Mexican food – a fiesta on your palate: Picadas Veracruzanas

COUNTRY 47 – MEXICO

La comidaMexicana es deliciosa!  Now I know all you Americans out there love your food from south of the border and have great super fresh Mexican food available all the time, but down here in Oz, we aren’t so lucky! Mexican food still seems to be rather boring and stuck in a rut where everything tastes the same. (Did you know that we from New South Wales call Victorians, Mexicans?  Why? ‘Cos they’re south of our border of course!)

My Picadas Veracruzanas

I know how amazing real Mexican food can be, having done a cooking course years ago with a wonderful ex-pat home cook called Rolando. He taught me a lot about the subtleties of this great cuisine and I’ve loved it ever since and mourned the lack of any really good Mexican restaurants here. Having said that, there are a few places out there that have discovered the incredible flavours, textures and colours of Mexican food and are jumpin!

I also worked in a Mexican restaurant, many years ago called La Gaupa and they made the best chicken enchiladas! I couldn’t resist them and every night I would ask – una enchilada de pollo para mi por favour!

The country

Smoking snow-topped volcanoes, steamy jungle, baking cactus desert and endless azure coastlines, fabulous ancient ruins, historic churches, colourful noisy (and frequent) fiestas and markets, outstanding museums, friendly locals and terrific food –  Mexico has got it all and more – what’s not to love?

Chichen Itza, Yucatan

Chichen Itza, Yucatan

Personally I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico, I’d love to visit the fabulous ancient cities of Teotihuacan (Mayan)  Tenochtitlan and La Venta (Olmec)  Chichen Itza (Mayan) Tula (Toltec)  Tulum and Uxmal both Mayan.  Plus the rugged coastline of Baja California Sur is also on my bucket list (sigh, as if ……………….!)

Mexican Baja California

Mexican Baja California

The food

Mexican food is founded on the holy trinity of corn, beans and chillies, backed up by a wealth of native foods that took  the old world by storm. Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes, Thai food without chilies, or a world without chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? Unthinkable! But there’s a lot more to Mexican food than the common taco or burrito, gluey refried beans and overly sweet flan. Although like the chappatis in India, or pasta in Italy,  fresh tortillas are served with every meal, this simple mix of maize (or masa harina) can be transformed into endless and delicious variations.

TORTILLAS

Fresh tortillas

Cooked properly,  with its huge variety of spices and fresh herbs and native ingredients fused with European foods particularly meats like chicken, beef, pork, and lamb or goat, and dairy especially cheese, has produced a splendidly rich and complex cuisine up there with the world’s greatest.

Moles are a  truly unique national dish, its rich depth of  flavour and laborious cooking methods rivals in complexity anything from Europe.  A balance of 5 tastes – hot (chillies)  sweet ( fruit/sugar) sour (tomatillos) spices and thickeners (ground nuts/tortillas) , this dish can take several days to make, has many versions containing 20 – 30 ingredients and traditionally all painstakingly ground by hand.

MEXICAN SWEETS

The Spanish influence is very prominent in the Mexican love of (very) sweet desserts  mostly based on milk such as the popular Pastel des Tres Leches con Coco, or Mexican/caramel flan. And don’t  forget the huge range of  biscuits many of them baked for special occasions such as weddings, religious holidays including the famous Day of the Dead.

The drinks

DRINKS

Beer of course springs to mind, these have been brewed (from corn) since ancient pre-Spanish times, and there are loads of different varieties, the most famous is the ubiquitous Corona and thanks to German migrants, such beers as Bohemia. Beer is drunk ice-cold and with fresh lime.

Aquas Fresca are a range of refreshing drinks based on fruits, seeds and cereals blended with sweetened water, flavours such as tamarind, hibiscus, cantaloupe and lime. There is a unique range of fermented drinks made from corn such as Charanda, Tejuino and well-known Pozol.

Then of course there are the distilled drinks of the fiery kind called Aguardiente, the knock-back Tequila and Mezcal both brewed from Maguey, once a highly sacred plant. Corzo, Sotol, Pox and Pulque are all other spirits made from local ingredients.

