Recipes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo


This week I went on another exotic ingredient quest. Actually the quest took me more like a month. I really don't know why I got so worked up about it, because there were other recipes I could have cooked this week that did not call for any exotic ingredients. But for some reason, I just had to find this one. I think it might have been because of my desire to not cook an African meal containing peanuts. Because I think almost all of them contain peanuts.

The elusive ingredient: palm soup base, also known as "sauce graine," "moambe," "nyembwe," "palm butter" and "noix de palme," none of which were particularly fruitful searches on Google. I did think I would find it at Red Star International down in Sacramento, though, because they have a pretty decent selection of African ingredients. But no luck.

There are several places online that carry palm soup base, and honestly I don't know how they stay in business. The palm soup base cost $3.99 (on average), and the shipping was at least $15 (one site wanted $40 (!!!)). That's not a flat rate, either. If you start adding stuff to your basket to try to make it worth spending that much on shipping, the rate just keeps going up and up and never actually reaches the point where it is less than the cost of the actual products. I don't know about you, but I'm not spending that kind of money to ship a few cans of food. But I still wanted that palm base.

Finally I found some in what seemed like an unlikely place: an online market that carried Latino goods. Maybe it's not an unlikely place, I don't know, but up until this point I'd only seen the stuff in African markets. But anyway shipping at this place was $9, which is still high but I decided to just bite the bullet. So I got my palm base, and a few other things I thought I might need at some point.

Masisi Territory, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Photo Credit: United Nations Photo via Compfight cc
So anyway, the country I did all this for is The Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's actually quite a large country—the second largest in Africa and the 11th largest in the world, though it seems to fly under the radar for the most part, at least as far as the US news is concerned. This is actually quite shocking when you consider that there has been a war going on there since 1998, which has already killed 5.4 million people and continues even though a peace agreement was signed in 2003. The vast number of deaths means that this war is the deadliest conflict since World War II, and yet I'll bet most people have no idea it is happening, as wrapped up as we are in hearing about wars in the Middle East.



It always seems so odd to segue off from horrible violence and death to food, but this is a food blog so off we go. Congolese food is really more or less the same as what you would find in many other African nations: most meals consist of a starch such as fufu (my arch nemisis) and a stew containing vegetables and sometimes meat. Freshwater fish are plentiful in the Congo River, which means that they are also an important part of the Congolese diet. The Congolese also eat a lot of goat and edible insects such as grasshoppers and caterpillars. Now, the last time I openly said I was pretty sure I would never eat a grasshopper or caterpillar, a giant ego floated down from Foodieland with various insults about whether or not I was truly worthy of calling myself an international food blogger, so I'll just shut my mouth and tell you what I decided to cook this week (no, it does not contain grasshoppers or caterpillars).

Moambé Stew
(from The Congo Cookbook)
  • 2 to 3 lbs stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 minced chile pepper (or about 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper)
  • 2 tbsp palm oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 to 8 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 cups water
  • About 1 cup spinach, collards or kale, or similar, washed and chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup moambé (palm soup base) or unsweetened peanut butter*
*Note: if you use peanut butter instead of palm soup base, the dish is called "Muamba Nsusu."

And on the side:

Loso na Madesu (Congolese Beans and Rice)
(from Immigrant Kitchens)
  • 1 lb dried red beans
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 cups rice
  • 4 green bananas
 And that's all. Simple, right?

Actually, it was all quite surprisingly simple, except for forgetting to soak the beans (I bet you are so surprised). But first the stew:

Combine the lemon juice, salt and chili pepper (or cayenne) and pour over the meat. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (more if you like).

In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium flame and add the onions. Saute for three or four minutes, then add the meat and cook until browned all over. 

Pour in the tomatoes and the water and reduce heat. Add the palm base and greens.

Cover and simmer on low until the meat is tender (this should take about an hour). Serve over rice or with fufu.

First a note about the palm base, if you are able to find it and decide to use it. Palm base does not look right when you open the can. At least it didn't look right to me. In fact I had thoughts of botulism racing around in my head as I observed the contents of that can. My palm base was imported from Ghana, and I'm betting their food safety regulations aren't as strict as ours are. So I was afraid.

A quick Google search reassured me that "the botulinum toxin is destroyed by thorough cooking over the course of a few minutes," so since this was going to be on the stove for an hour I felt like I could be reasonably sure I wasn't going to poison my family. But still.

