Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lebanon - Lamb Kebob Pitas

Last year I saw the movie “Caramel.” It’s a Lebanese film made in 2007. It’s about four women working in a beauty salon in Beirut. The women struggle with universal issues such as aging and the search for love. The movie put a human face to a city that has been in political turmoil.

I don’t know much about Beirut, other than what I’ve read in the book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman. It chronicles the tension between Arabs and the Israelis and the obstacles to achieving peace in the Middle East. Also, my friend, Rex, described Beirut to me. He worked there for a short time when it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East.” He portrayed it as a delightful place with little shoreline cafes, good restaurants and hotels. It was known for being a place where one could go for a swim in the Mediterranean in the morning and go skiing in the mountains in the afternoon. “What’s happened to it since is a complete travesty!” he said.

For our Lebanese meal I made lamb kebab pita sandwiches with yogurt sauce, green onions, mint and hearts of romaine. It was delicious and it reminded me of the scrumptious street food of the Middle East. The kids loved it too.

Lamb Kebob Pita Sandwiches with Yogurt sauce and Salad

For the lamb:

1 large yellow onion
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
Freshly ground pepper
2 lbs boneless lean lamb from loin or leg, cut into 1 inch cubes

For yogurt sauce:

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt or other plain yogurt
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and coarsely shredded
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

6 green onions, white part only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh mint leave, coarsely shredded
4 large pita breads

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Latvia - Baked Pork Ribs

Latvia borders Estonia, Lithuania and Russia and the cold Baltic Sea. I read that the capital, Riga, is the biggest and most vibrant city in the Baltics. I wouldn’t have thought to put Latvia on my must-see places, but now, I just might want to see this up-and-coming hotspot. Well, not hot, but you know what I mean.

Latvian food is influenced by German, Swedish and Russian cuisine. They eat meat at almost every meal and traditionally eat locally grown vegetables such as dried peas, potatoes and cabbage.

One interesting Latvian meal is pig’s snout that is a traditional Christmas dish. It’s served with beans and sausages.

Our Latvian meal consisted of baked pork ribs with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. The kids loved it. John’s favorite meal is ribs.

Baked Pork Ribs

3 lbs pork ribs
1 onion
Salt and ground pepper

Rub salt and vegetable mixture on the ribs and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. When done, pour pan juices over them and serve with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Laos - Bullfrogs

In the book “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert she and her soon-to-be-husband are in Laos and they get invited to dinner. They are at the house of Elizabeth’s Laotian guide, a young man with a pregnant wife living in a tin shack. Here is an excerpt from the book about that night:

“We all sat down on a bamboo mat and shared the meal, rolling balls of rice in our hands. In keeping with Laotian custom, we all drank from the same glass, passing it around the room from the oldest to the youngest. And here is what we ate: Spicy catfish soup, green papaya salad in a smoky fish sauce, sticky rice – and frogs. These were giant frogs – huge, hefty, meaty bullfrogs – chopped into big parts like stew chicken and then boiled, skin and bones and all.”

I wish I could tell you that our Laotian meal was half as interesting (no, I did not score some massive bullfrogs to eat). Instead, I made Lahp Tofu. I also wish that I could tell you that we liked it. We didn’t. I don’t know why exactly, we all like tofu. Maybe it was because it had a banana flavor. True, a little more appetizing than meaty bullfrogs. Then again, the frogs may have been quite tasty.

Lahp Tofu

Vegetable stock
Soy Sauce
1/2 banana flower (green beans or green bananas)
sticky rice
2 red chillies
Green onions

Heat oil in wok until hot, then add the tofu. Fry cubes, turning occasionally to ensure even browning until they are golden (about 4- 5 minutes). Remove from oil, drain and cool.

Place tofu cubes on chopping board and coarsely mince with a large knife or chopper. Put the minced tofu into a large bowl for mixing with other ingredients later.

Heat 2 TBSP of oil in a frying pan, and add garlic, fry until barely golden, then add water (or stock) and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

Squeeze out the banana flower, add to the minced tofu and mix lightly. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, then the fried garlic and some juice from the frying pan.

Sprinkle the ground roasted sticky rice over the mixture, and mix together by hand. Taste and adjust soy sauce if necessary.

Add the sliced chillies and chopped spring onions, mint and coriander. Lightly mix, then pile on a serving dish. Garnish with cucumber slices, beans and pieces of chilli or tomato.

Kyrgyzstan - Beshbarmak

Kyrgyzstan is a small mountainous country in Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. It’s a country known for its hospitality (if you happen to get invited to a Kyrgyz home they’ll insist you drink fermented mare’s milk), but they also love to play and watch the aggressive game of kok boru. It’s not a game for sissy. You see, you ride on horseback, with many other competitors, and you try and grab a headless goat and throw it across a goal line. Sort of like polo, without the corpse.

