International Meals – Fiji

We have reached the Fs!  And we won’t be here long, as there’s only three of them.

First up is our first country in Oceana – Fiji!

Unsurprisingly, Fijian cuisine uses a lot of coconut milk.  For this meal, we used a full liter of the stuff, which is like half a bald eagle or something – we’ve lived in Canada for long enough I don’t remember any more.

We made three dishes, starting with a coconut bun called a “Lolo bun.” There’s a number of different recipes for this online, most of which look very different from this one.  However, this recipe was accompanied by a video of an actual Fijian grandmother type making this in her kitchen, and anyone who remembers our Bulgarian meal knows that we’re a sucker for grandma videos.

So these were a bit more, as they say on the GBBO, “rustic”.  You start with a basic yeasted flour dough, and then knead in some butter and brown sugar. This is then formed into balls and placed in a pot.

Uncooked Lola buns

Oddly, this recipe does not call for any rise time at all – you make the dough, shape the buns immediately, and then get ready to put the pot on the stovetop. (Other recipes for this bun call for baking rather than stovetop cooking, but once again – grandma.)

There’s just one more tiny step.

Buns cooking in coconut milk

You DROWN the things in coconut milk. They cook for half an hour or so, and in that time they puff up and get huge, and soak up all the liquid.  Here’s the final product.

Lolo buns

They got huge!

For our main dish, we’re making the Fijian national dish – Kokoda! Kokoda is essentially ceviche, or fish “cooked” by submerging in acid for a few hours.  First, therefore, we’re going to need to juice one or two citrus fruits.

Limes and lemons

Or six.  Fortunately, one of Leigh’s favorite snacks is citrus corpses, so that worked out well for her.  There’s not much more prep here – the fish (tuna steak, in this case) is chopped up and tossed into the juice to marinate for a few hours, and that’s really it.

Tuna marinating

After a few hours, you drain the liquid, toss the fish with some tomatoes and onion, and then pour, you guessed it, a whole bunch of coconut milk over the bowl.

Kokoda

And that’s basically it for kokoda.  Only one more side dish to go.

A few months ago when we did Dominica, we noted that a) Taro leaves are a staple part of the cuisine there and b) Taro leaves are toxic if not fully cooked.  So we chickened out on that one.  (But we didn’t Mountain Chicken out, because that’s an endangered frog, apparently.)

This week, we gathered our courage, and decided to boil the crap out of some Taro leaves to make the traditional Fijian dish, Roro. (or rourou) Here’s what they look like whole:

Taro leaves

The cooking process is simple – you sauté some onion, garlic and chilis, wilt the taro into the pan, and then boil the whole mess until it doesn’t give you anaphylaxis.

Boil it in what, you ask?

Why, coconut milk, of course!

Taro leaves in coconut milk.

And here’s all three dishes in one place:

Fijian meal

This meal was great!  The fish was bitingly tangy from the citrus, but the sharp onions balanced that out well.  The taro greens had a really nice deep flavor, and are definitely NOT the same as the spinach we’d been substituting. (And as a bonus, didn’t kill us.) The buns were soft and chewy, and great for soaking up all the liquid from the other two dishes.  The leftover buns were a hit at my office the next day, too.

Next up, we return to a country that not only have Leigh and I both visited, we’ve actually visited it TOGETHER, albeit slightly too early for it to have made it into this blog back when it was just vacation photos.  Remember vacation photos?  Remember vacations?

Sigh.

Anyway, Finland awaits!

Recipes:
Lolo Buns
Kokoda (Fijian ceviche) (Note that we used this as a starting point, but left out some of the less typical ingredients like bell peppers.)
Roro (Steamed Taro Leaves)

International Meals – Ethiopia

We had been looking FORWARD to this one.

Leigh and I have VERY diverse food tastes, but the nature of this project is that more often than not, we’re researching recipes from countries whose food we have not specifically tried before.  Sure, we’ve had pupusas, but when was the last time you saw a specifically Belizian restaurant?

Ethiopia, on the other hand, we were familiar with.  There’s a fantastic Ethiopian place in Lansing called “Altu’s.”  If you find yourself in Lansing, we’re really, really sorry.  But at least you can go and STUFF yourself on Ethiopian food.

The absolutely essential component of an Ethiopian meal is a spongy flatbread called injera.  It’s slightly sour, and is used to scoop up the thick stews that are the cornerstones of the cuisine.  An Ethiopian meal will typically not be served with cutlery – just tear off some bread and scoop up the stew.  Then try to STOP eating before you make yourself ill.

Good luck with that.

So we had to try to make injera.  Problem: We have tried before, and it Did Not Go Well. ™  The dough has to ferment for a few days to build up the requisite tang and texture, and the last time we tried it, the dough got blue and fuzzy.  This is NOT the correct color. (or fuzziness level)

But we had to try.  So into a bowl went two cups of teff flour.  Teff is a tiny grain that mills down to a silky soft flour.  That gets mixed with some water and for the recipe we chose, a tiny amount of yeast.  Traditionally, this is a wild sourdough – no additional leavening would be added.  But traditionally when Dan and Leigh make injera it turns blue and fuzzy, so we’re going to duck tradition this time.  The dough is left to do its thing for two days.  Longer would have produced a tangier flavor, of course.

Injera dough

Two days later, the dough was definitely not fuzzy, and it was very active, to the point where it would fizz if you poked it. That was fun, and a bit unnerving.  Toss in some more flour for it to chew on, along with some baking powder and salt, and it’s time to start in on the butter.

In addition to berbere, the other fundamental ingredient in just about every Ethiopian dish is Niter Kibbeh, or seasoned clarified butter.  We made some for Eritrea, and it was OK, but not special enough to include in the post.  THIS time, it went a lot better.  A truly LUDICROUS variety of spices get boiled in butter for an hour to make this stuff. And we didn’t even have everything the recipe called for.

Ethiopian seasoned butter

A quick strain through cheesecloth and we were left with a sadly fairly small quantity of amazing smelling butter.

Finished seasoned butter

Also, East Van Jam’s Plum Jam is great.  Get some if you run across it.  We used it for the Czech kolaches.

Butter in hand, it was time to start the fairly length process of making Doro Wat, the chicken stew that is frequently referred to as the national dish of Ethiopia.  The way Ethiopian stews get their incredible depth of flavor is from a base called kulet.