Not a great photo, I know, but this should give you an idea what to expect.

My palm base looked like a paste, with kind of the consistency of wet sand. There was no real liquid in the can at all, it was just all paste, dryer than peanut butter or curry paste or any of those other pasty things you're used to seeing in jars and cans. So anyway, if that's what your palm base looks like too, I guess you shouldn't worry. I guess.

Next the beans:

You are, of course, supposed to soak these overnight. But I didn't, because I forgot, which you probably already know is not the first time. So instead I cooked them in my pressure cooker until they were soft.

If you did soak your beans, you'll need to cook them over the stove for about 40 minutes after draining.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over a medium flame and cook the onions until translucent. Then add the green pepper and keep stirring for another minute or two.

Drop the tomato paste into the pot and stir until well incorporated. Now add a little bit of water until your sauce is about the consistency of a marinara. Cook for five more minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the nutmeg, salt and a little more water (if necessary to maintain consistency). Now transfer the beans to the pot and stir to mix. Add the bay leaves.

Cover the pot and continue to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water and add the bananas, skins on. Cook until the skins start to split, then remove from the water and let cool for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins and slice into bite-sized pieces.

Boil the rice according to package directions, and serve the beans over the rice with the bananas on top.

You should have witnessed the drama in our house the day I served this meal. Dylan acted like I really had given him a plate of grasshoppers and caterpillars. Seasoned with a little botulism.

But really, us grownups enjoyed it. The stew was really good, and the palm base did give it a nice, unique (though mild) flavor. It would have been a totally different meal if I'd used peanut butter instead. Was it worth the headache of actually obtaining the stuff? Well, no, not really. But still, the quest itself was part of the fun. I think.

I liked the beans, too, probably more than Martin did. Actually it was because of the boiled green bananas. I adore boiled green bananas. To me, that's what a plantain should taste like but doesn't (though I've been told many times that I'm just not doing plantains right).

So there's the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I think I'll be taking a break from ingredient quests, now, at least for a few weeks.

Do you have any favorite international recipes? Please share!

Next week: Dhekelia

For printable versions of this week's recipes:



    Recipes from Denmark


    Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

    Yeah, that was the only food related quote I could find in Hamlet. In fact it might be the only food reference in the whole play. Why Hamlet? Because we're in Denmark of course! And Hamlet is the first thing I think about whenever someone mentions Denmark. Yes, that's what college did for me.

    Anyway there will be no funeral baked meats in this week's meal. Our menu looks like this:


    Now, this is actually the second version of my menu, because I originally chose a roast goose recipe. I've never had goose before and I really wanted to try it … then I got to Safeway and discovered that a small frozen goose goes for about 60 bucks. Err, OK. Back to the drawing board I guess.

    First a little bit about our host nation:

    Besides being the ancestral home of Hamlet, prince of the Danes, Denmark is also the place where the Vikings originated—which means of course that it has a long and noble history of bad-assery, extending even beyond crazy avunculicidal princes. Today's descendants of those noble bad-asses are the happiest people in the European Union (according to a 2007 Cambridge University study) and the second happiest people in the world (according to the World Database of Happiness). This might have something to do with the fact that Denmark has the lowest income inequality in the world and is also the world's most democratic and least corrupted nation. That's right, it is more democratic and less corrupted than the good ole US of A.



    Some fun facts about Denmark: its flag is the oldest in the world, adopted in 1219 and still in use today. It has had 14 Nobel laureates, it is the home of the world's oldest operating amusement park (which first opened way back in the 16th century) and it is also the home of Lego, everyone's favorite building toy.

    Amagertorv Square, Copenhagen Denmark. Photo Credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits via Compfight cc

    Now about the food. Shakespeare was on to something when he talked about meat in Denmark, because as far as Danish cuisine goes it is all about the meat. In fact at just under 322 lbs of meat per person per year, Danes eat more meat than anyone else in the entire world. This is actually quite surprising when you consider that obesity rates in Denmark are pretty low, especially compared to other European nations.

    So here's what I finally chose, in place of the roast goose that I couldn't afford to cook:

    Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs)


    This recipe comes from Favorite Family Recipes, a blog run by sisters Erica, Emily, Elise and Echo Walker. This recipe was originally posted by Erica, whose husband once lived in Denmark. By the way, the Walker sisters just came out with a cookbook (also called Favorite Family Recipes), which you can purchase on Amazon.com.

