Friday, January 30, 2015

Recipe - Chakchouka

This is very reminiscent of Huevos Rancheros.  I didn't serve ours with eggs since it was a side, but next time I will make it with eggs.



  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1/2 t coriander
  • 1 onion (either yellow, white or red), diced
  • 6 tomatoes, skin removed (optional) and diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, skin removed (optional) and diced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, skin removed (optional) and diced
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • 4 eggs (optional, if you want to be vegan, obviously no eggs)


  1. Saute the onions, garlic, coriander and cumin in olive oil for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the bell peppers and saute 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and simmer for at least 15 minutes.  Add water or broth to keep from drying out.
  4. If you are using eggs, make four small indentations in your Chakchouka and drop the eggs in.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are cooked.
  5. Serve with couscous or bread.


Recipe - Couscous



1 cup course semolina flour
1 cup fine semolina flour
4 T olive oil
1 cup water
1 2-inch stick of cinnamon


Cookie Sheet
Shifter (like what you'd use for powered sugar)
Veggie Steamer

Pictorial Directions:

Dump the course semolina onto a cookie sheet and drizzle the olive oil over it.

Rub the flour in big circles with your open hand.

Try to get it all mixed in.

Add a quarter cup of water and a quarter cup of the fine semolina at a time until it's all been added.  Rake your fingers through and roll your palm over with each addition.

Now, shift it through a fine mesh.  Put the pellets aside and add an extra tablespoon of water to the flour.  Add the rest of the couscous back onto the cookie sheet and rub/rake again.

Keep repeating until you get bored.  Throw away the extra flour (or save it as the Algerians would do...but I have to admit that I threw it away...).

Place the cinnamon stick in boling water and steam the couscous over the water for 30 minutes.  I covered the couscous most of the time.

Dump back onto the cookie sheet and mash with a whisk.  This was pretty fun!

Steam the couscous for another 20 minutes.  I left it uncovered.

Fluff with a fork and serve with meat or veggies.


Recipe - Chicken Tangine with Apricots and Pinenuts

Chicken Tangine with Apricots and Toasted Pine Nuts

There are as many styles of tangine as there are cooks in Algeria (and Morocco).  I picked this one because Pete likes Orange Chicken and I was hopeful that this would be reminiscent of that.  I wouldn't say that it was, but I would say that it was great and that it's one of Pete's favorites so far in this cooking challenge.  Selfishly, I had some extra dried apricots from the Afghanistan meal and left over pine nuts from pesto that I made a while ago so shopping was very easy.  Almost everything besides the marmalade was in my pantry!

If you aren't a fan of pine nuts, you could substitute almonds.



  • 2 lbs chicken thighs
  • 2 T olive oil (divided)
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • T 2 minced garlic
  • 1 T peeled, grated ginger
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 1/4 t sweet paprika (Hungarian is okay, regular is not)
  • Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 T marmalade or bitter orange preserves (I used Seville orange marmalade from Trader Joe's)
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 6 dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 T thinly chopped flat left parsley or cilantro


  1. Brown the chicken in olive oil then remove from pan and put on a plate and set aside.
  2. Saute the shallots in the oil from the chicken
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, paprika and tumeric and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Return the chicken to the pan and coat it with the shallot mixture.
  5. Add the water and saffron (if you are using it) and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. During this time, make the pine nuts.
  7. Add the marmalade, apriots and cinnomon stick and parsley or cilantro.  Simmer another 10 minutes.
  8. Remove the chicken from the pan once more and place in a warm spot.  Reduce the broth until it's a thick sauce.
  9. Serve the chicken covered with sauce and pine nuts with couscous or bread.

The chicken all cooked up and waiting for the sauce to cook down

Yummy sauce

Roasted Pine Nuts

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 1/4 t sweet paprika (Hungarian is okay, regular is not)

In a small skillet heat the olive oil.  Add the pine nuts, turmeric and paprika.  Saute until brown. This won't take more than a couple of minutes so be careful that you don't burn them.
Transfer to a plate.


Recipe - Djouaz el Hummus (Algerian Chick Pea Soup)

Zander loved this soup.  He ate it for lunch every day all week and would cry when the bowl was empty.  Pete and I both also loved this soup.  It was very earthy and filling.  We ate it as the starter, but it was heavy enough to be a good meal in and of itself.  If you feel like being a carnivore, maybe add some lamb stew meat to this.

I will definitely make this again because Zander loved it so.