First you puree some onions in a food processor to get them down to a paste.  They’re cooked in the butter for 45 minutes.  Seriously – this recipe calls for doing nothing but cooking the onions for the better part of an hour.  At that point, they had started to caramelize, and we tossed in some ginger, garlic, and a bit more butter.

Twenty more minutes.

Onion base cooking

At this point you throw in a quarter cup of berbere and some more butter.  “Cup” is definitely not a unit of measure we’re used to associating with spice blends, especially one as bitey as berbere.  We’re here for it.

Thirty more minutes.

Onion base continuing to cook.

At this point, we have been cooking onions with some seasoning for the better part of two hours.  The kitchen smelled unbelievable, and dinner was still a ways off.  Into the pot goes the chicken, some stock, and in theory, T’ej, or Ethiopian honey wine.  Not having any T’ej, we threw in a tablespoon of honey and some Sauvignon Blanc.

Let’s leave that to cook for a bit – we have two more recipes to make.

First, while we wanted to have a side dish to the doro wat, it was so labor intensive that we went looking for a shortcut for the other dish.  Enter the Instant Pot, and a bowl of red lentils, to make misir wot.

Red Lentils over the Instant Pot

The liquid here is more clarified butter, along with another ludicrous dollop of berbere and some tomato paste.  The instant pot  directions were the usual “Put everything in, close the lid and go do something else.”

In this case, “something else” consisted of making ANOTHER spice blend for the chicken stew. If you’re following along at home, you’ll notice that the recipe we’re using does NOT mention this, but it was common enough in other versions of the dish that we wanted to include it.  This blend is called mekelesha, and is the second most widely referenced Ethiopian blend after berbere. It is used as a finishing blend, similar to garam masala in some Indian curries.

So we toast a few spices:

Toasted spices

This particular version calls for cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, and black cardamom seeds.  Into the spice grinder, and we get a dark, dark powder.

Mekelesha spice blend

A bit of that goes into the doro wat for the last ten minutes of cooking.

Doro wat nearing completion.

I am drooling just LOOKING at that picture.

We can’t put it off any longer – let’s try to make some injera.  (This actually happened a bit earlier in the day, but is placed here in the narrative to build suspense.)

Could we achieve the requiste spongy texture, with lots of air bubbles?

Injera cooking

We sure could!  This one’s a bit thick (and not finished cooking), but it turned out pretty great.  Since we were warned they would glue themselves together into a sticky blob if we tried to stack them before they were cool, we worked out an assembly line, where Leigh would ferry each one to towels spread out across the kitchen table as I started the next.  By the end of the process, we had a table full of lovely, spongy injera!

Cooked injera

By design, the lentils finished up at about the same time as the chicken, and had reduced to a thick, creamy consistency.

Cooked Ethiopian lentil stew

And now for the final sexy shot:

Ethiopian meal

Hello gorgeous.  Get in ma belly.

This meal was stunning. The sheer density of flavor in the chicken stew is impossible to describe – it turns out cooking onions by themselves for the length of Monsters, Inc. makes them incredibly delicious. The lentils were excellent, and the injera worked! It tasted good, and was the perfect texture to scoop up all the lovely, lovely stew.

We gorged ourselves, just like at Altu’s.

Next up, our first trip to Oceana, and the island nation of Fiji!

Recipes:
Doro Wat (Ethiopian Chicken Stew)
Misir Wat (Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew)
Mekelesha Spice Blend
Niter Kibbeh (Spiced Clarified Butter)
Injera

International Meals – eSwatini

“Yeah, since the pandemic, it’s almost impossible to find ostrich.”

I’ll take “Sentences I would have a very difficult time explaining to my past self” for $800, Alex.

Of course, my past self wouldn’t be trying to source ostrich at this point ANYWAY, because eSwatini only changed its name three years ago, so past me wouldn’t have hit this particular snag until they reached “Swaziland.”

But change it they did, and so we found ourselves trying to find recipes and source ingredients for one of the very few countries in the world that routinely uses camel case in their name.  Not ACTUAL camel, as far as we know, but that’s probably coming at some point….

At any rate, there are very few recipes that purport to be from eSwatini online, and most of them are the same ones cut and pasted back and forth.  The national dish is allegedly Ostrich Steak, and another possibility would be “Samp and Beans.”

We spent a solid week trying to source ostrich.  We called a LOT of butchers, including ones that advertise exotic meats.  They all told us the same thing – their supplies dried up about six months to a year ago.  So after that, I moved on to trying to locate samp.  Samp is cracked dried yellow hominy corn.  Shouldn’t be that hard, right?

I did find it, but only in a ten pound bag, and we do NOT need that much samp.  I went to every Latino and African grocery store I could find, and other than that one giant bucket o’samp, no one had it.  Were we going to have to make just an avocado salad and nothing else? I had just checked the last two stores on my list when I walked past a butcher shop, and on a lark walked in and asked “Say, you don’t have ostrich, do you?”

“Sure!  One piece left, right here.”

Ostrich meat

And you don’t even want to know what it cost.  But at this point, we were ready to buy SOMETHING so we could get going with this meal.

Ostrich is super lean, so after we sliced it thinly, it got an overnight marinade in red wine with some crushed juniper berries to tenderize and flavor it.

Ostrich marinating in red wine

For accompaniments, we DID make that avocado salad.  Pretty straightforward – avocados cubed, tossed with lemon juice, ginger, peanuts and salt. (The peanuts were added after this picture was taken)  The avocados we had were a bit under ripe, but still tasty.

Avocado salad

Our other side dish was cornbread.  Ideally, this should have been made with a specifically South African product called “mealie meal,” but at this point we were just done looking for ingredients, so ours was made with normal cornmeal. We also ran into the problem that the recipe said to add “enough milk” at one point, without giving any indication as to how much that was, or evening listing milk in the ingredient list.

Still, it turned out fine.  You’ll see it in a bit in the final picture.

So back to the ostrich. The recipe calls for it to be served over a mash of pumpkin and cornmeal.  In addition to the aforementioned mealie meal substitution, we ALSO couldn’t find a pumpkin in April in Vancouver, so we used a Japanese squash called a kabocha.

Kabocha squash

At least on the inside, LOOKS like pumpkin, and it tastes like pumpkin, so we’re going to call “close enough.”  I would not be embarrassed to make tikvenik with this, and that’s a good enough test as any.

Kabocha gets diced up and boiled with cornmeal until tender:

Uncooked kabocha

Once it’s soft, you drain off some portion of the liquid (the recipe was vague) and mush it up until you get a soft mash.