For our Kyrgyzstan meal I made the national dish, Beshbarmak. It’s traditionally made with horsemeat or, mutton or lamb. Beshbarmak means “five fingers” which makes sense because you eat it with you hands. You will find this dish at any festive gathering – maybe even at a kok boru event.


1 medium sheep or a small horse (You read that right. However, I went to Whole Foods and bought lamb chops)
1 large onion
You can make your own flat noodles with flour and eggs ( or you can use lasagna noodles like I did)

Boil the meat with the onions until done. Boil noodles in the same water that the meat was in to give the noodles a meaty flavor.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kuwait - Big Family Meals

It’s hard to believe that the Gulf War was twenty years ago. Apparently, there is little evidence now that there ever was an invasion, except for the memories of it burned in people’s minds and extra security around the capital. But it still holds a reputation of being one of the more relaxed of the Muslim countries.

Kuwaiti dishes are influenced by Mediterranean, Persian, Indian and South Asian cuisine. Eating food is a big part of the culture and it is usually prepared in large amounts where it is common to invite neighbors and family to share the dishes.

For our Kuwaiti meal I cooked only enough for my immediate family (sorry neighbors). I made chicken with lemon with a side of cold spinach and yogurt salad.

Chicken With Lemon

Chicken pieces

1/2 – 3/4 cup oil (half canola and half olive)
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 TBSP thyme
1 tsp garlic powder

Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Marinade chicken for 1 hour or over night. Place chicken in baking dish and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Then broil 15 minutes or until golden.

Cold Spinach and Yogurt Salad

1/2 lb spinach
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp onion, finely grated
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
1 TBSP fresh mint, finely cut or 1 tsp dried mint

Wash spinach under cold water running water. Drain, then strip the leaves from the stems.

In a pot, bring water to a boil. Add spinach, reduce heat to low, and simmer, tightly covered, for about 10 mintues. Drain spinach in sieve, cool to room temperature and squeeze it completely dry. Chop finely.

In a bowl, combine spinach, lemon juice, onion, salt and pepper. Toss the mixture and stir in the yogurt and mix thoroughly.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or until chilled. Sprinkle with mint.

Friday, March 12, 2010

South Korea - Bulgolgi

During the Vietnam War my dad, an Air Force Captain, was assigned to an Air Force base in Kwangju, Korea for a 13-month tour. I was a baby and my mother, who had never left the United States, insisted we join him.

Kwangju was remote and difficult to get to because of bad roads and primitive surroundings. It was only 250 miles south of Seoul but years behind. My mother was told by my father’s boss not to come and he made it clear that there was no authorized housing available for American dependents on the base and there was no commissary.

Many of my mother’s friends and relatives thought she was nuts for wanting to accompany my dad, especially with a baby, to a remote part of Asia. But South Korea was friendly with the United States and it eagerly promoted tourism. My mother discovered the presence of missionaries there and found that there was a good-sized community of American Presbyterians living in Kwangju and that they often provided housing to Americans staying in the area.

My father left for Korea to begin his assignment and to make the final arrangements for our housing. He then wrote to my mother and told her to “come on over” and my mom and I embarked upon our adventure. Since my mother wasn’t authorized to ship household goods, she had to figure out how to pack everything we needed for a year into 44 pounds of luggage.

The arrival in Korea, the reunion with my dad, and a sightseeing weekend in Seoul brought on a sense of euphoria for my mom who had dreamed of traveling since she was a little girl. But that ended abruptly when we flew over endless patterns of rice paddies and mountains and landed in Kwangju. Reality set in and it was time to begin making a life there.

The year in Korea turned out to be a rich and memorable experience (for my parents – not for me as much since I was a baby). The move there had set us on a course; it was the beginning of many more adventures living in different countries all over the world. It was Korea that gave my parents a taste of the life-style that made them decide to join the Foreign Service.

Though I don’t remember Korea, it shaped my destiny, it set me on a path for a life time of travel.

One of the dishes my mother made often from Korea was bulgolgi, a sweet marinated beef served over rice.

Korean Bulgolgi

1 1/2 lbs thinly sliced rib-eyed steak (you can find it already sliced in Asian stores)
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Yellow onion, halved and sliced into moon shaped slivers
2 green onions including the white parts, finely sliced into small pieces
2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes
2 pinches black pepper
1/4 tsp of ginger, finely minced

Whisk all the ingredients together in bowl except beef and onions. When most of the sugar has dissolved, add beef and onion slices to the bowl and massage the marinade with your hands into each slice of beef. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To pan fry, place a few slices of beef in single layers on a hot oiled frying pan and fry each side until cooked.

