International Meals – Georgia

In the before times, we were making one meal every few months – this was a very occasional project.  Since the apocalypse, we’ve been averaging in the neighborhood of one a week.  So the fact that it’s been over a month since our last meal feels a bit weird.

But we were busy moving to a new apartment, so that took a bit of effort.  And it was worth it for a TON of reasons.  You’ll see our new view at the end of this entry, but let’s just start with the kitchen – it’s smaller, but it has a GAS RANGE!  HUZZAH!  Finally when the directions say “lower the heat” under a pot, that’s, you know… possible.

So what’s cooking? Well, we’re up to the Republic of Georgia, which, despite the poor flag-acquisition skills of at least one of the January 6th treasonous morons, is NOT, in fact, in the American South.  Rather, it’s a country with a long and storied history.  It has a unique alphabet, and has been oppressed by some of the most interesting people in history, including Genghis Khan and Josef Stalin.  (This despite, or rather BECAUSE OF, the fact that Stalin was himself from Georgia.)

Let’s go shopping!  I returned to the grocery store where we got the Estonian bread, and found absolutely everything I was looking for.  I also managed to locate a Georgian wine at the local BC Liquor store.

Georgian foodstuffs

Clockwise from upper left – Kindzmaruli wine, Ajika (hot pepper) sauce, Tkemali (sour plum) jam, Sulguni cheese, and Khmeli-Suneli seasoning mix.

You may notice Cyrillic lettering on most of these products, even the cheese, which is entertaining, because it was made in Ontario. However, if you look closely, you can also
see Georgian script on the wine.

The definitive English language reference on Georgian food is a book called The Georgian Feast, by Darra Goldstein.  Yet another awesome thing about our new place is that it is a fifteen minute walk from the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch, which has a LOT of cookbooks, including that one.  So all the recipes from this meal are from that there.

The most famous dish from Georgia is probably Khachapuri, which is a cheese stuffed bread.  There’s a million different variants, including one where you stir a raw egg yolk into the hot bread, but we made a fairly basic version. The most common cheese to use for khachapuri is sulguni, pictured above.  Having learned our lesson during the Brazilian meal, we did NOT attempt to grate the entire block by hand.

Cheese and an egg

The entire composition of the filling is visible here – cheese and an egg.

The bread itself was a bit more work.  It’s a standard short dough, where you cut cold butter into flour and then let it rest before adding the remainder of the wet ingredients.

Butter and flour

Other than that, the recipe couldn’t be simpler – roll out the dough, spread cheese on dough, dissuade cat from helping, fold dough over, egg wash, bake.

Cat helping.

That’s Wren.  She’s helping.

I’m somewhat unsure if we did this right.  There seemed to be more filling than was warranted for the amount of dough.

Unbaked cheese bread

Fortunately, we had failed to adjust for having less cheese than the recipe called for, so we were able to take the remaining cheese and stuff it into the extra dough, which made for a small emergency backup cheese bread, to be activated in case of failure of primary cheese bread.

Cheese bread ready for baking

For our main dish, we decided to make Kharcho, a sour beef stew.  The first thing you do is just boil some stew beef with soup bones, bay leaves, parsley, and pepper for a very long time. After 90 minutes or so, you fish out the meat, put the broth back on the boil, and toss in some rice.

Broth cooking

Did I mention we have a gas range now?  Isn’t it purty?

While the rice is cooking, you sauté a LOT of onions in a LOT of butter.

A lot of onions

In this picture, you can see the celebratory new skillet we bought to celebrate the new apartment.  We also got some celebratory cast iron, which will almost certainly be making an appearance in a future meal.

Back in THIS meal, we toss the onions into the broth and add our seasonings, which include garlic, paprika, red pepper, khmeli-suneli, and sour plum jam.

Seasonings going into broth

Let’s talk about those last two.  Khmeli-suneli is a traditional dry spice blend.  The most common ingredients are fenugreek, bay leaves, ground coriander, savory, and dill. Also common, although not easy to find by itself in North America, is marigold seed.  Fortunately, we had the premixed packet shown above.

The souring agent in Georgian soups is normally Tklapi, which is… wait for it… a fruit roll-up.  OK, it’s dried fruit leather, but it’s still funnier to say it that way.  To prepare it for use in the stew, you chop it up, dissolve it in boiling water, and puree it.  Basically, you make a jam.

We didn’t have any Tklapi, but we did have authentic Georgian sour plum jam, so we decided it was fine to just skip a step.  Once everything’s mixed and cooked, you toss in some fresh dill, cilantro, and parsley, and the stew is ready to go!

Finished Georgian stew

Before we get to the glamour shot, lets talk about dessert!  According to the book, desserts aren’t a huge part of Georgian culture, since the meals tend to be enormous on their own, but they do exist, and we decided to make a tea cake.

This tea cake is not, however, “a small flat cake usually made with raisins,” as defined by our friends at Miriam Webster. (At least, we’d like them to be our friends.  They never return our calls.) Rather, it’s a cake MADE with tea.  You start by hideously oversteeping a cup of REALLY strong tea.  Then you cook some sugar until it starts to color, and dissolve it in the tea.