Pumpkin mushed up. 

We also needed to make a quick sauce for the ostrich, by sweating onions, and then cooking them with white wine (South African, of course), heavy cream, and green peppercorns.

Cream sauce for the ostrich

Finally it was time to flash fry the ostrich itself, which took almost no time, given how thinly we’d sliced it.

Ostrich cooking

And here’s everything all together, including the promised shot of the cornbread:

eSwatini meal

It all turned out kinda pretty – the avocados were various shades of green, the cornbread and pumpkin mash were orange, and the ostrich was wine-dark.

So now for the most important question – how did it taste? It was pretty good!  The avocado salad actually stole the show – peanuts and avocado are a great combination that we shall have to remember.  The cornbread needed a bit more salt, but was very good at soaking up things.

The pumpkin mash was kind of bland by itself, but the creamy texture went well with the chew of the onions and the slight acidity of the white wine sauce.

And everyone knows what ostrich is like, so there’s really not much point in describing that, right?

OK, fine.  The ostrich was good, but honestly it mostly just tasted of the wine.  The texture was definitely unique – not chicken, not beef, but somewhere in between the two.  I don’t think I’d buy it again at that price.

And that’s our trip to eSwatini, which is the first country in a while that has taken us two weeks to accomplish.  Next up, we have our final “E” country, as we remain in Africa for one more week to visit Ethiopia, and a chance to once again botch making injera.

Recipes:
Karoo Ostrich Steak
Swazi Cornbread
Slaai (Avocado Salad)

International Meals – Estonia

Estonia was interesting.  A few, well – not exactly failures – but not exactly blazing successes, either.

After our hilariously awful attempt at locating Danish bread a few months ago, I decided to take no chances and start a sourdough a week before the meal so we could bake the bread of Estonia ourselves.  We did have a sour going last spring, when everyone and their cousin was discovering how to bake without yeast. Its name was “Oscar.” Oscar did not make it to Vancouver with us.

And then on Friday, I found this:

Estonian bread in the package.

OK, so – we’ll make a loaf, and we’ll compare it to the real stuff, and that will be interesting.

Welp – it was that.

The recipe we had certainly sounded tasty – it used pumpkin, flax, fennel, and caraway seeds, in addition to molasses, coffee, and cocoa. It uses a standard sourdough rye technique, where you let the sour get a head start on rising before you add any other ingredients that might slow it down.

For whatever reason, though – the sour was too stiff, I didn’t mix it properly, wrong temperature, or something else – the dough never really… doughed.  It was more of a wet sticky blob that never came together. Between that and the fact that it was dark brown, it looked quite unsettling.

Estonian bread dough

It was at this point that we realized that we had missed just how long of a rise time the recipe called for, and that this bread wasn’t even going to be ready for dinner.  So we’ll come back to our bread, and just eat the commercial stuff.

For our appetizer, we were going to put some sprats on the actual Estonian bread from actual Estonia.  Since that involved opening a can and putting fish on bread with butter, we managed not to screw it up.

Sprats on bread

Our main course was a porridge called mulgipuder. The essential ingredients for this dish are pearl barley and potatoes.  If you’re not familiar with pearl barley, it looks like this before it’s cooked:

Pearl Barley

That goes into a pot with some potatoes to boil for an hour.

For some versions of the dish, that would be it. We wanted to get a bit more fancy, so we went with a recipe that also called for mushrooms and smoked pork hock.  That’s right – the giant hunk o’ pig is back, after making its last appearance for Croatia.

Pork hock

We sliced off enough for this recipe, and threw the rest in the pressure cooker the next night to make a very nice bean stew.

In addition to the pork hock, we fried up some mushrooms as well.

Frying mushrooms

Once the potatoes and the barley had finished cooking, in went the immersion blender.  There’s a lot of different versions of this recipe online, and the photos range from “extremely chunky” to “whipped smooth.”  We had enough water left in the pot that we ended up on the smoother end of the spectrum.

And here’s the final spread:

Overhead view of Estonian meal

And it was pretty good!  Bread and butter with oily fish made for a very hearty appetizer.  If you like sardines, you’ll like sprats.  In fact, unless you are very, very serious about sardines, you’ll have great difficulty distinguishing them from sprats. The bread itself was quite sour, and very dense and chewy. A delicious combination, which I did not hesitate to repeat for lunch the next day.

The barley definitely gave the mulgipuder a bit more personality by itself than simple mashed potatoes, and the addition of the ham and mushrooms made for a filling and satisfying dish.  Overall, it was exactly what one would expect from the Baltics – dark bread, ham, potatoes, and fish.  And that’s great, because we like all those things!

I’ll also point out that we managed to acquire an actual Estonian beer! It wasn’t a traditional beer by any means.  Probably a lot of alcohol would scream “the Baltic states” more than a Scotch Ale aged in port wine barrels.  But oh man was it good, and it was made in Estonia (“By Finns, Dan” “Shut up, internal monologue!”) so it counts.

Now let’s talk about partial success number 2.  (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the bread) “Partial Success” is like “Partly Sunny”, in that it can also mean “Partial Failure.” Since we were having this meal on Easter, we decided to close the meal with a traditional Estonian dessert that is often served on that holiday – Pasha.

Pasha is NOT a dish for the lactose intolerant. It involves farmer’s cheese (we used Ricotta), sour cream, butter, AND heavy cream. Those are blended with butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla to make what is essentially a cheesecake batter.

Pasha ingredients

The mixture is simmered for a bit to thicken it, and then the fun starts.

You put cheesecloth in a sieve.  You put the sieve over a bowl.  The batter goes in the cheesecloth in a sieve over a bowl, with their paddles in a puddle in a bottle on a poodle.  Sorry.  You pour the mixture into the cheesecloth, fold the cloth over, and then put a weight on the whole assembly.

Pasha with a weight on it

In theory, this squeezes out a bunch of moisture, and when you unmold it and tip it over on a plate, you get a beautiful dome of dairy.  That’s what all the pictures show, anyway.  Possibly because the Estonian Tourist Bureau doesn’t think anyone would want to eat a dessert that ended up looking like this:

Pasha

It did NOT hold its shape, suffice to say.  And a spoon was definitely more useful than a fork would have been at attempting to consume it.