I added some harissa to mine, but didn't want the baby to have something too spicy.  Harissa is a typical North African hot sauce.  I bought mine because I'm a slacker, but you could make your own if you wanted.

Djouaz el Hummus


  • 2 cans chickpeas (total 30 oz)
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 4 T minced garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 t turmeric
  • 1 t saffron1 t harissa
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1 quart cooking water, or veggie/chicken/beef broth
  • Olive oil


  1. Saute the garlic, cumin and turmeric in olive oil for five minutes.
  2. Add the chickpas and water or broth and simmer for about an hour.
  3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (saffron, harissa, tomato paste)
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.
  5. Rinse the lentils a couple of times then add them to the soup and let cook until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Algeria - About

We are onto our first African country, Algeria!

Algeria is Morocco's neighbor.  Around 90% of the population lives near the coast.  Away from the coast is the Sahara Desert which covers 80% of the country. That's a lot of sand.

Most Algerians are Sunni Muslim and the level of devoutness varies per region.  Some areas are very Westernized and in others, such as Ghardaia, women are required by law to wear the hijab.  Arabic is spoken by 82% of the population, but various Berber dialects are also spoken as is French.

Berbers were the original inhabitants of the country, but many other cultures have claimed this land.  The Phoenicians established ports as far back as 1,200 BC.  During Roman time, the Berber kingdom along the northern coast of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia was known as Numidia.  The Romans took Juba II, the heir to Numidia back to Roman to educate him and Romanize him before giving him Cleopatra's daughter, Selene, as his wife and setting him up as a king.  He made his capitol in modern day Cherchell, Algeria, but he called it Ceaseria after Cesar Augustus.  Selene encouraged Juba to support performing arts, scientific research and trade, thus Numidia flourished under their rule and became one of the wealthiest Roman Client Countries.

Later the Arabs concurred Algeria twice, once in the 7th century and later in the 11th century.  In 1510 Spain came and then the French took control in the 19th century.  In 1962 Algeria won it's independence.

Couscous is the primary starch in Algerian cooking.  Many people assume that it's a grain due to it's very small spherical shape, but it's actually a pasta.  Okay, maybe not most people.  Maybe just me.  It's so tiny!  How is it a pasta?  Well, I'm going to cook it and find out!

Algerian cuisine is a fusion of Berber, French, Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Arabian and Turkish due to
the fact that these cultures have all claimed this land at one point or another.  Common spices are cumin, caraway, marjoram, coriander and fennel.  Saffron, ginger, cinnamon and cloves are also popular.  Yup, I'm definitely seeing French, Arabic and Spanish in there given the spices for sure.  Apparently, baguettes are a popular hold over from the French occupation.

When invited to an Algerian's home you are suppose to bring pastries, fruit or flowers.  Tulips and roses are good flower options.  You should always take off your shoes when entering a home, including the mat around a fire if it's a desert camp.

Additional Reading:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Albania - Menu and Overview

The spread.
Welcome to our third week of our challenge to cook around the globe.  This week is Albania.

Since I read that Albanian food can be very vegetable centric and I have a vegetarian friend, I decided to cook a meat-free Albanian meal.  According to this article "Traditionally, Albanian diet has been characterized by a low consumption of total energy, meat, and dairy products, but a high consumption of fruit, vegetables, and carbohydrates".  Perfect.

Happy with the Albanian food.
Fasule (Bean Stew)
Leek Burek (Savory Leek Pie)
Kol Burek mi Spinaq (Spinach Hand Pie)
Dessert brought by my friend (recipe to come later)

Now I will say that if you are a carnivore, adding some Tave Kosi which is lamb with yogurt and egg, would be great.  But, meat is expensive and that would not be something that people would have every day.  Beans are cheap so the stew is more likely to appear on a typical Albanian family's table.  The Leek Burek is common during a new year's celebration.  Often a coin is baked into the pie and whoever gets the coin will have good luck.  Since I'm going to share with my seven month old, I didn't want to deal with a chocking hazard lurking in the food.

Eastern European aren't known for their strong flavors and Albania lived up to that sterotype.  I wouldn't say that it was bland.  The feta and cottage cheese did impart nice flavors in the two types of Bureks (savory pies).  But, Albanians only do a spice or two per dish.

My garlic felt very, very lonely.  This might be the first meal in...a decade?...that had no garlic/garlic powder in it. Weird.

Fasule (Bean Stew)
This was the baby's favorite part of the meal.  But, out of everything, it was my least favorite, but that's more just because I liked the other stuff better.  It could have used more seasoning.