Serve with rice.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

North Korea - Korean Noodles

It was a few months ago now, but I remember being horrified by the story of the two journalists who were arrested and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for supposedly entering North Korea illegally. Even if the women were stupid enough to walk into North Korea without proper papers, I thought the punishment certainly did not fit the crime. Luckily it had a happy ending. Bill Clinton got involved and negotiated the release of the poor journalists.

North Korea has been shut off from the rest of the world for half a century. People live in fear, where dictator Kim Jong II runs the country with an iron fist. It’s the place George W. Bush declared a part of the “Axis of Evil,” along with Iran and Iraq.

Many of us know veterans of the Korean War. It began in June of 1950, when North Korea invaded the south. The United States got involved and the war lasted three years and claimed more than 54,000 American lives.

I consider myself an adventurous traveler, but I don’t think I’ll be putting North Korea on my bucket list.

Korean cuisine consists of rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables and meats. Beef is the most valued meat and its consumption used to be forbidden until the Mongols came into power in the 13th century. Chicken, pork and fish are also very popular, as well as dog meat. Using dog meat, they prepare a spicy stew that claims to balance a person’s vital energy in their body. Being huge dogs lovers, this spicy stew would be out of the question for us – even if it does have health benefits.

For our North Korean meal I made a delicious Korean noodle soup. It’s a quick and satisfying meal and one that I have made on a couple of occasions. It was definitely a big hit with the family.

Korean Noodles

1 pound of Chinese dried noodles or vermicelli, cooked and drained.
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups beef broth
1/2 pound ground beef
1 1/2 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp Oriental sesame oil
Few drops hot sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup green onions, chopped

While the noodles cook, heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the eggs and cook them in a flat sheet until they are set and the top is no longer shiny. Remove the omelet from the skillet and cut it in thin strips.

Heat the broth in a small saucepan.

For the topping, sauté, the beef in a medium skillet until it loses all pinkness. Add soy sauce, sugar, garlic, toasted sesame seeds, sesame oils and salt. Cook for 1 minute.

Divide the noodles among 4 individual soup bowls and spoon the beef sauce over them. Sprinkle each with 1/4 of the eggs and green onions and pour heated broth over.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kiribati - Coconut and Curry

Kiribati, once apart of the United Kingdom, is an island nation located in the Pacific. You might have heard about it in your history class. It’s the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II,

Tarawa is the capital and it is also an atoll, an island of coral that surrounds a lagoon. The land looks like a ring and surrounded by beautiful blue water on both sides.

Surprisingly, it is not a big tourist destination, even with its beautiful fish, coral reefs and warm beaches. It still moves at a slow pace and it’s taking its sweet time catching up to the rest of the world.

It was not easy finding Kiribati recipes. I finally made what I thought was a typical islander meal: fish cooked in coconut milk and curry, and sweet potatoes. The curry and coconut combination was a nice blend of sweet and spice.

Kiribati dishes include rice, fish and shellfish seasoned with spices and coconut and coconut milk. Taro, and sweet potatoes and curries are very common.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kenya - Safari Steak

Kenya offers one of the best safari adventures on the continent, and more. How about sunning on an Indian Ocean beach or trekking the glacial ridges of Mt Kenya? There’s a reason it’s one of Africa’s primary destinations. And, if we’re lucky while visiting, we’ll catch a glimpse of the magic of Africa.

Kenyan cuisine is influenced by East India and Great Britain, mixed with African dishes and tribal delicacies. Potatoes are a prominent feature and vegetable curry is very popular, as well as beef, chicken, goat and fish.

Ugali is the national dish, a cornmeal porridge. It is eaten by rolling it up in a ball and then dipping it into a sauce. It is inexpensive and easy to prepare, making it a common staple to most meals.

For out Kenyan meal, we did not have Ugali. Instead I made Safari Steak. It is steak served on a mixture of mashed potatoes and yams with a red wine sauce poured over it. It would have been tasty if I hadn’t gone to a bargain grocery store and bought low quality meat.

It served me right. I was too lazy to drive to Whole Foods to get quality organic meat.

Safari Steak

6 steaks
2 tsp oil
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup dessert wine
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 TBSP tomato paste mixed with 4 TBSP water
A mixture of mashed potatoes and yam
Bunch of parsley, chopped

Heat the oil in a pan and season the steak with black pepper. Fry the steaks for 3 minutes per side, or until they are done to your liking, then place in the oven to keep warm. Lower the heat in the pan and add the wine and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, scraping the base of the pan to loosen any meat juices. The add the tomato paste mixture. Cook until the sauce is thick.