But, just as “party cloudy” can also be “partly sunny,” this partial failure also succeeded at being delicious.  I mean – it’s a cheesecake.  Even just licking the batters was delicious, and so was the final product. (And lets be honest – there wasn’t a ton of difference between the two.) We topped it with some mixed peel, and the little bit of chewiness was a welcome textural contrast too.

And now we can’t put it off any longer, so let’s find out about the bread.  After four hours, it had barely risen.  But no harm in baking it to see what happens, right?  We cranked up the oven to the specified 480 F (yowzers), heated up the Dutch oven, and baked the daylights out of it, to end up with a “loaf” that could charitably be described as not looking completely like a meteorite.

Homemade Estonian Bread
Large pockets of unmixed sourdough were definitely visible in the final bake.  I think in hindsight I should have added the water to the sour at the very beginning and mixed that in thoroughly before adding any other ingredients.  After that point, the sour just didn’t want to break up.

However… despite everything, the bread was actually pretty tasty!  It was dense and chewy, but that’s OK in a dark bread.  All the toasted seeds gave it a great crunch, and the Dutch oven mean the crust was nice and crispy.  We probably won’t try to make it again, just because we’ve had actual pets that are less work than the sour starter, but I don’t regret this loaf.

And that’s Estonia.  Next time, because of a name change just three years ago, we are off to the country formerly known as Swaziland – Eswatini!

Recipes:
Estonian Black Bread
Mulgipuder
Pasha (Estonian Easter Dessert)
Sprat Sandwich – You put sprats on buttered bread. Add chopped green onion or sour cream if you like.

International Meals – Eritrea

This week, we cross Africa to the somewhat larger, but still not terribly large, country of Eritrea. We’ve had Ethiopian food many times, and so the challenge here was to determine what makes Eritrean food distinct from Ethiopian food.

And the answer seems to be… almost nothing, that we could find.  Eritrea and Ethiopia were even the same country for a while, until Eritrea fought a war to break away and gain their independence.  They’ve had the same president since independence in 1993, possibly because they haven’t troubled themselves with little annoyances like holding elections.

We’re going to make a meat stew called Tsebhi Sega and a lentil stew called Alitcha Birsen. However, you could call them by their Ethiopian names, Sega Wat and Misir Wat, and you wouldn’t have to change the recipes at all. We DID identify one recipe which DOES seem to be uniquely Eritrean – a type of pan bread called hembesha. We decided we had to make that, plus it let us put off screwing up injera again for another few weeks. (To be clear, Eritreans DO eat injera, and it would have been totally appropriate with the rest of the meal.)

Let’s start with this bread, shall we?  The dough involves normal dough stuff – yeast, flour, butter, eggs.  But it ALSO involves cardamom, fenugreek, coriander seed, and garlic.  What’s not to like there? We’ve been binge watching “The Great British Bake Off” to pass the apocalypse, so I feel like I’ve had quite a bit of practice watching other people knead bread by hand correctly. It seemed to go OK.  No pictures – it just looked like dough.

On the other hand, after the first rise, comes the shaping, and that IS a bit unique:

Unbaked hembesha bread

Apparently the traditional way to do this is with nails, and one blogger I consulted used a ravioli cutter.  I just stabbed it a bunch of times with a fork. Another rise in the pan, and then the pan goes into the oven.  You’re supposed to cover it, but we forgot that step.  Since we’ve only done this once, we don’t know what effect that might have had, but the bread still puffed up nicely in the oven.

Baked hembesha bread

OK, on to our stews. The primary reason that there’s not much distance between Ethiopian and Eritrean food is this stuff:

Bottle of berbere seasoning

This spice blend is fundamental to both countries’ cuisines. And as far as we can tell based on our internet research, there is no uniquely Ethiopian or Eritrean version – it’s the same blend both places.

Which is not to say that every Eritrean grandmother makes her blend the same – of course not.  It’s just that if you surveyed all the Eritrean grandmothers, and all the Ethiopian grandmothers, there doesn’t seem to be anything that one group is doing systematically differently than the other one.

What’s IN Berbere, you ask? LOTS of stuff.  Typical ingredients often include, according to Wikipedia, chili peppers, coriander, garlic, ginger, basil, korarima, rue, ajwain or radhuni, nigella, and fenugreek. Now, none of the online recipes we consulted for making the stuff included the more obscure ones on that list – korarima or rue.  But that’s OK, because we already HAD a bottle from Penzeys, so we weren’t planning on making it from scratch anyway.

First up is the lentil stew. A common characteristics of the two recipes is that the ingredients are added to the pot slowly, and each batch is allowed to cook at their own pace before adding the next one.  In this case, we start by frying some ginger:

Frying ginger
When that’s all pretty and golden, you toss in just the lentils and let them fry a little bit before adding ginger, chili, and salt and pepper.  Cover with boiling water, and that’s it for the lentils. (There ARE lentils in this picture, trust us.)
Cooking lentils

Those cook for an hour, so it’s time to move over to the beef stew.  Instead of garlic, this one starts by frying onions, and I feel at this point I should mention that we just bought an electric knife sharpener.  I HAD been sharpening our chef’s knife using a water stone, and I didn’t realize JUST how crap my sharpening skills were until I finally sharpened the thing properly.

My sharpening skills are CRAP, y’all.  Unless you’re prepared to spend years mastering the craft with a water stone, get yourself a sharpening machine.  The difference was miraculous.  Cutting the aforementioned onions was absolutely effortless.  And I didn’t even lacerate myself this time.

Ahem.  There was a reason we ordered the sharpener, after all.

Moving on.

In addition to berbere, the other distinctive ingredient in this stew is tegelese tesmi, or seasoned clarified butter.  Prior to starting these recipes, we cooked a whole pile of onions and garlic in some butter, and then I did a poor job of filtering out the solids.  Still – even if it’s not done perfectly, it’s onion and garlic flavored butter – nothing not to like.

So into the onions went some butter and a LOT of berbere, and then the onions cooked down even more.

Onions cooking

The long, long cook time on these onions really had an amazing effect – even though berbere is pretty firey, after 20 minutes of cooking, you could easily detect the sweet notes of the caramelization coming off the wok.

Wait – why are we using a wok here? Well, we only have two large frying pans, and at this point, one’s got the lentils and the other is in the oven with the bread. So wok it is.