Finally there is Mexican chocolate, a frothy spiced concoction very different from the sweet blandness of drinking chocolate in the West. Solid chocolate is sweetened and blended with milk and water with ground almonds along with cinnamon, vanilla and is whipped to foamy heights with a special tool called a molmillo in tall pots called chocolateros.

‘Pinched’ Tostadas

Picadas  Veracruzanas – “Pinched’ Tostadas

Filling:

  • 1 tb oil
  • 1 small onion,  chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 5oo gm. beef mince
  • 1 tsp g. cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt & fresh ground pepper
  • fresh  chopped coriander to garnish
  • fresh salsa to serve

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a frypan, sauté onion and garlic till soft. add meat and on med-high heat, fry till brown.
  2. Add rest of ingredients and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile cook the tortillas.
  4. Fill hot picadas with the picadilllo mixture, top with fresh salsa and chopped coriander and serve immediately.

For Tortillas:

  • 3 cups masa harina/fresh masa
  • 1 – 2 cups warm water (NOTE: do not add if you have fresh masa!)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • oil for shallow frying

Method:

  1. Mix masa harina, water and salt to form a pliable dough, or just roll fresh masa. Form into golf ball size, keep rest of dough covered while working.
  2. Roll out into 10cm rounds, or press in a tortilla press if you are lucky enough to have one.
  3. Cook in a hot dry frypan on both sides, immediately press and pinch the edges to form a small rim around the tortilla.
  4. Repeat till all are done, then  heat oil in frypan and fry till lightly brown on both sides. Drain on paper towel.

Frijoles Meneados

Frijoles Meneados – creamed borlotti beans

  • 2 cups dried borlotti beans
  • ½ large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tomato, diced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tb oil
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 long dried chili – chilli ancho if possible
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese, cut into small dice (or grated for quick version!)
  • 2 sprigs epazote – Optional – Mexican herb that is a counter flatulent! (NOTE: If you live near Bondi Beach, it used to grow wild in the cracks of the road around North Bondi streets like Ramsgate Ave. It’s a tall straggly weed with narrow toothed leaves that smell strongly medicinal when touched.)
  • chopped fresh coriander to garnish

Method:

  1. Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight.
  2. Drain, place in a saucepan or large bowl,  cover with water again and bring to boil. Simmer or microwave with lid on until soft, about 30 min. Don’t let dry out, top up with more warm water if needed.
  3. Add salt and milk and mash till smooth.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 180°/350°
  5. Heat oil in fry-pan and saute onion and garlic till soft. Add tomato and epazote and saute till tomato is soft. Stir into bean mixture.
  6. Simmer dried chilli until soft, remove seeds, pat dry and cut into strips. Stir into beans, season
  7.  Place beans in an oven dish, bake in oven 30 minutes, push cheese cubes into beans – don’t stir in – and serve with coriander on top.
  8. Quick Version: skip step 7,  simply reheat bean mixture to piping hot and stir in grated cheese

The Verdict

Both these recipes are delicious and a real eye-opener for those who have only ever made tacos from a packet. If you have any beans leftover, they go great with fried eggs and bacon the next day for breakfast. Our family is pretty keen on Mexican flavours so we loved this meal, rating it 9/10 and a definite repeat. If you have never made your own tortillas before – please give it a go as it’s really easy, fun (especially if you have a tortilla press!) and the fresh taste will be a revelation! They taste so good you can understand why they are such a necessary part of every meal.

An ancient bread : Injera from Eritrea and Zigni

ERITREA : Wholemeal Flatbread with Spicy Beef Stew

“Oh no” my son groaned – “not more African food!” Not much can be done about it, there just are an awful lot of African countries! So in our quest to cook from every country in the world, African food will feature a lot obviously.  However this meal was a surprise, very spicy (which we like) and the bread was delicious.

History

Eritrea wasn’t on the maps when I was growing up, then it was part of Ethiopia (which my mum called Abyssinia) but became a separate country in 1993. The modern name comes from early Greek meaning Red Sea, once part of the fabled Land of Punt in the horn of Africa. That’s the hook that sticks out into the Red Sea opposite Arabia.