Leek Burek (Savory Leek Pie)
This was my favorite.  It's also nice that it's suppose to sit for an hour before cutting into it because I could have it done and

Kol Burek mi Spinaq (Spinach Hand Pie)
This was my other favorite :)  What?  I can't have two?  It was a much higher dough to veggie ratio so probably wouldn't be good for a main.  But I served it as the appetizer and that worked very nicely.

It's bread.  You can't really go wrong with some wheat-y goodness.  Not too sweet.  I made extra and it went well with my American meal of meatloaf the next day.

It reminded me of sweet cornbread, and I mean that in a very good way.

Recipe - Fasule (Bean Stew)

Anyone heard of Pasta e Fagioli, the bean stew at Olive Garden?  Well, this is not that. It is Fasule.  Note the similar word of this stew and you can see that Albania is pretty close to Italy.  No pasta in this one, though, as it's Albanian!  No garlic in this either, which is another big difference between this and anything from Italy.  :)


This is mine!


  • 1 lb dried white beans
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 T chopped mint (optional)
  • 2 T Chopped parsley (optional)
  • 4 T tomato paste
  • 4 cups Vegetable Stock (or broth)
  • Some olive oil 


  1. If using dried beans,soak them overnight.  Reserve 6 T of the soaking water.
  2. Saute onion in olive oil for 15 minutes.  Add the bell pepper and carrot and saute another 5 minutes.
  3. Add tomato paste, 3 T bean water and parsley and stir for about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir the butter until it melts then add the vegetable stock slowly.
  5. Add in the beans and vegetable stock and enough water to cover the beans (if needed)
  6. Add chopped mint, cover and cook for about 4 hours over low heat.  Check every so often to make sure that the beans are still covered in liquid.  Add water if needed.
  7. Serve hot with bread.


Recipe - Leek Burek (Leek Pie)

A burek is a savory pie.  This was a great vegetarian main.  You can make the dough or use puff pastry.  If you go the puff pastry route, just make sure it's defrosted and go straight to assembly steps.

I will definitely make it again, but would probably add some garlic and other flavors if I wasn't trying to be authentic!  I cut into mine a bit too early and it was soupy.  Make sure you wait the full hour after it comes out of the oven.  It was still super awesome, though!

Leek Burek



  • 3 large leeks 
  • 16 oz cottage cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 6 oz feta cheese
  • 2 T. of melted butter


  1. Strain the cottage cheese in a cheese cloth for 30 minutes.
  2. Beat the eggs, yogurt, butter salt together. 
  3. Chop leeks into very thin half moons.  Use only the white and light green parts.
  4. Combine everything into one bowl

Dough (if not using puff pastry)


  • 5 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 t. salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 lb. butter or melted margarine


  1. Mix flour, water and salt together.
  2. Kneed for about five minutes.
  3. Cover and let rest for about 10 minutes
  4. Take half the dough and roll it until it's as thin as you think you can get it.  
  5. Brush with melted butter.  Fold sides to the center.  Butter and fold in half again.  Keep doing this until it's only about a 5 inch square.
  6. Put in the fridge and do the same with the other half of dough.
  7. Let rest about 15 minutes in the fridge.


  1. Roll one dough sheet into a 15 inch circle and place in the bottom of a pie pan.  
  2. Add the filling.
  3. Roll out the other half to about a 15 inch circle.  If your sheets are most rectangle than circle, when you place this sheet on top, make sure the long parts are not over lapping the long parts on the bottom so that the extra edge dough is more even.
  4. Roll the dough around the sides like a pie.
  5. Brush the top with butter.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.
  7. Let rest about hour before cutting.


Recipe - Kol Burek mi Spinaq (Mini Spinach Pie)

Burek means pie, but savory pie not a sweet one.  Spinaq means spinach.  Kol referes to the shape of these cute little hand pies.

These were the appetizers.  I got the idea to make them small from this site, but I got the filling from another site.  Whirling these all took over an hour and a half.  Right after I made them I swore that I would never make it again, but after I ate them, I changed my mind.  They were really good.  I've had Greek style spinach pies before which are pretty similar to a standard burek.  The spirals of these made the filo very tender and not crumbly flaky like filo tends to be.

Older kids might enjoy helping to make these.  But they need to have good patience and the abilty to work quickly as filo can be persnickety.  I would say at least 10 and maybe older depending on the kid.  Although, I'm sure even the youngest Master Chef Junior contestant could handle it, so, use your judgement.