Once the onions were ready, they were joined by some tomatoes, ginger, and garlic, and THAT was given some time to cook down as well.  Finally, in went the meat.  The site we got these recipes from is definitely very knowledgeable about Eritrean culture, but is somewhat unevenly translated.  The recipe calls for “beef or lamb, shredded”, and the recipe title is “Spicy minced meat.”  As such, we decided to go with ground beef rather than the chopped beef cubes, which we have seen more commonly at restaurants.

While the stews were finishing up, I made coffee. Coffee is an incredibly crucial part of Ethiopian and Eritrean culture.  There are ceremonies. It is often prepared with the beans being not only ground but ROASTED for each individual meal.

THAT sure wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, I used the Kylo Ren of coffee apparatus – an Aeropress.  At least the beans were from east Africa.

Coffee preparation equipment.

A few weeks ago, we showed off Leigh’s “PhDemon” glass from Flint Roller Derby, so here’s my “Adam Smasher” mug from Kalamazoo’s team.

After an hour, our kitchen smelled amazing and it was time to eat!

Eritrean Meal

And the verdict? Stunningly good.  We already knew we loved Ethiopian food, and this iteration did absolutely nothing to change our minds. (There was a reason we already had that jar of berbere, after all!) The lentils and beef stews were both spicy and delicious. You could taste the spices in the bread without their being overpowering, and the texture was soft and chewy, perfect for soaking up the juices.  These are definitely recipes to come back to.

So, nice job, Eritrea!  You make not like Ethiopia much, but your cuisine definitely matches everything we like about theirs.

Next time, we head back to Europe to visit Estonia!

Recipes:
This is an entire page of recipes from what seems to be an the web page of a Belgian(?) who goes to Eritrea a lot? I think? You can draw your own conclusions.

International Meals – Equatorial Guinea

There are no fewer than four “Guinea” countries in the world: Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Papua New Guinea.  Why?

Imperialism!  Also racism.

“Guinea” was the English form of the Portuguese word for the region on the west side of Africa.  No one’s really sure where THAT word came from..  But thanks to colonialism, there was a Portuguese Guinea, a Spanish Guinea, French Guinea, and even a German Guinea.

Those became, respectively, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, and Togo plus bits of Cameroon.  But what about Papua New Guinea, which is in (checks notes) not Africa? Welp, some super racist Spanish explorer decided that the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea looked like west Africans, and decided to give it the same name.  Great.

The subject of today’s meal, Equatorial Guinea, is a bit geographically improbable.

Map of Equatorial Guinea

Most of the country is on land, except for two islands, which are nowhere near each other, and in fact, have an entirely different country separating them. The capital of the country, Malabo, is located on the northern island.  Having your capital off on an island away from most of your landmass?  What a silly idea.  *mumbles in British Columbia*

Equatorial Guinea is the only independent country in Africa which is majority Spanish speaking. It’s also, in a continent full of governments left in bad shape by colonialism, one of the worst offenders in terms of human rights.  As in so many cases, the presence of substantial oil reserves has not helped the democracy situation much.  Heck – look at Texas.

But enough politics.  What about the food?  Well, the extended riff on politics and geography is going to help cover the fact that our Equatorial Guinean meal consisted of probably the simplest dish to make we’ve done so far, and so this entry is going to be pretty darn short.  The dish in question is a fish stew called “Pick a Pepper Soup.”

First – a trip back to our spice hookup for another new ingredient. Grains of Paradise.  These things are also known as Guinea Pepper, so that’s a good sign, right?  Except that Guinea Pepper is strictly speaking some OTHER random spice, also known as  “Grains of Selim.”  So we’ll stick with Grains of Paradise.

Grains of Paradise

These are the seeds of a plant closely related to ginger and cardamom. You treat them like you would black pepper – dump them in a spice grinder or mortar, and mash them up to make a powder.

Ground grains of paradise.

Then, you put them and literally every other ingredient in the pot all at once.

Stew ingredients
And you cook it for an hour.  After an hour, you put in a tiny, tiny, amount of oil, then cook it for another five minutes.  I have absolutely no idea why.  And that’s it.  That’s the whole recipe.

Here it is cooking:

Equatorial Guinean Stew Cooking

And here it is on the table, with a decidedly non-Guinean beer.

Equatorial Guinean Stew on the table.

And that’s it.  Just, dump it all in the pot, cook it all together, done.

So how does it taste?  Delicious, actually!  In addition to the Grains of Paradise, the stew also contains cayenne pepper, a scotch bonnet pepper, and black pepper, so it’s got some bite to it.  The snapper was firm enough to hold up to the seasoning and cooking time, and the vegetables soaked up the flavors nicely.

We’re definitely going to be looking for more ways to use the rest of this jar of Grains of Paradise.  However, I DON’T think Equatorial Guinea is going to be at the top of the destination list when *waves vaguely at everything* ends.

Next up, we remain in Africa, but cross to the east side to visit Eritrea.

Recipe:
Pick a Pepper Soup

International Meals – El Salvador

El Salvador… could have gone better.  It was fine, but certainly not our best effort.  It’s unclear to me whether that’s a result of not picking the best recipes, or not executing them well.  Y’all can judge for yourselves as we go along.

We’ve actually had Salvadoran food before, and it was a no-brainer to choose their best known culinary export – Pupusas. Pupusas are somewhere between a tamale and a stuffed pancake – they’re a griddled disk made from corn meal with a savory filling.  They’re great if done well.  To accompany the Pupsas, we made a side salad/topping called curtido, as well as horchata and a quesadilla.

“Ah ha!”, you may be thinking, “I am familiar with both of those last two.”  Well, if you’re familiar with the Mexican versions, the Salvadoran ones are just a bit and extremely different, respectively.

To start, I went to the Hispanic grocery store near my office, where they were quite helpful, but also pointed out that they had pupusas and Salvadoran horchata mix ready made, and was I sure I really wanted to try to do both from scratch?

Sure – how hard can it be?  After all horchata is just flavored sugar rice milk, right?

No, that’s Mexican horchata.  Salvadoran horchata uses juuuuust a few more ingredients.

Horchata ingredients

No seriously. From upper left, that’s coriander seed, rice, cinnamon, whole nutmeg, sesame seeds, morro seeds, pumpkin seeds, allspice berries, cocoa beans, and peanuts. (The little red tupperware is just more sesame seeds.)

Every single one of these ingredients except the cinnamon powder has to be toasted, and toasted one at a time, because they all cook differently. Fortunately, the peanuts and sesame seeds can be purchased already toasted. But one at a time, into the wok went coriander, nutmeg, allspice, rice, pumpkin seeds, and morro seeds.