Known as the cradle of (human) life, many ancient kingdoms have risen and fallen in and around this area. After 1869 and ‘the scramble for Africa’ Italy claimed this territory and it became Italian Eritrea in 1880.  A legacy of that time is the wonderful Italianate architecture in the capital city Asmara.

Danakil Depression Dallol

Now sadly Eritrea is a little visited place, due to on-going hostilities with Ethiopia (who may possibly want some of their coastline back)  and Djibouti. Eritrea has a long coastline, and in a world first in 2006, made the entire length an environmental protected zone.  Wildlife is protected and is rich and varied, with lots of large animals like lions, leopards, elephants, wild ass, oryx, jackals, gazelles and baboons.

Landscapes

Keren

Eritrea is a volcanic hot-spot, where three tectonic plates meet, giving the dramatic Martian landscapes of the Dankalia region with psychedelic sulphurous pools, and the impressive Danakil Depression, one of the hottest and lowest places on earth, with virtually no rain, Never-the-less it was where ‘Lucy’ the 3.2 million year old hominid the earliest ever. was discovered.

Sharing part of the Great Rift, there are awesome mountains in the south, and thick tropical jungle in the cooler fertile highlands.

Dahlak Islands

Coral Reef off Dahlak Islands

Cuisine

Obviously the traditional food of Eritrea is very similar to Ethiopia and Somalia, using lots of spices and tomatoes but less butter. A huge favourite is the herb and spice paste Berbere, which is eaten with just about everything. Basic foods are flat-breads (injera)  made from teff, sorghum, barley or wheat, and grains cooked like porridge (akelet) .

Legumes especially lentils and fava beans and vegetables are also key staples and the meats are beef, goat, lamb and near the coast, fish. Milk products like yogurt and fresh cheeses also feature and  spicy meat and vegetable stews known as sebhi are the main type of dish.

Drinks are a beer  brewed from corn and barley and flavoured with wild buckthorn (sowa) and mies a sweet wine made from  honey. Coffee preparation and serving has a very important ceremony and is drunk in enormous quantities.

Injera

INJERA

Ingredients

  • 125 gm wholemeal flour and 125 gm white flour
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

Preparation

  1. Process all ingredients except salt for 1 minute
  2. Add salt and whizz again for 15 seconds.
  3. Let mix stand covered for 30 minutes in warm, or in fridge for 48 hours if possible to ferment slightly.
  4. Heat a nonstick frypan or griddle on medium high, add a dribble of oil. Pour a small ladle of batter for each injera and swirl mixture quickly with the back of a spoon to spread it out.
  5. Cook on one side for 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes, turn to brown other side. Keep warm

Mimsey’s Zigni with Injera

ZIGNI: Spicy Beef Stew

Ingredients

  • 500 gm beef mince
  • 1 x 400 gm tin diced tomatoes in juice, not drained
  • 3 spring onions/scallions sliced
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves,  chopped
  • 4 tablespoons berbere (recipe below)
  • 1 bunch coriander/cilantro, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons oil
  • Salt
  1. Heat oil in medium frypan or saute pan over medium-high heat. add the beef mince and brown.
  2. Add the onions, garlic and cook till softened. Add capsicum and cook 2 minutes.
  3. Add the berbere and mix well and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Adding the tomatoes and their juice, season lightly, reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
  5. Five minutes before serving,mix in the chopped coriander.
Berbere

Berbere Spices

BERBERE

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 ½ tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 8 cardamom seeds
  • ½ teaspoon of white pepper
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon

Method

  1. In a small heavy frypan, toast the whole spices on low for 2 minutes till fragrant.
  2. Allow to cool, grind to a fine powder
  3. In the pan, put all the ground spices and salt and toast on low heat for 1 minute.
  4. Add garlic, onion, salt and water, gradually, stirring constantly. Mix well.
  5. Add the ground spice mixture, stir thoroughly and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes, then blend to a smooth paste.