There are two things to make, the filling and the egg/milk wash.  You could make the filo too, but working with the crazy thin sheets were a big enough complication.  I can't imagine the time required to make it.  That's saying a lot because I really like making stuff from scratch.

Tips for dealing with filo dough:

  1. We want the sheets to stay slightly moist.  Too dry and it rips, too wet and it gums together and the sheets won't separate.
  2. Plan ahead and thaw the filo in the fridge the night before you need it.  Otherwise it might get gummy and will be more likely to stick together.
  3. Before you open the filo package, have all parts of your assembly ready.  
  4. Get a kitchen towel very slightly damp, wring out as much of the water as you can.  Place one beneath the filo and the other on top.  As you use filo, replace the top towel
  5. Be quick.  Time is of the essence.
Okay, let's get to the food!

Kol Burek mi Spinaq 



  • 1 lb frozen spinach (I used about 13 oz fresh, but it would have been easier and cheaper to use frozen)
  • 8 scallions, white parts, chopped
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 lb small curd cottage cheese
  • 2 T Greek yogurt


  1. Saute the spinach until wilted or not frozen.  Remove.  
  2. Saute the scallions.
  3. Beat the eggs, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.
  4. Mix with the scallions and spinach.

Egg/Milk Wash


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup olive oil


  1. Mix together


1 1/2 package of filo dough


  1. Lay down some parchment paper on a cookie sheet (I used my silicone pastry mat).
  2. Take two sheets of philo dough and brush the top sheet with some of the wash.
  3. Take about 1 T of the filling and spread it very thinly along one of the long ends of the filo sheet.
  4. Roll the sheet into a tube, then spiral the tube.  Place on cookie sheet.  I didn't give mine room between the Kols, but you can if you like crsipy edges.  
  5. Try to be careful as the filo can rip very easily. 
  6. Keep going until you run out of dough, wash or filling (in chemistry we would call this the limiting reactant).
  7. Bake at 400 for 45 minutes.  I baked this and the Leek Pie together.


Recipe - Albanian Bread

There is nothing so awesome as homemade bread.  I probably make bread about twice a week.  I wouldn't call it a lot of work as most of the time is the bread rising.
I doubled this recipe.  Feel free to halve it, but why?  The more bread the merrier!

Bread, Albanian Style


  • 4 cups water
  • 2 T dry yeast
  • 2 t sugar
  • 2 T salt
  • 3 T oil
  • 9 cups flour, maybe more


  1. Put the yeast in warm water and let sit for about five minutes.
  2. Add in the sugar, salt and oil and mix well with a spoon then let sit another couple of minutes.
  3. Add four cups of flour and mix in well then start adding a cup at a time, mixing well.
  4. Kneed it!  This activates the gluten.  Get it into a nice ball.  Then let it rise for about 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  5. Oil two 8 inch circle baking pans or one big cookie sheet.
  6. Make into 16 to 18 balls and put into the pan(s).  Let this rise at least a half hour.
  7. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes.

Serve as it is, with butter or with a stew.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Albania - About

Albanian Rivera
On to our first European country in our culinary tour, Albania.  It's located across the Adriatic from Italy, pretty much in line with the heel on Italy's boot.  It's other neighbors include Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro and Kosovo.  It is a majority Muslim country, just barely at 60%.  Even though the country is only 10% Roman Catholic, Mother Teresa is from Albania.  That being said, Albania is not very religious. 

Albania is a little bit bigger than Maryland.  About 2.8 million people live in Albania, which is about the population of Manhattan.

Unsurprisingly due to it's location, various empires have claimed this land including the Greeks, Romans, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Turks.  During WWII both Italy and Germany occupied Albania.  Eventually Albania went communist.  Now it's an emerging democracy.

The region is considered part of the Balkans which is named for the Balkan peninsula. Apparently "the Balkans" is re-branding itself "Southeastern Europe".  Other countries in the Balkans include Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro, Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

Funny story.  Hoxha, the communist dictator, thought that "the West" would want to attack Albania so he put up 750,000 little bunkers around the country.  To be fair, WWII was pretty awful for them since Germany and Italy both spent some invasion time in Albania, so a part paranoid, but a part worried about not-to-distant history.  When the chief engineer insured Hoxha that the bunker could survive a direct tank assault, Hoxha threw the guy into the bunker and ordered a tank to attempt bunker destruction.  The bunker and the engineer were both unharmed.