“What the hell are morro seeds?”, I hear you asking.  Apparently, they are a seed that has no business existing any more, because they can only germinate if a large animal breaks their fruit open, and there are no longer any native animals capable of doing so.  Horses and humans are the morro’s best friend at this point.

And finally, we come to the cocoa beans.  Have you ever wondered why we don’t make chocolate at home from scratch?  Well, there’s a reason.  First, the beans have to be roasted like coffee beans.  And like coffee beans, there’s a thin margin between raw and burnt

The good news is that UNLIKE coffee beans, the fumes are a lot less nasty if you try to roast them in your oven.  Once you’ve done that, however, you’re still faced with the problem that the husk is inedible.  So you put the beans in a plastic bag and smash them a bit:

Cocoa beans.

Then you have to somehow separate the chaff from the tasty center bit.  The recommended tool for this job for home chefs appears to be a hair dryer, I kid you not.

Hair dryer and cocoa beans.

I’m pretty sure quite a bit of actual chocolate ended up on our patio, but after a while, we had a bowl of probably more-or-less pure cocoa nibs.

Cocoa Nibs

Note that if you actually want to make CHOCOLATE from this point, there are still like six more steps.  I actually did make a couple of very basic truffles with the extra beans, but it just drove home that no, making chocolate from scratch is not a good choice.

Now that we finally had all of our ingredients ready, everything went into the food processor to make a powder.  It made a LOT of powder. Not for the first time this evening, the recipe made a LOT more of the thing than claimed.  At 1 tablespoon per serving, this is way more than 15 servings of horchata powder.

Horchata powder

To actually MAKE the horchata, you put the powder in cold milk with some sugar and vanilla, let it soak for a while, then strain out the solids through a cheesecloth. (Ph.Demon mug courtesy of Flint Roller Derby.)

Horchata soaking

We discovered later on that a French press works much more easily than the cheesecloth.  Good thing, because we have A METRIC TON of horchata mix.  (It has to be metric – we’re in Canada.)

Backing up a bit in time, let’s talk about the curtido, which we made the night before.  It’s basically a tangy coleslaw made with cabbage and vinegar.  What distinguishes the Salvadoran version, according to most of the sources we consulted, is the addition of quite a bit of radish.  The fact that the particular recipe we were using DIDN’T call for radish might have been a red flag.  We added some in anyway.

Veggies for Cortido

Don’t those look pretty?  The final product looked good too, although I suspect it could have used a LOT more vinegar than the recipe called for.

Curtido 

OK, we can’t put this off any more – what about the actual pupsas? The method isn’t complicated.  Brown some pork butt with a mix of seasonings, braise it for a bit in some water, then cook the water off until the pork turns crisp.

Cooked pork 

Then, to make a filling, toss the pork in the food processor with tomatoes, onions, and green pepper.  The dough is even simpler – instant masa harina (corn flour) and some water.  Mix into balls, and you’re ready to cook.

Pupusa dough and filling.

And here’s where we went wrong. Or the recipe went wrong.  Or something.  The pupusas I remember having in restaurants were hearty items five or so inches across.

This recipe does NOT make enough dough for anything that substantial. And it makes waaaaay more filling than could possibly fill the amount of dough it does make.  But OK, let’s do the best we can.  You flatten the dough, put some filling in the middle, bring the dough over to surround the filling, then flatten it out again.

Not a single one of our pupusas fully enclosed the filling.  They were, to put it politely… rustic.

Pupusas cooking.

Still – they DID cook up nice and brown, with the small dark spots you expect.

And so this was our meal:

Salvadoran meal

Not very much pupusas, a MOUNTAIN of curtido, and a glass of horchata.

And as I said at the outset, the pupusas were… fine.  They tasted like pupusas.  They just didn’t necessarily taste like GOOD pupusas. Certainly more salt might have helped, but more seasoning in general would have probably been welcome.  The curtido was nice and crisp, but the vinegar to veggies ratio also seemed a bit off.

Fun fact: it turns out that one of the most common condiments in El Salvador is, for some reason, Worcestershire sauce, which is often referred to as “Salsa Inglés,” or “English Sauce.”  Not having any of that, I slopped some Costa Rican “Salsa Lizano” on my pupusas, and that was delicious.  Maybe not authentic, but delicious.

The best part was the horchata.  The flavor was subtle, but definitely present, and more complex than the Mexican version.

Wait a minute – didn’t I say we made a quesadilla?  Where was that?

It turns out in El Salvador, a quesadilla is a dessert. Back at the Mexican grocer, I showed the recipe to one of the employees.  It said that Salvadoran cheese is very hard to find outside of the country, and suggested Parmesan.  “Parmesan?” I thought?  Surely one of these Mexican cheeses would be a better fit?

“Nope,” confirmed the clerk.  “You’re better off with Parmesan.”

OK, Parmesan it is.  Into some milk it went to soak while I separated some eggs, screwed up the last one, got yolk in the whites, tried to beat them anyway, realized that you REALLY CAN’T beat egg whites with fat in them, realized I had used the last 4 eggs, and sent Leigh off to the store to get some more.

Ahem.

Egg whites correctly separated and whipped up, from this point, you’re just making a cake; dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another.  Eggs, milk, butter, cinnamon, rice (!) flour, and baking powder. Mix it all together, trying not to knock the air back out of the egg whites.

Quesadilla batter

And grated Parmesan.  Unusual, to say the least.  After baking, the quesadilla had a lovely color.

Baked Salvadoran Quesadilla

And was very spongy and tasty.  It was DEFINITELY a new sensation getting chewy bits of Parmesan cheese in a sponge cake, but honestly, it worked.  Good thing, too, because we’re going to be eating this thing for a week.

Quesadilla interior.

And that’s El Salvador.  I have to say that we were a little disappointed.  We’ve had Salvadoran food in restaurants before, and this just didn’t live up to it.  I don’t know if it was a poor choice of recipes, ineptitude on our part (likely), or a combination of the two, but the whole meal seemed somewhat under seasoned.

Good thing we have a MOUNTAIN of leftovers.  Actually, that IS a good thing – leftovers are always a plus, and we still have a nearly full jar of Salsa Lizano, after all!

Next time, we’re off to Equatorial Guinea, to start a run where 4 of the next 5 countries will be African.  Stay tuned!