    Here's the recipe:

    For the meatballs:
    • 3/4 lb ground beef
    • 1 lb ground pork
    • 1 large onion, grated
    • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
    • 4 tbsp flour
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/4 tsp pepper
    • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
    • 2-3 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 tsp dried sage
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup half and half or milk
    • Butter
    For the gravy:
    • 3/4 - 2 tbsp drippings from the meatballs
    • Butter (if needed)
    • 3 tbsp flour
    • 1 cup heavy cream or full fat milk
    • 1 tbsp powdered beef bouillon
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    At Erica's suggestion I served this with the following two side dishes, though I used recipes I'd already sourced before finding Favorite Family Recipes.

    This one comes from Christian's Danish Recipes:

    Rødkål (Red Cabbage)

    • 1 medium red cabbage, finely shredded
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1/2 cup vinegar, lemon juice or pickle juice
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/4 cup currant jelly (optional)
    And from Danishnet.com:

    Brunede Kartoffler (Caramelised Potatoes)
    • 20 oz small potatoes
    • 3 tbsp butter
    • 1 cup white sugar
    And for dessert, also from Danishnet.com:

    Æblekage (Danish Apple Pudding)
    • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
    • 1 lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
    • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
    • 3 tbsp honey
    • 3 tbsp caster sugar
    • 1 egg white
    Starting with the meatballs:


    Mix the beef with the pork and the grated onion. Warning: grating onions is painful. Keep your kids out of the kitchen, unless you are mad at them.

    Now add the the rest of the ingredients and mix gently with your hands until well-incorporated. (Note: I left out the sage. Martin can't stand it, and I've seen other frikadeller recipes that didn't call for it, so I felt like I could leave it out without killing the authenticity.)

    Next, add the half and half but do it slowly. You may not need the full half cup. Unlike Italian meatballs, you want your mixture to be a little sticky. You won't actually be rolling these into balls so the texture should be wet.


    Now melt the butter and drop the mixture by the tablespoon into the pan. Press down a little to flatten. Despite the name, you're not really making meatballs—they are really more like little hamburger patties.


    Cook until nicely browned on one side, then flip and cook until the other side matches. Keep adding butter as necessary.


    When the meatballs are finished, remove them to a plate and keep warm. Now add the flour to the pan (if there isn't a lot of oil left, you can add some more butter). Stir until you get a roux. Add the cream and whisk until you get a nice thick gravy. Finish with the beef bouillon, salt and pepper.

    Now for the potatoes:

    Make sure you get the smallest potatoes you can find. It's better to have bite-sized baby potatoes than bigger ones that you have to cut into pieces.

    First boil the potatoes until they are just done. You want them to be firm, not mushy. Set them aside and let them cool a little. When they are cool enough to handle, pull the peels off with your fingers (they should come off pretty easily).


    Now put the sugar and butter in a frying pan and heat slowly, stirring continuously until it melts and starts to turn golden. Then add the potatoes and keep stirring until the caramel sticks to the potatoes (five to 10 minutes).


    The cabbage is pretty easy, too. Here's how it's done:


    Melt the butter in a large pot and add all the rest of the ingredients. Cover and cook on low heat until the cabbage is tender (20 minutes or so). Remove from heat and stir in the jelly (if using). That's it!


    Finally, the dessert. Now, I think there might be a million different ways to make Danish apple pudding. I took just one liberty with mine, and I based it on other recipes I've seen for this dessert. Here's how I did it:

    Put the breadcrumbs in a pan with the sugar. Turn the heat on to low. Stirring continuously, cook until the mixture is a dark gold color.

     
    Transfer to a bowl and set aside. In the same pot, add the hazelnuts and stir until they start to turn a light brown color. They should become fragrant. Now remove them from the heat and set aside.

    Mix the apples with the honey,  lemon zest and juice. Transfer to a pan and cook on low heat until the apples are soft. Now smash them up with a potato masher until you get applesauce.


    Now the recipe says to beat the egg white with the sugar until stiff. I feel uncomfortable giving my kids raw egg white, so I just left it out. If I'd had time, I would have beaten some cream and sugar and used that (I've seen other Danish apple pudding recipes that use cream), but instead I just folded in the sugar and added a little bit of cream to the layers.

    OK now divide half of the apples between four small bowls (or use glasses, like I did, which will make for a nicer presentation). Now divide half of the breadcrumbs between the bowls/glasses, and then repeat. Top with the nuts.