Sugar and tea

Predictably, when you pour the not terribly warm tea on the melty sugar it did the horrible crystallization thing that makes people on the Great British Bake Off openly weep.  However, since we weren’t TRYING to make a caramel, that was fine.  You can’t uncrystallize the sugar, but you CAN dissolve it.

The rest of the cake is a tour of baking’s greatest hits.

Cream butter, sugar, and egg yolks, then add baking soda to some red wine vinegar to make a volcano.

Cake batter in progress

Add some more plum jam to the mixture, and then, since there’s a bowl we haven’t had to wash yet, beat some egg whites to get even more leavening.

Egg whites being folded into batter.

Those get gently folded in, and the whole cake bakes for the better part of an hour.  When it’s done you spread a thick layer of jam on top, and top it with toasted, crushed walnuts.  (This is apparently an unusual Georgian meal in that this was the ONLY dish with walnuts in it – according to the cookbook, they’re quite ubiquitous.) I should also point out that this jam is REALLY tart – you wouldn’t necessarily want to just spread it on toast.  Or maybe you would, but it works well here balanced by the sugar in the cake.

Georgian Tea Cake

So let’s see the whole thing!  Also, the truly TERRIBLE view from our new apartment.

Georgian Meal

Honestly, this isn’t the best shot of the FOOD, because I was trying to get the mountains and the Science World.  But we spend most of our time staring out the window while we’re eating anyway – the view really is amazing.

And so was the food!  The soup was tangy and rich, with lots of interesting spices, but what put the final triumphant touch was mixing in the red pepper paste.  That took it from delicious to transcendently good.  The cheese bread may have been ugly (there’s a reason there’s no OTHER pictures of it) but it was cheese. In bread.  What’s not to like?  And the tea cake is a recipe I will DEFINITELY be hanging onto. The wine was VERY sweet, and I’m not sure I’d drink it all the time, but it was good with the hearty soup.

Next up, the esoteric, unfamiliar cuisine from the exotic, fabled land of… Germany.

Recipes: (Even though we got all of these from a cookbook, they are unsurprisingly available on the web.)

International Meals – The Gambia

Let’s be clear right off the bat – it’s THE Gambia.  Not “A” Gambia. Not “Some” Gambia. Not “His Excellency, Rear Admiral Gambia, Esquire.”  Nope.  THE Gambia.

Leigh went to THE Ohio State University, so we’re used to mandatory definite articles. In the case of Gambia, the reason for the specificity is because the leadership of the country were tired of their mail being misdelivered to Zambia.  

I am not making this up.

So what are we making from the smallest country on the African mainland?  A beef and peanut stew called Domada. We’ve made at least two other peanut stews from Africa on this project, from the Central African Republic and Chad.  This one, however, turned out a bit differently.

For starters, this one used sweet potatoes.  Now, tubers are a complicated and contentious topic.  It takes a lot of research and careful comparison of sources to understand the difference between different kinds of sweet potatoes, yams, and other starchy tubers like cassava and taro, and to identify which one is ACTUALLY most likely to turn up in dishes in a particular locale.

We didn’t do any research.  We just bought this monster and went with it.

Very large sweet potato

I normally scale the pictures down to make them fit the text better, but I’m going to leave this one big, just to help you appreciate the size of this thing.

Other than the giant tuber, there’s not much else to show here as far as preparation – you first sauté onions, because it really doesn’t matter WHERE in the world you are cooking – at least half of ALL recipes start with sautéing onions.   It’s pretty striking.

Look – here’s a picture of some onions.  Guess if it’s from THIS recipe or some other one!

Onions sautéing

It’s from this one – we have SOME integrity.  But once the onions are ready, you just throw everything else into the pot and let it go for an hour, so not a lot of other pictures.

“Everything else” in this case being peanut butter, a few tomatoes, a scotch bonnet pepper, and a the entire cubed sweet potato, along with the beef.

Stew cooking.

It’s an opaque stew, so not a lot to see in the picture.  Here it is served over rice:

Gambian stew

Also, while I’ve been very glib in this writeup, I don’t want to sell this stew short – of the various African peanut stews we’ve made so far, this one probably came out the best!  The sauce thickened up really nicely, and the overall flavor was hearty and filling.

Nice the job, The Gambia! Your the stew is quite the good!

Next up, Georgia, although that will likely be delayed a few weeks as we move into our new apartment.


International Meals – Gabon

As we leave the Fs for the Gs, we also leave the terrifyingly well documented food culture of France for the much less well documented food culture of West Africa.

And we’re going to be here for a bit – in addition to Gabon, we have The Gambia (which may be what inspired THE Ohio State), Ghana, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.  These are all pretty small countries, and a lot of the borders are artifacts of colonialism rather than reflective of any sort of cultural or (certainly) culinary boundaries.

Which means that the national dish of Gabon is the same as the national dish of the Republic of the Congo AND of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Having already made that, what else can we do?

