Sunday, October 12, 2014

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!):

  • 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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