Mix the mashed yams and potatoes together and place the steaks on top and spoon the sauce over the steaks. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kazakhstan - Horsemeat

I hate to say this, but every time I think of Kazakhstan I think of Borat chasing his chicken on a New York subway. I know many people from Kazakhstan were upset about how the movie Borat portrayed them, but then again, the movie didn’t exactly show the U.S. in its best light either.

But to be fair, lets forget Borat and explore this country that few from the outside world know. You may be surprised to learn that Kazakhstan’s biggest city, Almaty, is very European with international shops, suburbs, fine restaurants, nightclubs and 24-hour supermarkets. The country’s capital, Astana, is a multi-cultural city that is racing to catch up with the rest of the world.

Then yes, you’ll also find remote open spaces, Soviet-era service and many dishes with horsemeat. In fact, when I was looking for recipes I was having a hard time finding a dish that didn’t have horsemeat. There was horsemeat sausages, horse liver, served with onions and peppers, horsemeat lard made from horse’s neck and salted horse’s hip and hind leg.

Julia, like most nine-year-old little girls, is crazy about horses – has horse posters in her room and takes horseback riding lessons. There was no way I was going to serve up horsemeat – if even I could find it.

Thankfully I found a beef soup recipe (perhaps the authentic version required horsemeat). It was fairly easy to make and tasty and certainly something we could all enjoy.

Kazakh Beef Soup

3 beef soup bones
2 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 16 oz. jar of Sauerkraut, rinsed and drained 1
1 onion, chopped
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cubes
1 TBSP hot chili sauce, or to taste
1/4 cup sour cream, optional

Place soup bones in a big pot with enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to boil and cook uncover for about 1 hour to make a beef stock. Remove bones and col.

Heat 1 TBSP of oil in a large skillet. Sauté sauerkraut for a few minutes, then add just enough water to cover sauerkraut, cover the pan and let simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until sour taste is gone. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sauté onion until tender.

When bones are out of stock, add potatoes and boil until tender. Stir in sauerkraut, onions and any meat that can be picked from the bones, Season with hot sauce and salt. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Jordan - Maklooba

Since Jordan is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the Middle East, it’s a great tourist destination. Petra, for instance, is one of the world’s most unforgettable sights. It’s a city of rock cut architecture, buildings created by carving natural rock.

Jordan is also a place to see Biblical sites such as where Jesus was baptized and where John the Baptist was beheaded. You can explore ancient Roman ruins and Crusader castles. Even today, you’ll see the classic Middle Eastern dessert scene of Bedouins with their flocks of sheep and goats.

But Jordan isn’t just a time warp. The capital city of Amman is modern, Westernized and glitzy and, while touring the country, you can do the typical beachy thing and go to Aqaba to snorkel in the Red Sea.

To me, Jordan sounds like the perfect place to go to experience the Middle East.

For our Jordanian meal we had Maklooba. It’s a popular Middle Eastern rice dish. It can vary from country to country but I’m hoping I got the more traditional Jordanian version. The main ingredients are rice, lamb or chicken, cauliflower and eggplant. The ingredients are layered in a deep pot and then cooked together. When it’s done, the pot is turned upside down on a serving platter.

I could not get it to mold. Despite that, the we all enjoyed the Maklooba.

Jordanian Maklooba

8 chicken thighs
Canola oil
1 tsp fresh nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin powder
4 saffron threads
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cardamom seeds
3 peppercorns
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head cauliflower, trimmed into florets
1 eggplant, peeled, cubed and salted
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cups rice

1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp all spice
4 saffron threads
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup canola oil
Salt and Pepper
Toasted pine nuts for garnish

In a pan, brown chicken in oil. Once brown (but does not have to be fully cooked), add nutmeg, all spice, cumin powder, salt, saffron, cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and peppercorns.

Add enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil. Season with ground pepper. Cover and simmer until the meat pulls away from the bone. When done, set the chicken aside. Keep the broth – do not discard.

Fry cauliflower in oil until brown and then drain on paper towels. Repeat process with eggplant. Then set aside.

Heat oil in large pot and add onions and sauté. Then add chicken (bone and all – but I took the meat off the bone).

Rinse rice, then put in bowl and stir in spices into the raw rice.

Add cauliflower and eggplant to chicken, then put seasoned rice on top. Pour the left-over chicken water in the pot to just barely cover the rice. Bring to boil, then simmer and cover. When water is gone and rice is tender, dish is done.

Flip it, upside down, onto a serving plate and garnish with toasted pine nuts.