Bunker to protect against invasion

In Albania, dinner is usually served around 8pm, but their major meal is lunch.  Businesses close so that people can eat lunch with their families.  Men and women traditionally eat at separate tables.  Vegetables are very important in their foods and are in pretty much every dish.  Bread is also an important aspect of their meals.  Along the coast just like all coasts everywhere, seafood is popular.  Spices include black pepper, oregano, mint, basil and rosemary.

Prokletije or the Albanian Alps

Further Reading:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Afghanistan - Menu and Overview

This menu was much easier to pick.  I love dumplings.  They have dumplings.  I love flat bread.  They have flat bread.  It's very cold here
in Chicago right now and Afgans make a mean lamb stew.  I did want a couple of pre-dinner snacks since we were having people over.  So a dip for the bread and some roasted chickpeas for snacking.  Done!

Noni Afghani (Flat bread)
Nakhot e Shor (Roasted Chickpeas)
Sabse Borani (Spinach Yogurt Dip)
Aushak (Scallion Dumpling)

To be honest, I could have done with the stew or the dumplings.  Either were totally sufficient to be the main part of the meal by themselves, but I'm not sure which I would have cut because they were both awesome!  My friend and I discussed this at the end of the meal and we agreed that it would have been very tough to pick something to cut out.

I bought the The Honey Thief on my kindle and read it while I was simmering the stew.  I enjoyed
learning more about Afghanistan thought that these stories were beautiful.  It's nice to hear about the culture and people of the land that I hear so much sadness about.  The people must be strong to have survived all that they have.  And they've done a darn good job of perfecting their food!

We had people over and I didn't think to take a picture of everything together.

Noni Afghani (Flat bread)
Who doesn't love flat bread?

Nakhot e Shor (Roasted Chickpeas)
These were super tasty and crunchy.

Sabse Borani (Spinach Yogurt Dip)
Another win.  I will definitely make this again in the future.  It was pretty easy and very healthy.  Greek yogurt has a high level of calcium and protein and the spinach is healthy too.  I love things that taste good and are also good for you.

Aushak (Scallion Dumpling)
This took a ton of work.  In addition to making the dumpling I also had to make a meat sauce to go on top and a yougurt garlic sauce for on top of that.  They were very good and worth the effort.

Lamb Korma (Lamb Stew)
The flavors were amazing.  I let Z try some of the lamb and a bit of the sauce.  He loved the sauce.  It was a little spicy so I only let him try a very little bit.  He was very unhappy when I stopped giving him more.

Overall, I liked the Afghan food better than the Abkhazia food from last week.  It's really hard to say what my favorite part was because it was all so amazing.

More links:

Recipe - Aushak (Scallion Dumpling)

Traditionally, aushak and other dumplings are made as a community or family.  Everyone helps to assemble and everyone gets to enjoy it.  Because of this, I had everything ready and my guests got to assemble.  The four year old was a bit too young to help, but she did enjoy mashing the dough.

I didn't realize until the day that I started to cook that this is traditionally made with something called gandana which is in the onion family.  But that's why you'll find recipes that call for scallions and others that call for leeks.  They are both substitutions.  Had I realized early enough, I may have tried to find some gandana.  It's gotta be somewhere in the Chicago area.  But alas, I used scallions and leeks combined to hope that the flavor was similar.




  • 20 scallions white parts removed and saved for another use
  • 2 leeks
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 2 T corn, peanut or vegetable oil
  • 25-30 wonton or goyza wrappers or dough recipe, below


  1. Combine scallions, salt, pepper, garlic and oil.  Blend well.
  2. Get out a bowl of water and plates of the wonton wrappers.
  3. Dip your finger in water and run around the outside edge of the wrappers.
  4. Put a spoonful of scallion mixture into half of the wrapper.  Fold and seal.
  5. Boil the dumplings for 5 or 6 minutes in salted water.  I made the next set while the prior set was boiling.
  6. Strain and serve with meat sauce and yogurt.



  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • salt to taste


Mix together and roll flat.  I used a pastry roller set to thickness number 4.

Meat sauce:


  • 3 T vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb (or just a full pound of the beef)
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t ginger
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 T tomato paste
  • 4 T minced garlic


  1. Heat the oil and saute the onion until the onion is golden, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add in the beef, garlic, coriander and ginger.  Cook until meat is well browned, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add water and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste and cook 5 more minutes.  Stir constantly.
  5. Set aside the sauce until ready to use.