    And now for the verdict:

    This was a nice, hearty meal that was good for a cold night. The meatballs were very similar to Swedish meatballs (I think the pork might be the primary difference) and they tasted great with the gravy, which was quite basic but suited them very well. Martin and I liked the cabbage, though it was a little overwhelming (as that sort of sauerkraut-ish kind of dish usually is). The kids were horrified by it, even Dylan who claims to like sauerkraut. I loved the potatoes, but you know, caramelized sugar + potatoes = what's not to love? The kids liked them too, once they got over the initial shock of eating sugary potatoes.

    So yeah, probably not the meal that Hamlet's doomed mother ate at her wedding feast, but tasty. Have you ever eaten Danish meatballs? What did you think?

    Next week: The Democratic Republic of the Congo

    For printable versions of this week's recipes:



        Recipes from the Czech Republic


        I have a new look! And I'm still tweaking it, so bear with me. It's really still a long way from perfect. But cool, huh? I was really tired of the old template.

        Anyway this week is all about caraway seeds. Because Czechs, as you probably were not aware, love caraway seeds, and they put them in everything.

        Which means of course that our country d'jour is the Czech Republic. Not Czechoslovakia, which is what they used to call it when I was a kid. Back in the early 90s after communism did its big nose dive, the old country was divided into two: the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (which evidently also likes caraway seeds).

        Despite its communist heritage, today's Czech Republic is actually quite prosperous, in fact it is the second-richest country in Eastern Europe with a GDP per capita that is roughly similar to that enjoyed by the Portugese.

        Prague, Czech Republic. Photo Credit: [ changó ] via Compfight cc


        A few fun facts about the Czech Republic: it has more than 2,000 castles, keeps and ruins, which gives it the highest density of such sites of any nation in the world (and automatically makes it a place where I want to go, because I love old castles). It has the fifth highest ranking in the world for freedom of the press, and its people are the world's heaviest consumers of beer.

        The Czech Republic is actually famous for its pastries, which I didn't do (that old New Year's Resolution about eating healthy), and of course its beer. In less abundant times, meat was only consumed once a week, though today it is much more popular. For my menu I chose a set of traditional recipes which are typically served together, often in restaurants. Here they are:


        Vepřová Pečene (Roast Pork)
        (These recipes are all from My Prague Sights)
        • 1 tbs vegetable oil
        • 1 tbs prepared mustard
        • 2 tbs caraway seeds
        • 1 tbs garlic powder
        • 1 tbs salt*
        • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
        • 2 lbs pork roast
        • 1 medium onion, chopped
        • 1/2 cup beer (or water)
        • 1 tbs cornstarch
        • 2 tbs butter
        *Czech dishes tend to be salty, so adjust this amount according to how much salt you personally prefer.

        Served with:


        Houskové Knedlíky (Yeast Dumplings)

        • 1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
        • 2 cups lukewarm water
        • 1 tsp sugar
        • 2 tbsp salt
        • 4 cups all-purpose flour
        • 1 egg
        • 1 cubed bread roll
        And:


        Zeli (Simple Sauerkraut)

        • 4 slices bacon, sliced into small strips
        • 1 lb sauerkraut (with juice)
        • 1 medium onion, chopped
        • salt and pepper to taste
        • 1 tsp caraway seeds
        • 2 tsp cold water
        • 1 tsp cornstarch
        • sugar and vinegar to taste
        Starting with the pork: first make a marinade out of the oil, mustard, caraway seeds, garlic powder and salt and pepper. Rub the pork all over with this mixture and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

        Now preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Place the chopped onions in a layer on the bottom of the roasting pan and add the beer or water (the only beer I had was Guinness, which really isn't very Czech, so I just went with water). Now put the roast on top of the onions and cover loosely with foil.

        Roast until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, turning once (the USDA recently declared this to be pork's new safe internal temperature, down fro a long-time standard of 160). Let rest for 10 minutes.
        Transfer the juices from the roasting pan into a saucepan and add the cornstarch and butter. Simmer until thick and serve over the sliced meat.


        Meanwhile, make the dumplings:

        I used my bread machine, of course, because I'm way too lazy to do things the old-fashioned way. But here are the non-bread machine instructions:

        Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar. Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, egg and cubed bread roll in a large bowl. When the yeast is frothy, add it to the bowl and mix well. Knead for 10 minutes. Separate the dough into four rolls and then cover and let rise in a warm place for an hour or so.

