappy air quality. I'm pretty sure in this week alone, though, I've actually breathed more crappy air than I did in the sum total of an entire decade in San Jose.

We are about 60 miles west of the King Fire, which has burned close to 100,000 acres of forest land in the past two weeks. We're not really in any danger from the fire, but up until a couple of days ago we were getting a lot of the smoke. The air quality was so bad that my kids coughed whenever they went outside, my eyes were pretty much constantly burning and you really couldn't see much further out than maybe a half mile. After that it was just faint silhouettes muted by all that yucky brown smoke.

Anyway, my kids were home for part of the week because the air quality was deemed too poor for them to go to school, like it was any better anywhere else in town. Have you ever tried to write with four kids in the room? You can get two or three words down and then "Mom! Mom!" I got some cleaning done, but not much work.
Kuwait Parliament, Qibla, Kuwait City, Al `Asimah. Photo by N.M.

So here I am trying once again to catch up, and this week it's Kuwait. Now, I'll bet if the first gulf war had never happened you probably wouldn't have heard much about Kuwait. Those of us who came of age in the 90s (not that I'm that old or anything') remember the invasion of Kuwait as the supposed reason why we ended up over there, though most people thought it was more about the oil than the freedom of Kuwait. Whichever version you believe, Kuwait did need our protection. It's a constitutional monarchy, which means that it has a monarch but also an elected parliament, not unlike the United Kingdom. As far as liberties go, it ranks among the highest in the Arab world, with a free press, judicial liberties and constitutional protection of civil liberties.

So when I got to Kuwait, I had an epiphany about this Travel by Stove venture of mine, and here it is. Lots of nations have very specific culinary traditions, and many of those nations have regions with very specific culinary traditions. But some countries don't have those distinctions, and the lines between the culinary traditions of one nation blends with those of another. So you get entire regions comprising of many different nations that eat pretty much the same dishes, with only very subtle variations. This became very plain to me when I was researching Kuwaiti food and discovered that I'd already cooked pretty much every recipe I could find. I've made harees and khubz and biriyani and machbous already, and it just seems like cheating to repeat recipes I've already made, even though it wouldn't be the first time. So I dug around a lot, and I found a couple of recipes that were different, but I'm afraid I had to do a variation of machbous as my main meal because I really didn't find a lot of alternatives. I'm sure they were out there, but I didn't stumble upon them. So here's what I decided to make:

Chicken Mechbous 
(from A Mideast Feast


For the chicken:
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 or 3 whole cloves
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • Flour as needed
  • 3 cups basmati rice
For the onion-spice topping (hashu):
  • 2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in water
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp dried black lime (loomi), or ½ tsp lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
For the tomato sauce (duqqus):
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
With some bread:

Za’atar Bread
(from Veggie Zest and Globe Trotter Diaries)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water, lukewarm
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup of sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp of sumac
And for dessert:

Kuwaiti Honey Cake
(also from A Mideast Feast)

For the cake:
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup almonds, slivered
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Alight, so here's how it's done: First, make the bread. Mix the yeast with 1/4 cup of water and let stand until frothy. Meanwhile, mix the flour with the salt, then add the proofed yeast and knead. Add the water, 1 tbsp at a time until you get a smooth dough. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for two hours or until doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile, make the za'atar. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan and then mix with the thyme. Now add the sumac and stir. Mix with the olive oil and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Punch down the dough and fold it over a few times, pressing down with your hands. Divide into 8 parts and roll into circles. Divide the za'atar between them, spreading out over the surface of the dough with about a half inch border all around. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

Now for the mechbous. Rinse chicken and put in a large pot. Add enough water to cover, then add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns (I always put whole spices in a tea ball, that way they're easier to remove from the pot later). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let cook until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 degrees. Remove the chicken and reserve the broth.

Now strain the fat off the broth and transfer to a pot. You should have six cups--if not, add some water. Add the rice to the broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Let cook for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add salt to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the onions over medium heat until translucent. Add some water and keep stirring until the onions start to brown. Add the oil, raisins and spices and cook for another minute, then remove from the heat and set aside.

Now place the water in a small pot with the tomatoes, garlic and tomato paste. Cook until the tomatoes are soft.

Dust the chicken with flour and transfer to a skillet. Cook over medium high heat until the skin is brown and crispy.

To serve, spread the rice out on a platter.  Sprinkle the onion mixture on top, then top with the chicken pieces. Serve the tomato sauce in a separate bowl.

Now for the cake. First preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10 inch pan with butter and set aside.

Now melt the butter in a saucepan or your microwave. With an electric mixer, beat the sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth and then add the butter.

Sift the flour and baking powder over the mix and stir until blended.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, melt the butter for the topping in a pan. Add the sugar, honey, cinnamon and almonds.
Bring to a boil, stirring. Pour over the cake and return to the oven for 15 minutes.


Let cool and serve.


Alright, so the mechbous was good. You can't really go wrong with chicken and rice, and I always like caramelized onions on rice. The bread was quite possibly the worst thing I've ever eaten. We had a friend over, and he and Martin were both OK with just scraping off the za'atar, but I didn't think it was edible even after I scraped it off. I don't really like thyme, I guess, so in large quantities I thought it was really awful. I don't usually mind sumac or sesame oil, so I really can't explain it in any other way. But all that spice was just way too much. The bread, however, was redeemed by the honey cake, which was fabulous. It was a little bit like a baklava but with cake instead of phyllo dough. The topping was really chewy and yummy and the cake was moist and delicious. My eight-year-old liked it so much that she told me she wants it for a birthday cake. Wow! Anything that can outshine a Safeway birthday cake for that girl must be pretty good, haha.

So the honey cake was pretty original, the za'atar bread was also extremely original, though horrifying, and the mechbous was pretty much just like the mechbous I made in Bahrain, but I'd say overall the meal came out a success. I'm sure the za'atar bread would have been delicious without the za'atar.

Next week: Kyrgyzstan
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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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