All this took quite a while to make, so my advice is to make the Berbere spice paste one day and the Injera dough if you want, and then make the beef stew the next day and cook the injera too. We were surprised how spicy this dish was, and it was very tasty, particularly with the flatbread which really was delicious. We liked it enough to have it again, a rare accolade indeed. Score: 7/10

Leek and Coriander Dumplings with Beef and Minted Garlic Yogurt

Ashak – Afghan Leek and Coriander Dumplings with Beef & Lentil Sauce and Garlic & Mint Yogurt

Week 19 – Afghanistan

ABOUT AFGHANISTAN

A landlocked country, mountainous, hot, cold, dry and earthquake prone, Afghanistan is situated on the old Silk Road at a crossroads between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Settled for at least 50,000 years it’s an archaeological gold mine rivalling Egypt. Many empires and kingdoms have flourished here, its people are renowned for their hospitality and fighting prowess. Famed also for the striking beauty of the woman, Alexander the Great himself married into one of the royal families from ancient Bactria, now part of Afghanistan.

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SIGHTS TO SEE

The capital Kabul, dramatically located in a high valley at the foot of jagged mountains, Herat, an ancient city with its awesome citadel fortress mostly still intact, the exquisite Friday Mosque and the Minaret of Jam located in a narrow valley at the junction of two rivers, and the beautiful shrine of Hazrat Ali, a fabulous masterpiece to rival the Taj Mahal. Sweeping landscapes of wild mountains, arid upland steppes and the Band-e Amir, a series of brilliantly blue lakes.

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THE FOOD

From all the multi-ethnic influences the food of Afghanistan is a rich, varied and sophisticated fusion of Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines. Boasting a huge range of dishes drawing on a wide variety breads, fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Famed for skewered and grilled meats (kebobs) , kormas (saucy stews)   dumplings (mantu), pickles, soups (shorma) and a vast array of complex rice dishes (pulao).

A national dish is Kabuli Pulao rice with raisins, carrots, orange and pistachios often baked with lamb or Alou Balou Pulao featuring chicken and fresh cherries, or Shebet pulao with fresh dill. Big  meat eaters, chicken, lamb, mutton and goat are most favoured. Cooking methods include a tandoor style oven for baking, grilling, pan frying and steaming, often in a sealed pot as in the ‘Dum” style of India. This method is used to produce their particularly fluffy rice (chawal).

Afghani cuisine is characterised by the surprising absence of spices and the inclusion of fresh and dried fruits and nuts in many dishes. Desserts are mainly sweetmeats, rice pudding or very sweet baklava style pastries. Popular drinks are tea (chai) and a cold yogurt drink flavoured with rose water and salt (dugh)

Afghani’s were famous for their hospitality, and visitors were honoured guests given pride of place and  served the very best on offer. The traditional Afghani feast (Dastarkhan) consists of a cloth spread over the floor ( usual dining place) and covered with as many dishes as possible. Eating is by hand with breads like naan used to scoop up food.

This recipe comes the wonderful SBS food site – http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/afghan-dumplings-beef-sauce-and-garlic-yoghurt-ashak

ASHAK

Dough

  • 500gm plain flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 250 ml (1 cup) water, approximately

Sauce

  • 100 ml  vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 500gm beef mince
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ red capsicum, chopped
  • 400 g can diced tomatoes
  • 1 long red chilli, chopped
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 250ml (½ cup) boiling water
  • ½ cup chana dal (dried split chick peas) soaked, rinsed and cooked until tender

Filling

  • 2-3  leeks washed and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp  butter
  • ½ bunch coriander, washed and chopped

Garlic yoghurt

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain natural thick (Greek style) yoghurt
  • small handful fresh mint, chopped