        Now boil some salted water and add one or two of the rolls to the pot. Cover and let boil for about 20 minutes. When finished, the dumplings should be very light and fluffy (mine were not!)

        Decidedly un-fluffy dumplings.


        OK now for the sauerkraut, which was the simplest recipe of the three:

        First fry up the bacon and set aside. Now add the onion to the pan with some butter and saute until translucent. Add the sauerkraut and simmer until tender. Return the bacon to the pan and season with the salt, pepper and the ubiquitous caraway seeds.

        Now combine the cornstarch with water and add to the sauerkraut. Cook for a few more minutes, then remove from heat and add sugar and vinegar to taste.

        So, something went terribly wrong with my dumplings. OK I know exactly what it was, it was the fact that I didn't leave enough time in my day to make them. They didn't rise long enough, and I'm not even sure that they cooked long enough, so instead of "light and fluffy" as the recipe described, they were "dense and un-fluffy." Sigh.

        The pork was really good though, it came out perfectly and was very juicy and flavorful. The caraway seeds did give it a very, um, caraway-y flavor, which you may love or hate. Personally, I was a little put off by them and I did scrape quite a few of them off of my meat. I liked the flavor, but it is a little overpowering in those quantities.

        The sauerkraut was good, I mean, as good as sauerkraut can be. I'm not personally that crazy about it under the best of circumstances, but Dylan loves it. Which is really odd for a 7-year-old, but I do have odd kids.

        So there you go, the Czech Republic. Have you ever had food from that part of the world? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!

        Next week: Denmark

        For printable versions of this week's recipes:




        Recipes from Cyprus


        Yeah, I took a week off. OK a little more than a week. I spent the holidays over-committing myself, starting with National Novel Writing Month, then hosting Thanksgiving, then catching up on all of the holiday shopping I should have done when I was doing National Novel Writing Month, then hosting Christmas and finally making way too many New Year's Eve appetizers, and when I was finished first thing on New Year's Day I came down with a cold. Not just any cold, one of those migraine-headache-slash-cold-slash-upset-stomach-from-taking-all-that-migraine-medication types of colds. Plus the kids were at home. And so was Martin. So I figured I could get away with skipping a week because I did post my Top 10 Favorite Recipes of 2012 list last week, and that counts for something doesn't it?

        Anyway this week we're in Cyprus, which you may remember from our brief visit to Akrotiri the year before last (Akrotiri is basically just an RAF base on Cyprus). Cyprus is another one of those island nations, only it's not tropical or anywhere near the Caribbean. This island nation is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, east of Greece, west of Syria, north of Egypt and south of Turkey.



        The island is mostly Greek in character, with about 77 percent of the population identifying as Greek Cypriot, 18 percent calling themselves Turkish Cypriot and the remaining five percent in that world-unifying category known as "other." Although today it is a pretty peaceful place with a high human development index, Cyprus was a scene of violence as recently as 1974, when Greece decided that it wanted to "unite" with the island. The Greeks carried out a coup, then Turkey invaded under the auspices of stopping Greece, and then Turkey decided that it actually just wanted to take over the country for itself. As you can imagine, this move was unpopular with most of the western world, and international sanctions against Turkey eventually led to a cease-fire, but not before Turkey occupied 37% of the country and 180,000 Greek Cypriots had been ousted from their homes. Even after the end of fighting, Turkey stubbornly clung to its claim and even today calls the northeastern corner of the island The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a sovereignty that is only recognized by one nation in the entire world: you guessed it, Turkey.

        Cape Greco, Cyprus. Photo Credit: TeryKats via Compfight cc


        Which brings me to the food. Well, not really, because you can't really get from there to food. But I had to at least fake a segue.



        Cypriot cuisine is very similar to Greek food and shares a lot of common dishes and favorite ingredients. It does also have Turkish influences (hmm, wonder why), as well as influences from other middle-eastern nations and from Italy. Cyprus is famous for Haloumi cheese (which I fried back in Akrotiri), preserved meats and barbecued snails (yum, no not really).