Yogurt sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups full fat greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 T minced garlic

Combine and set aside


Recipe - Noni Afghani (Flatbread)

Who doesn't love homemade flat bread?  Our au pair from France calls Naan "Indian Crepes", which cracks me up.  I guess these Noni are Afghan Crepes. :)

This was amazing.  I served this with the Sabse Borani

Noni Afghani


  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 3 1/2 t yeast
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 4 T butter or, better yet, ghee, melted
  • 1 T sugar

Combine flours, yeast, sugar, salt, water, yogurt, and olive oil and pour into your stand mixer.
Mix for about 10 minutes with the dough hook.  The dough should be moist but not too overly sticky. Add extra flour if necessary.
Shape dough into a ball and transfer to a clean, oiled bowl. Cover and place in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Usually what I do when I want dough to rise is I take a wet towel and microwave it for about a minute.  Then I put the dough into the microwave.  Now it's nice and warm and moist.
Divide into 18 portions and roll into balls. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Place on a well floured surface and roll into 1/3″ thick oblong discs.
Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add ghee (or butter) and cook one disk at a time.
Cook about 1 minute on first side. Flip and cook until the second side is brown and aromatic. This will take about 2 minutes.
Serve immediately.

Recipe - Sabse Borani (Spinach Yogurt Dip)

This recipe needs liquid to be removed from the yogurt either by using a cheese cloth or a coffee filter. Surprisingly, I've never used a cheese cloth in my cooking, but I had a cheese cloth hanging around, which was great.  I'm sure the coffee filter method would have been sufficient, but the yogurt strained with the cheese cloth had a great consistency.

This was awesome with the Noni Afgani but would be good with chips or anything.  I made it early in the day and was prepared when my guest arrived.  It does need to set for awhile so take that into account when preparing

I will definitely make this again.

Total time: 2 hours
Active time: 30 to 40 minutes (divided within the 2 hours)

Sabse Borani


  • 1 1/2 cups full fat Greek yogurt
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 T minced garlic


  1. Drain the yogurt by placing in a cheese cloth or coffee filter over a colander for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, continue with the next steps
  2. Saute onion and garlic until the onion is browned, about 10 minutes
  3. Rinse and chop the spinach.
  4. Saute until spinach is wilted.  Immediately remove from the heat
  5. Let the spinach mixture cool in the fridge.  Once cool, combine with the yogurt and let set in the fridge at least a half hour before serving with Noni Afgani or pita chips.


Recipe - Lamb Korma (Lamb Stew)

Stew!  Who doesn't love a nice stew?  And I'm a sucker for lamb.  Nam nam nam.  And I used goat yogurt in this, which was pretty exciting to me as I've never cooked with goat yogurt.

This was really good.  I'd never heard of a yogurt based soup before.  It reminded me a little of Indian cuisine, but that's probably due to the spices.

Unfortunately I did not snap a picture of this.  Which is really too bad because it turned out amazing.  The color was an orangey shade.

Lamb Korma


2 1/2 pounds lamb stew meat
1/3 cup olive oil
3 onions, diced
3 T chopped garlic
2 t turmeric
1 t garam masala (optional)
1/2 t cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
32 oz canned tomatoes, chopped
2 cup beef stock
3 T tomato paste
1 cup Greek or goat yogurt
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)


  1. Brown the onions in the oil (about 15 minutes)
  2. Add the spices (garlic, turmeric, masala, cinnamon if using ground) and cook 2 minutes
  3. Add the tomatoes, their juices and the tomato paste
  4. Add the lamb and cook 4 minutes, until the sides are browned.  This will lock in the flavor of the lamb while it simmers.
  5. Add the water, yogurt and cinnamon stick if using.  Stir every 15 minutes for about two hours.  I prepared the Noni Afgahni and read Honey Thief because I was lucky that it coincided with one of the baby's naps!
  6. Serve with rice and Noni Afghani.


Recipe - Nakhot-e-Shor (Roasted Chickpeas)

Most of the instructions I found for this was the same video with dubbed English.  This came together super quickly and tasted great.  It reminded me of hummus, which is not surprising seeing as how it's chickpeas with cumin and turmeric.  I usually don't use much if any salt, but these did need some.  I'm not quite sure how much I put on, but probably around a teaspoon.  Use more or less depending upon your tastes.