Method

  1. To make the dough  place the flour, salt and oil in a large bowl and gradually add the water until a firm dough forms. (You may not need all of the water.) Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 8–10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. To make the sauce heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium–high heat. Cook the onion for 6–8 minutes, or until golden. Add the mince and cook for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and liquid is evaporated. Add all remaining ingredients, except the boiling water and chana dal. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, topping up with extra water if necessary, for 15 minutes. Add the chana dal and stir through. Reheat just before serving.
  3. To make the filling  saute the leeks in butter until soft and tender, combine all rest of ingredients and refrigerate until needed.
  4.  Divide the dough into eight pieces and roll each into a ball on a lightly floured work surface. Working with one ball at a time, and keeping the others covered with a cloth to prevent drying out, roll balls into 20 cm circles, then cut in half. Using a pasta machine on the widest setting, roll out dough, lightly dusting with flour when necessary to prevent sticking. Reduce setting on machine and pass through dough again, repeating until dough is about 2 mm thick. Cut into 3 cm squares. Place 1 tsp of the filling mixture in centre of a square. Moisten edges with a little water and press edges together to seal, and fold over like making tortellini or wontons. Place on a tray lined with a tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  5. To make the garlic yoghurt crush the garlic and salt to form a smooth paste. Process quickly together with the yoghurt and mint. Set aside.
  6. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Cook the ashak, in batches, for 3–4 minutes, or until they float to the surface and start to flip over. Drain well.
  7. Spread the garlic yoghurt onto a serving platter. Place ashak on top, then spoon over the meat sauce. Scatter generously with mint or coriander.

It pays to look at the video!  I was in a hurry making these and didn’t check it out, so I made them like large ravioli, forgetting pasta swells up when cooking – so mine ended up enormous! and fell apart a bit. And I served the yogurt on top instead of underneath! But they tasted good, I particularly liked the addition of the lentils, an unusual touch.

The rest of the family were a bit iffy about this dish which overall scored 7/10. It was quite a bit of work this dish, with lots of different processes involved in making them, I understand now why they are usually made with large family groups in a production line! Do try them for a filling and robust dish with a twist.

Afghan Biscuits

When I was growing up in NZ, one of my favourite (home made of course) biscuits were Afghans – a delicious chocolate flavoured biscuit with cornflakes in them and topped with chocolate icing and half a walnut. Our Edmonds cookbook was always stained on that page! Why they were named Afghans I don’t know unless it was a nod to the use of walnuts to decorate the icing.

My recipe comes from a very tattered, prized copy of the Edmonds cookbook, dating from the time when there still was the famous Art Deco ‘Sure to Rise’ factory with it’s sun rays, standing proudly in it’s beautiful gardens on Ferry Rd, Christchurch.  I, and I’m sure every New Zealander grew up  learning to bake from that little recipe book,  a trusty classic of home baking. In 1990 that beloved iconic building was demolished amid much controversy – in the interests of progress and cost efficiency, and what a sad loss it still is.

Afghan Biscuits

Beef Peanut and Spinach Stew from South Sudan

WEEK 16 – SOUTH SUDAN

Beef Stew with peanuts, spinach and tomatoes

Hello everybody! sorry it’s been a while, school holidays and all –  went to the Snowy mountains and had a lovely time relaxing and enjoying the views of the Thredbo River and the Snow Gums on the slopes beyond. Needless to say ate lots of yummy food including a wonderful Cauliflower Risotto – a Jamie Oliver recipe that is so yummy won over my cauliflower averse family, and a divine Rhubarb, Apple and Berry Crumble! Requests taken – was so good others polished off the leftovers for breakfast before I even got up! (and with ice-cream too!) Hurrumph!

So back to our mission to cook from every country in the world – we started back in September last year. The idea is my 15 year old daughter Bunny and I pull a country out of a hat each week, and both cook a traditional dish from that country. We try to make things we would never normally, or have never had before. Sometimes it’s just a drink or a dessert, usually a main dish. We learn a little about unknown countries – who knows much about The Comoros or Kiribati for instance? and have fun scoring each dish out of 10.

So with time off for holidays, I am now up to country number 32 South Sudan, yet another African country – there are so many of them! Alas so many of these African countries have fairly similar basic cuisines based on a limited range of staples, peanuts, root vegetables, grains, pulses like dried broad beans (fava beans) and small amounts of protein like beef or goat or fish. Sigh.

South Sudan

A land locked East African country, South Sudan is the newest countries in the world – only gained independence from Sudan, (Africa’s biggest country until then) in 2011. Sadly this mostly rural agricultural country is plagued with the problems rising from continuing civil and ethnic wars since the 1950’s. Huge refugee population, human rights violations, break-down of infra-structure including water supply and more. Not a fun place and definitely not a tourist destination. Even the indefatigable Lonely Planet has extremely limited information about this little known country, and  there posts warnings  to all Commonwealth travellers to avoid this place. Some intrepid travellers still seem to be going, mainly to capital Juba and surrounds.