        Anyway if you recall the snails I did for Burgundy, France you already know I did not barbecue any snails for this meal. Instead I chose some simple, hearty stuff. Here's my menu:

        For the appetizer:

        Avgolemoni (Egg and Lemon Soup)
        From: Flavours of Cyprus

        • 1 whole chicken or 5 cups chicken stock
        • 1 cup basmati rice
        • 3 eggs, beaten
        • Juice of 1 or 2 fresh lemons, to taste
        • 1 tsp cornstarch
        And for the main course:

        Tavva (Baked Lamb and Potatoes with Tomatoes and Onions)
        Also from Flavours of Cyprus

        • 2 lbs lamb
        • 2 lbs potatoes
        • 2 onions, sliced
        • 1 lb fresh tomatoes, quatered
        • 1 tbsp tomato paste
        • 2-4 bay leaves.
        • I tsp cumin seeds
        • 1 tsp cinnamon
        • 2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
        • 1 cup olive oil
        And some bread:

        Houloumopsomi (Cheese Bread)
        This recipe came from an Australian TV show called "Secret Recipes"

        • 3 cups all-purpose flour
        • 1 tsp active yeast
        • 4 tbsp warm water
        • 1 to 2 cups warm water
        • 1/2 tsp salt
        • olive oil
        • 9 oz Haloumi cheese, cut into 1/2 inch dice
        • 1-2 tablespoons dried mint (or to taste)
        Put everything in your bread machine, unless you want to do it the old fashioned way:

        Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand until frothy.

        Now sift the flour into a bowl and add 1 cup of water and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the yeast. Stir to incorporate, adding more water if needed.

        Now add the diced cheese and the mint.



        Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be sticky. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and a little extra flour to help get the dough completely out of the bowl.

        Shape the dough into a ball and place in a floured bowl, covering lightly. Let rise in a warm place for an hour or so or until doubled in size.



        Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees (Yes! That hot.)

        Now put the dough on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes, then reduce heat to about 425 degrees and keep baking for 25 to 35 minutes. Keep an eye on your bread because this is still pretty hot, and you don't want it burning.

        When done, the bread should have a nice hard crust and be soft inside.



        Now for the lamb:

        Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

        Put the meat in a large bowl with the potatoes, onions, tomatoes and bay leaves. Top with the cinnamon, salt and pepper, then pour the oil over everything.

        Now mix the tomato paste with the water and pour that over everything. Toss until the meat and vegetables are coated with oil, tomato paste and spices, then transfer to a roasting pan.



        Cover loosely with foil and bake until an internal thermometer registers 140 degrees for rare, 150 for medium and 160 for well-done, turning the meat and potatoes occasionally.



        Finally, the appetizer, which cooks up quickly.

        If you want to do this the hard way, you will need to boil a whole chicken in water, then reserve the stock to use as the base for the soup. It was nearly Christmas when I made this, so I was way too tired to do anything the hard way. I used a prepared chicken stock instead. Either way you should have about 5 cups of stock.

        Add the rice to the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the rice is tender. Remove from heat and let cool a little.

        Pour some of the stock into a bowl and add a little bit of cold water. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Now add the egg and lemon mixture to the pot. Heat the soup slowly but don't boil, since you don't want the egg to scramble. If you'd like your soup to be a little thicker, dissolve the cornstarch in a little bit of water and add that to the pot, continuing to heat until thick. Serve immediately. If you're serving this as a main course you can include the boiled chicken on the side.



        OK, here's the verdict:

        We liked the soup although it did seem pretty basic. Despite the unusual cooking technique, it really was just rice, chicken stock and lemon—tasty but not really that original in flavor.

        As I'm sure you already guessed, Martin disliked the lamb because it is next to impossible to get all the fat out of a roast. So although it was delicious Martin's fat-phobia prevented him from really enjoying it. I liked it more than he did, and the kids did too—at first. We don't eat a lot of lamb so as soon as they had a few bites they kind of burned out on that strong lamb flavor and didn't finish their meals. That's just them, though.

        The bread was perfect in every way except one, the part that made it inedible. It had a wonderful crust and a great texture, but the mint was really overpowering. I'm sure it is an acquired taste. If I made this again (and I actually probably will) I would just cut out the mint altogether. Of course this again is an opinion—if you like mint or herby bread in general you would probably enjoy this recipe. But frankly, I think it's a crime to overpower cheese with mint. I couldn't taste the cheese at all, which is 9/10ths of the reason I chose that recipe in the first place.

        So there you go, Cyprus. Kind of a blah experience overall. Good, but not terribly interesting.

        Next week: The Czech Republic.

        For printable versions of this week's recipes:






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