  • 38 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 1 t cumin (optional)
  • 1 t turmeric (optional)
  • 2 T garlic
  • salt, to taste


  1. In a small saucepan, saute the garlic, cumin and turmeric in the oil for about 5-10 minutes
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas.
  3. Put a paper towel down on a cookie sheet and dump the chickpeas onto the sheet.  Put another sheet over the top and rub dry.
  4. Remove the paper towel and toss the chickpeas in the olive oil
  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until the chickpeas look nice and browned.  During this time I stired a couple times to help them get evenly browned.  Be careful though, the oil can spit!
  6. Season with a little salt, if desired.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Afghanistan - About

Afghanistan has a very long history.  Neanderthal bones were found there.  Blades carbon dated to 34,000 BC were found there.  The oldest known oil painting was found there, dating back to the 5th century, about a millennia before the Europeans would discover oil painting.

Unlike that first place, Abkhazia, pretty much everyone has heard of Afghanistan for obvious reasons.  As Ambrose Pierce once said: "war is God's way of teaching Americans geography."  Which is true.  Most people understood where Abkhazia was when I mentioned the 2008 violence between South Ossetia, Georgia and Russia.

The more recent history is indicative of much of the Afghan past.  They have been a country on the edge, a borderland of sorts throughout history.  The country sits along the ancient silk road and was a gateway to both India and China.  It is land-locked and mountainous with lakes and rivers in many of it's valleys, but can be very dry in other parts.  It's roughly about the size of Texas.

Alexander the Great is attributed to saying that Afghanistan is "easy to march into, hard to march out of."  Which others throughout history have also discovered. Being in the crossroads between many cultures, wars have been fought in this land for thousands of years.  Gengis Kahn fought through this region as did Darius I of Persia.  Empires have risen and fallen here.  To name them all would take far more words than I'm intending to place in this post!  It was a buffer between the Russian Empire and British controlled India in the 19th century, a cold war battle ground in the late 1970s and the 80s  but after Russia left, a huge civil war ripped through the land.  And for over 10 years, the west has been fighting the Taliban through this area.

They consider the new year to start on the first day of Spring, which makes a lot of sense given that the Spring is for renewal and new life.

Poetry is very important.  In the city of Herat, Thursdays are poetry night.  In addition to poetry, Afghans love proverbs.  Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. 
  • A river is made drop by drop.
  • You can't clap with one hand.
  • May God not make one hand dependent on the other. (I love the irony between this and the prior).
  • One who doesn't appreciate the apple, won't appreciate the orchard.
  • There is a path to the top of even the highest mountain.
  • A good year is determined by its spring.

Their culture is a mixture of others from the area which influences from China, India, Arabia, Persia and roots back to Alexander the great and prior.  Each culture that has crashed into and through this country has left their mark in the music, clothing a foods of Afghanistan.

It's a tribal society with various ethno-linguistic groups.  There are fourteen ethnic groups mentioned in the Afghan national anthem.  Each of these groups have slight differences in the culture, food and music.  The groups have common threads, including Muslim religion and as such, food is always prepared with Halal rules.  Haraam is the rule for non-Halal foods.  Pork is haraam as is blood and alcohol.

Just like India, hey have naan bread, which I think is one of the most tasty things in the whole world.  They also have some other flat breads such as lavash, chapati (which is the same as roti) and  a thicker obi non.  Rice and lentils are both very important in their diet.  Lamb and beef and chicken are popular proteins.  Common spices include turmeric, coriander, cardamom, mint and saffron.

Attan is one of the traditional Afghan dances.  It was done in times of celebrations like weddings or to pump the army up before war.  The following video has some beautiful music with photos of the Afghan people.

Additional Reading:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Abkhazia - Menu and Overview

After a bunch of recipe comparison and keeping in mind that I have actual Georgia coming up in the future, I've selected my menu:

Abkhazura - Meatballs
Adjika - Sauce
Soko Arazhanit - Mushrooms in Cream Achma - Buttery Cheesy Noodle-y Goodness Life lesson obtained.  Sometimes when one takes a short cut, it takes a lot longer than just doing it the right way to begin with.
A co-worker of mine had suggested that I check out a store in downtown Skokie, but I found a Georgian deli called, creativly enough, "Georgian Deli" less than two miles from my house that,  according to yelp, sells one of the cheeses that I need for the Achma.  In the Chicago area there is a brand of grocery stores called Farm Fresh that sells ingredients popular to the ethnic groups in the area and there was one about two blocks from the Georgian deli.  But I didn't want to go to Skokie even though it was only 15 minutes away.  I also liked the idea of buying a pastry at Georgian Deli.

So I went to the Farm Fresh on Devon.  And it was mostly India/Paskastan stuff.  It was a great store.  Just not Russian/Georgian.  I should have gone to Skokie.  But, the cute Georgian deli made it worth the trip.  I got a really interesting Khachapuri with sulguni cheese and some cured meat inside.  The dough was flaky like a croissant. Achma is considered a type of Khachapuri, but is not like I got at the Georgian Deli.  It was great to be able to contrast the two very different styles.