South Sudan is made up of 3 regions, the Sudd or Bahr el Ghazal – a vast swampy grassland formed by the White Nile, the Equatoria and the Greater Upper Nile. The huge Bandingilo National Park hosts the 2nd largest migration of wildlife in the world, there are tropical forests, savanna and dry bushland in this largely undeveloped country.

640px-Rwandan_children_at_Volcans_National_Park   images-4

Due to geographical isolation, much of the traditional indigenous culture has been retained and local tribal culture and ways of life are still predominant. Woven huts, colourful costume, scary scarification including on woman, dances and some outstanding wild life and national parks are what draws the brave visitor.

The Food

General Notes on Sudanese Food

At a cross roads for cuisines, South Sudan has influences from early Arab traders bringing garlic and spices like red pepper, Egypt and Ethiopia to the north and India and Yemen also. Breads such as Kissra are similar to Injera and starches in the form of porridges or gruel are made from the most often grown grains of sorghum, millet and wheat.

Soups and stews are the most common meat dish, as been easy to prepare with the minimum of ingredients, cooking time or preparation required. All of the protein is used including offal and vegetables include okra, yams, beans and peas, pulses, tomatoes and dates.

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The fava (dried broad bean) in the form of Ful, and the African Ground Nut AKA a peanut, rules here. I wanted to make some unusual felafel like dumplings with a meat stuffing, but couldn’t find dried broad beans. Settled for a typical beef, peanut and tomato stew with spinach. Was surprisingly tasty and I really liked it a lot, served on top of a spicy couscous – yeah I know, should have been a sorghum or possibly millet dish – but hey, that went in the ‘too hard’ box! Rest of family weren’t so keen, scoring it 6/10, I scored it 7/10, I was more than happy to eat the leftovers the next day for lunch.

This recipe comes from the most excellent SBS Food Safari series, TV Channel 28 in  Australia,  http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/by-cuisine

 Ingredients

    • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 500g chuck steak, cut into 3 cm cubes
    • 2 onions, finely chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 1 tbsp tomato paste
    • 750 ml (3 cups) good-quality or salt-reduced beef stock
    • 1 orange sweet potato (kumara), cut into 4cm pieces
    • 2 bunches English spinach/1 bunch silver beet, washed & trimmed, and cut into ribbons
    • 2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
    • 100 g (⅓ cup) unsalted roasted peanuts, leave ¼ whole, grind rest to a paste
 Instructions
  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium–high heat. Brown beef and cook for 3 minutes, Remove and set aside.
  2. Add remaining 1 tbsp oil and onions, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Add garlic and tomato paste, then cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  3. Return the beef to the pan with stock and 500 ml (2 cups) water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or until beef is almost tender and the cooking liquid is reduced by one-third. Add sweet potato and whole peanuts, cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook spinach, covered for 20 seconds or until wilted. Drain well, squeezing out excess water.
  5. Add spinach, tomatoes and ground peanuts to beef mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 5 minutes or until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Divide stew among plates and serve with couscous.

A Slovakian dinner – comfort food for a cold night

Week 11 – Slovakia

 

Beef Paprikás̃ with Haluŝky

It was time to pick our new culinary adventures – where would we be cooking from next? Bunny drew Togo out of the box this week and I pulled out another African country, so I picked again as hubby said “two African meals in one week was too much” Yah, I got Slovakia, another Eastern European country.

What did I know about Slovakia? 

Not a lot…….. It’s a landlocked country surrounded by five other (larger) countries, and was once half of Czechoslovakia. Home of the original Slav’s from the 6th century on, it formed part of Greater Moravia in the middle ages. Then gradually became part of the Kingdom of Hungary and later the Hapsburg Empire. Unified to become one country Czechoslovakia, which peacefully dissolved in 1993 becoming independent Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

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The capital and heart of the country is Bratislava, situated on both banks of the Danube River, it was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. Loomed over by the impressive Bratislava Castle, it features many medieval towers, baroque palaces, wonderful churches and many green parks.