Recipes:
Salvadoran Pupusas de Chicharron with Curtido (This is the one we used, but I’m guessing you can do better.)
Salvadoran Horchata (Do NOT make this.  Just buy the premade powder.  Seriously. That is what actual Salvadorans in El Salvador do.)
Salvadoran Quesadilla 

PS – if you buy these chips at the Mexican grocer and try to eat them on the way home, be forewarned that even if you eat a lot of spicy foods, and love spicy foods, these things are still really, really spicy. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Spicy Chips

International Meals – Egypt

This week we visit one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world – Egypt.  But what is Egyptian food like?  Turns out that it’s got a lot in common with other Mediterranean cuisines, like that of more familiar Lebanon.  However, in part due to the influence of the Coptic Christian community, there’s a higher proportion of vegetarian dishes.

The dish we picked is called Koshari. Alternately spelled Kushari or Koshary, it is essentially a vegan garbage plate.  While there are many variations, the basic idea is a huge pile of rice, noodles, and legumes, topped with several kinds of sauce.

None of the individual elements here are hard – the hard part is getting them all done without running out of dishes!

So, let’s get the rice and chick peas going on the counter.

Rice cooker and instant pot.

And the lentils, fried vermicelli, and boiled ditalini pasta going on the stove.

Noodles, lentils, and pasta water.

If we’ve fried spaghetti before, I don’t remember it. However, the end product turned out with the beautiful range of colors from light to dark that I remember from noodles served at Lebanese restaurants I’ve been to.

Only three more pots to go!  There’s two different sauces – a tomato and vinegar sauce, (not pictured) and a cumin garlic sauce.

Cumin garlic sauce

And if the phrase “cumin garlic sauce” doesn’t make you prick up your ears, then it should.  We’ve mostly encountered cumin incorporated into dishes as a whole, rather than condiments, but it really works.

One last thing to go – our old nemesis, deep frying.

Frying onions

Experienced deep fryers will know that this is way too many onions for this much oil.  (Or alternately too little oil for this many onions)  So they didn’t actually get all that crisp.  But we were too hungry to fry in small batches, and too out of oil to put any more in.

That accomplished, it’s time to gaze at our table of stuff, and begin the final assembly.

Egypt is majority Muslim, so the beer isn’t terribly authentic, but that’s OK, we didn’t pour it into the dish.

What we DID do, is pack our various element into bowls and then invert them.  According to the photos with the recipe, you should get a lovely, layered dome of rice and pasta.

Messy pile of food.

Nailed it.

Joking aside, a healthy splash of the two sauces, and this was genuinely delicious.  The lentils, in particular, had a fantastic flavor, even with relatively humble seasoning.

Koshary

So what’s for dessert?  Ali’s Mom, that’s what.

No seriously, the dish is called Om Ali, or “Ali’s Mother”.  The legend behind the name dates to the 12th century Ayyubid dynasty, or, you know, the day before yesterday on the scale of Egypt’s ludicrously long past.  The legend says after a caliph died, his second wife had his first wife, (Om Ali) murdered, and then commissioned a fantastic dessert to celebrate the occasion of the murder.  Neat, huh? Yeesh.

At any rate, the dessert is basically a bread pudding.  You puff up some puff pastry, then pour milk and walnuts over it and let it soak for a bit.

Puff pastry and walnut

Once it’s soaked in, you top it with whipped cream, stick it under the broiler, and then DO NOT TRUST the cooking time in the recipe, or else you get this.

Burned bread pudding.

Fortunately, it was equivalent to burned marshmallow – you pick the black bits off, and the rest is sweet and gooey and delicious:

Om Ali

You know I HAVE to say it, right?  There is literally no way I’m NOT going to say it.

Ali’s mom has got it going on.

Sorry.

Well – Egypt was tasty, and as our second vegan main dish, something to remember for future guests!  Next week, the first cuisine for a bit where we’ve been to the restaurants, and know exactly what we’re making – El Salvador!

Recipes:
Koshari
Om Ali

International Meals – Ecuador

This week, we visit the equatorial country of – wait for it – Ecuador. Ecuador gained its independence from Spain in the general wave of independence movements in Latin America in the early 1800s.  If you’re interested in learning about the period in detail, Mike Duncan’s “Revolutions” podcast did an entire series on it.  Highly recommended.

Ecuador has a number of distinct regions, from the Andes mountains to the coast, and out to the Galapagos islands.  We will NOT be preparing Guinea pig from the former, or endangered tortoise from the latter.  So how about a nice fish stew?

Specifically, we decided to make Encebollado – a fish stew topped with pickled onions.  In fact, the name literally means “in onions.” In addition to onions, the stew is frequently made with our old friend, cassava, or yuca root.  Ah, cassava – source of the flour for so MANY bland starch pastes we haven’t succeeded in imparting much flavor to.  Perhaps it will be better whole?

Well, that means we have to FIND one.  And, failing to learn my lesson from our hunt for chayote, I again drove all over Vancouver looking for it, only to discover that the ONLY store that had it was the Sav On Foods two blocks from our house.   Well, whatever, at least I found one.  I forgot to take a picture of it whole, but here it is mid-peel:

Yuca root

It’s actually not a tough dish to make, once you have the stuffs.  First, you make another sofrito by sweating onions and tomatoes in olive oil.  No garlic in this one.

Ecuadoran sofrito
Once the onions are nice and soft, you toss in some water, cilantro, and spices, and simmer it for a bit to make a broth.  And into that broth goes a lovely hunk of tuna to poach.
Poaching tuna

You can tell this is an action shot, because it’s got a hand.

Once the tuna is cooked, you pull it back out of the liquid and cook your veggies, which in our case were the aforementioned cassava and some corn on the cob.

Veggies stewing

Meanwhile, we need those “pickled” onions for the topping.  Whether or not you actually consider these pickled depends on your definition of the term – they’re soaked in lemon juice, olive oil, and salt for a bit to soak up the flavor.

Lemons and onions 

As a side dish, we decided to double down on the cassava, and make small cheese breads with cassava flour.  Because every OTHER thing we’ve made with cassava flour has been so great, right?

Then again, this recipe suspiciously resembles the pao de queijo from our Brazil episode, and those were absolutely delicious. So lets see what happens.

Flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, mozzarella cheese, blend.

Cheese bread dough

The dough turned out VERY dry when we followed the proportions in the recipe.  Like, “not so much dough as sand” dry.  So we kept adding water until it finally came together. Once together, the dough was rolled into small balls for cooking.