We ended up running around to a few other grocery stores.  Being the Saturday after a big holiday (new year's) mostly everything was gone.  But, eventually, we got it all!

They were good.  The casing of caul fat did add a very unique texture.  This was the only part of the meal that I felt comfortable feeding to Z (directly anyways, he's still nursing so will get all the flavors secondhand later on).  He seemed to like it just fine.
It did remind me a lot of pesto.  There were walnuts instead of pinenuts and various other herbs instead of basil.  No oil, though.
Soko Arazhanit
I liked these.  My husband did not but he's not a fan of dill. Achma - cheesy lasagna-like dish
This was by far our favorite dish. Everything about it was amazing, except maybe how long it took to make!

Here is Z enjoying some yummy Abkhazura!

Recipe - Abkhazura (Meatballs)

This dish calls for wrapping the meatballs in caul fat which is...interesting.  Basically it's the membrane around the internal organs of certain animals.  I used pig's caul fat, but any is fine.  It's mostly fat and melts away, but not before imparting flavor and helping to both steam and roast the meat.

It's a bit gross to think about and look at, but in actuality, caul fat is no worse than your average sausage casing.  It smells pretty bad too.  But, it does it's job.  The meatballs were pretty awesome.  They seemed like encased meatballs.

I feel like caul fat would be really interested to wrap around my next meatloaf.  Just a thought.

As mentioned in the overview, I got mine at the Paulina meat market in Chicago.  When I asked if they had caul fat the guy kinda looked at me like "of course we have caul fat...why wouldn't we?"  He did inform me very apologetically that they did only have frozen, but I was just happy they had it.  Any butcher that works with whole animals could get this for you.  I'm not sure if they'd have it on hand or if you'd have to wait for the next pig/cow to come through.  According to what I've read online, it's often thrown away so calling ahead of when you need it is a good idea.



  • 3/4 lb. ground pork
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef
  • 1 onion, peeled and minced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1/2 t ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 t ground cayenne
  • 1/2 t ground black pepper
  • 1/2 t savory
  • 1 T ground fenugreek (blue feenugreek would be better)
  • 2 T ground barberries
  • 1 lb. caul fat
  • vinegar (just a splash)
  • 2 T olive oil


  1. Soak the caul fat in lukewarm water with a splash of vinegar until it separates and becomes pliable. 
  2. Gently rinse very well to remove any debris and cut into four inch squares.  Choose sections that have thinner, sparser fat – nothing chunky or heavy.
  3. Run onion and garlic and meat if not ground through a meat grinder.  Combine everything except the caul fat/vinegar and olive oil.  Roll up your sleeves and do this with your hands because a spoon is a poor substitute.
  4. Form meatballs a little bigger than a golf ball and wrap each in a caul fat square.
  5. Fry in a deep pan with olive oil over low heat until fully cooked and lightly browned. 
  6. Serve with tkemali sauce for a Georgian twist, Adjika to be more Abkhazian or ketchup if you don't have either of those.
Half of these meatballs have the caul fat and half do not.

Getting ready to wrap

Cooking up


Recipe - Achma

This took a pretty long time to make.  Allot around 2 and half hours.  About a half hour of that is resting time and another half is baking, but the rest is active.

But, it's completely worth it!



  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (whole is probably best, but I used 2%)
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (3/8 cup), melted +plus more for greasing the pan
  • 8 oz bryndza, crumbled
  • 8 oz sulguni, shredded


  1. Combine flour, salt and eggs and stir until well mixed. Add the milk and kneed until a ball is formed.
  2. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes
  3. Combine cheeses in a bowl and mix well.
  4. Butter a 9x13 pan.
  5. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Flour well, and, with a pasta machine, roll each piece to the next-to-finest setting to be approximately the size of your pan. 
  6. Cook one pasta sheet in salted boiling water for 1 minute, shock in ice water, pat dry with paper towels, then place in the pan (cut off excess dough).  
  7. Put 1/4 of the cheese on top of this layer.
  8. Do the next layer and pour 1/4 of the butter.
  9. Keep going layer, cheese, layer, butter until you've used up all the layers.
  10. You can cook right away or prepare up to a day in advance.
  11. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, then finish under the broiler for 2 minutes. 
  12. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Removing from my cold water and getting ready to set into the pan.

Setting it into the pan

This is how I poured the butter on.