The small population is well educated, the fabulous natural landscapes of wild mountains, lakes, rivers and caves, strong and colourful folk traditions, and many well-preserved historic buildings and quiet towns make this a great country to visit.

 

wooden church Slovak Carpathians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Attractions

Skiing, fishing (in rivers & lakes) cycling, sight-seeing of fabulous castles, fantastic churches especially the UNESCO site of the Wooden Churches of Slovak Carpathians, the mountains, especially the High Tatras, Bratislava itself, spa resorts and the Andy Warhol museum. Yes, Andy Warhol was actually Slovakian, born Andrej Varhola to parents who migrated from Miková in the 1920’s to Pittsburg, USA. Who knew?

Zelene Pleso (Lake)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The food 

Naturally given the history, the Hungarian/Austrian influence is very strong and all the countries in this region share a common culinary heritage. Many recipes are very similar but still have their own regional differences. Meat, particularly pork, chicken and game is very important,  vegetables are hardy species such as potatoes, onions and garlic, the cabbage family, capsicums and carrots. Fungi are hugely popular and many are found in the wild.

Wheat the staple crop is made into bread, dumplings and noodles. Temperate fruits such as plums, apples, apricots and berries are used in both sweet and savoury dishes.  Milk products such as yogurt and soured cream, cheeses especially sheep milk ones are eaten a lot and meals traditionally were simple, tasty and hearty, using what was locally available.

Long cold winters led to many techniques for the preservation of foods from cheese-making, salamis and sausages, pickles, and of course variations of sauerkraut. A much loved spice is paprika, hot varieties or mild and sweet, caraway, poppy seeds, and walnuts are popular flavourings.  Paprika finds it’s way into many foods and recipes and is synonymous with the region.

Haluŝky – Slovak Potato Dumplings

  • 2 large potatoes
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2-3 rashers streaky bacon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • approx. 1/2 cup water
  1. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil
  2. Dice bacon and fry until just a little crispy
  3. Peel and grate the potato and squeeze out excess water. Add the rest of ingredients and enough water to mix to a soft dough
  4. Put dough on a board, with a knife quickly cut into short little batons, dropping into the boiling water as you cut.
  5. Let them rise to the surface, then boil for a minute or two, scoop out and drain.
  6. Serve immediately with paprikash or even stirred into the sauce to coat the dumplings. Browned butter may be poured over the haluŝky for extra richness and flavour.

This recipe is adapted from a most excellent site for all things Slovak :  http://www.slovakcooking.com/2009/recipes/halusky/

 

Beef Paprikás̃  – Beef Goulash

Ingredients

  •  2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  500g beef round or topside steak
  •  1 large onion, chopped
  •  1 tsp caraway seeds. + a few extra to serve
  •  1½ tb sweet paprika
  •  2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •  2 bay leaves
  •  1/2 red capsicum thinly sliced
  •  1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  •  180 g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 4 medium mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 long green chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1 tb tomato paste
  •  1/2 cup (125ml) beef stock
  •  1/2 cup (125ml) white/red wine
  •  1 large potato, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  •  2 tb finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook beef, in 2 batches, for 3-4 minutes or until browned. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Stir onion and garlic in pan for 5 minutes until softened. Add carrot, capsicum, chilli  and mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes or until soft.
  3. Stir in paprika, caraway seeds and cayenne for 1 minute or until aromatic. Add tomatoes, potato and beef. Season.
  4. Add wine and bring to boil. Add tomato paste, stock and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour 45 minutes or until beef is tender.
  5. To serve, mash the potato into the sauce with a rubber spatula to thicken it. Stir in half the sour cream, serve topped with a blob of sour cream, a few extra caraway seeds and the chopped parsley.

I used my own recipe and spiced it up a bit to come closer to what a true Slovak Beef Paprikás̃ should be. I hope you like it.

Thank goodness it was a cooler, rainy night when I made this hearty dish, otherwise we couldn’t have face it in 30 + degree heat! I served it with braised red cabbage, and the potato dumplings which were weird for us but good. Overall we enjoyed this meal from Slovakia and rated it 7/10. The dumplings made this dish interesting for us, as I regularly make a version of paprikash/goulash during winter.