Uncooked cheese bread

The indicated cooking method was actually not one I’d used before.  You preheat the oven to “Volcano Heat” (500 F), but once it’s there, you stick the buns in and turn on the BROILER.  So they’re in a rippingly hot oven, but only being cooked directly from one side.

The results certainly looked tasty, with a nice brown on top.

Cooked cheese bread.

And with that, it was time to put the tuna in the stew, top it with the pickled onions, and dig in!

Ecuadoran meal

And it turns out the stew was another winner!  The tuna was cooked perfectly, the broth was delicious, with just the right amount of spice, and the acidity from the topping complemented everything beautifully.  And the cassava root rose all the way up to the level of “tolerable.”  It soaked up all the other flavors, and was a perfectly adequate means of conveying pickled onions to your mouth.  The cheese breads weren’t quite as amazing as their Brazilian cousins, but they were still quite tasty.  I mean – cheese bread.  What’s not to like?

Ecuador – we salute you.  Your soup is tasty, and you have managed to make cassava have a flavor.  Next time – Egypt!

Recipes:
Encebollado (Ecuadoran Fish Stew)
Pan de yuca

International Meals – East Timor

Welcome to the “E”s!  Since we filed “Ivory Coast” under “Côte d’Ivoire,” we will now be cooking Timor-Leste as our first “E” country.  Because why not?

East Timor is one of the newer sovereign countries in the world, having only been independent since 2002.  They were a Portuguese colony until 1975, and when the Portuguese bowed out, Indonesia took over for a bit.  So the cuisine is kind of a mix. It has a lot of similarities to Indonesian food, but also feijoada like we made for Brazil is a thing.

Doing the research to pick a recipe for this week, we discovered a number of sources claiming that the national dish is Ikan Pepes, or fish grilled in banana leaves.  However, while there were a number of recipes floating around for this, none of them gave much in the way of sources.  Another possibility would have been Batar Daan, which is a vegetable dish of corn, mung beans, and pumpkin.

However, we ran across a recipe in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, that described the author walking around Dili (the Timorese capital) picking up ingredients to make Tukir Na’an Karau, a beef stew that sounded delicious and inarguably authentic.

First step, as always, was to procure ingredients.  We figured an Indonesian grocer would be the best place to start, so we were off to find “Auntie Grace’s”. And “find” is right – it turned out to be a second floor walkup in the middle of an industrial park!  But it was a cheerly little one room store with a very friendly couple and shelves packed with esoteric ingredients and Indonesian snacks.  However, while they DID know what I was talking about, they didn’t have the ingredient we had come for: Long Pepper.

Long Pepper

That took two more stops, but we did finally find it. (At a touristy spice shop back on Granville Island, oddly enough.) Definitely a unique component – long pepper is a bit like black pepper, but with notes of menthol, Sichuan peppercorn, coriander, and … tobacco? But in the good way, if that’s possible.

At any rate, it turns out that driving all over Vancouver was the hard part of this recipe, and cooking it was the FUN part!  Why?

HULK SMASH!

First, let’s start with what the French refer to as Le Petit Smash (Note: not actually true) and grind up some spices in our brand new mortar and pestle, which we bought at the SECOND stop while driving all over Vancouver looking for long pepper.

Mortar and Pestle

We’d been meaning to get a bigger one forever, and it makes a huge difference over the little dinky one we had been using.  But that’s just the WARMUP smash.

This recipe calls for lemongrass.  But not chopped lemongrass, oh no.  This recipe calls for the lemongrass to be beaten into submission with a blunt object (we used a Pyrex measuring cup) and tied into knots.

Lemongrass

That accomplished, the lemongrass is tossed in with cubed chuck steak, kaffir lime leaves, the toasted crushed spices, and some salt.

Marinating beef

Oddly, this marinade contains no liquid, so you just mix everything up, and let the flavors sort of… waft? … into the beef.  Once it’s had a chance to absorb the flavor, it’s almost time to star cooking, but first:

MOAR SMASH!

Turmeric and Ginger

It really is a very therapeutic recipe. It is also worth mentioning that those orange strips are NOT carrots – they’re turmeric.  As such, after I finished peeling them and smashing them into submission, my hands looked like I’d murdered a canary with my bare hands.  That cutting board is never going to be NOT yellow again.

But from this point forward, the work is basically done.  You sweat your aromatics a bit…

Aromatics sweating

…then toss in the beef and let it cook forever. Half an hour in, you put in some tamarind. An hour or so later, once it’s falling apart, you take the lid off to cook off most of the liquid, then add some coconut cream to get a rich, indulgent stew that has an INSANELY tempting aroma.

Finished stew

Fish out the giant pieces of ginger and lemongrass, and it’s time to eat!

Timorese Beef Stew

Oh. My. Goodness.

Discovering recipes like this is WHY we do this. It is impossible to describe just how much flavor was packed into this curry.  And the beef was basically DISSOLVING, it was cooked so well.   It is absolutely a shame that the recipe is stuck behind the WSJ paywall, but it’s worth finding someone with access to get yourself a copy, particularly if you can source the ingredients.

We did also make a dessert which, while not UNIQUE to East Timor, is certainly eaten there – sticky rice in caramelized sugar and coconut sauce.  We used the dry caramelization method, which is literally just dumping a pile sugar in a wok, and cooking it until it turns to caramel sauce.

Sugar in a wok.

For the longest time, the sugar just sat there, and then we poked it and realized it had turned from a big pile of sugar to a thin layer of sugar sitting on a layer of delicious caramel.  We tossed in tome coconut milk, which caused it to solidify instantly.

Caramel in coconut milk.

But that’s OK – we didn’t actually want either a liquid caramel OR a solid one – we just wanted caramelized sugar dissolved in coconut milk.  And that’s what we got.  Once everything had dissolved, we dumped in what didn’t SEEM like quite enough cooked sticky rice.  But it turns out sticky rice will eagerly drink as much sugar milk as you give it, and the resulting dessert was heavenly.

Sticky rice dessert

The resulting breakfast was ALSO heavenly.

So – East Timor.  For being a young country,  you have a fantastic curry.  There is absolutely zero chance we will not be bringing this one back out at some point.  Next up, a country that inarguably starts with “E”, (instead of arguably, like this one) Ecuador!

Recipes:
Tukir Na-an Karau (Timorese Spice-Braised Beef) (Wall Street Journal Paywall)
Coconut Glutinous Rice Dessert