There’s not much online specifically about Gabonese food.  The consensus seems to be that the French colonial influence is still a bit more pronounced in Libreville than it was in Kinshasa or Brazzaville.  As such, one of the dishes that gets mentioned a lot is Mustard Chicken.  (If it has a specific local name, other than something like “Poulet à la Moutarde”, I haven’t found it.)

Everyone seems to be working off the same basic recipe, which I can trace back to a first posting on, a site that no longer even exists.  So while there are easily half a dozen posts on “Gabonese Mustard Chicken,” if that original poster to Celtnet was full of nonsense, then so is everyone else.

Fortunately, the recipe is pretty basic, so there’s not a lot of weird places for inauthentic embellishments.  No fermented black bean paste or herring here.

Mustard chicken ingredients

In fact, the ingredients list is SUPER short – garlic, onions (SO MANY onions), lemon juice, mustard, and a chicken.  We got smart this time and bought the chicken already cut into pieces.

And by “mustard”, I mean the ENTIRE JAR of mustard.

A quick sear in oil, and then you just put everything in a pot to steam for an hour.

Dutch oven with foil

Foil added to trap steam.  When it’s done, you serve it over rice:

Gabonese mustard chicken

I apologize for the slightly vertiginous camera angle here.

And – that’s it.  This is one of those meals where the intro takes a LOT more words than the cooking, because it’s so simple.

That said – this was pretty darn tasty.  The chicken was nice and juicy from the steaming, and the best part was the onions that had soaked up all the mustard.  Especially when you got a little of everything on your fork, this was a great tasting stew, and would be an excellent choice for a weeknight meal where you wanted to have some leftovers.

We also made dessert.  The one thing everyone brings up on recipe blogs is how much they liked Gabonese baked bananas.  And it is ALWAYS bananas, even though I’m pretty sure you’d be MUCH more likely to run into plantains in Gabon.  I’m guessing there’s once again a single Platonic ur-recipe floating around out there somewhere that didn’t make the distinction.

Banana Minions GIF - Banana Minions - Discover & Share GIFs

But given that we LIKE bananas a lot more than plantains, we didn’t really try that hard to disprove the choice of ingredient.

Gabonese banana ingreedients

“Baked bananas” is a bit of a half truth, to be honest – they ARE baked, sure, but only after being battered and fried.  The batter is bread crumbs (panko, once again, since we need to use these things up) held on with a mix of egg and orange juice.

Frying bananas

They’re fried until crispy and golden, then you put them in the oven for five minutes to… cook?…warm?… mildly annoy?… the insides.  I’m just not sure what five minutes in the oven realistically accomplished.  But who cares – these puppies were delicious!

Baked bananas

Topped with brown sugar and sour cream, they were a great mix of sweet, crunchy, and just a bit tart. I would definitely serve these to friends.

And that’s it for Gabon – no three day preparation, and little to no certainty about authenticity, but tasty food nonetheless.

Next up, THE Gambia!

Postscript: While trying to find the original URLs I used for these recipes, I think I found the origin point – a cookbook by Dyfed Lloyd Evans called “The Recipes of Africa.” BUT – it turns out Evans is the guy that ran the Celtnet website, so it’s once again back to that same source of unknown accuracy.

Mustard Chicken
Baked Bananas

International Meals – France, Part 2

We decided that France simply couldn’t be just one meal, so we planned one more.  This one was substantially less complex than the first one, but still consisted of dishes that (we hoped) were quintessentially French.

For our entrée, we decided to go with Magret de Canard, or “Duck Breast.”  As we’ve mentioned in the past, we are far from the first people to have the “cook the world in alphabetical order,” idea.  There’s a number of blogs dedicated to similar projects, probably the most famous of which is “United Noshes.” We consult the various blogs for ideas, but try hard not to simply copy any one of them.

That said, when that blog describes a dish as “I’m not sure I’ve ever made anything this delicious before”, we decided it was definitely worth a try.

So we headed back to our favorite butcher where we got the demi-glace and the ostrich, and bought ourselves a duck breast.  The recipe calls for first scoring the fat in a crosshatch pattern:

Duck breast with fat scored

Next a marinade in honey, orange juice, and thyme.  A quick trip outside to the planter box for some fresh thyme, and the duck was ready for its overnight soak.

Duck in plastic bag with marinade

The next day, the duck was dried off, and then tossed into a skillet to render off much of the fat. One duck breast produces a LOT of fat.  This picture is still early in the process – there was plenty more coming.

Cooking duck breast

Which is fine – duck fat is amazing, and we used it to make potatoes later in the week.

What is SUPPOSED to happen at this point is that you flip the duck breast over, and the other side is a lovely golden color.  What ACUTALLY happened is that the other side was pitch black.  Oops.  The good news is, we’re moving soon, and our new place has a gas range, which should allow for better heat control.

Either way, once flipped, the duck gets seared briefly on the meat side, then tossed into a hot oven to finish.  Once again, a thermometer is your friend.

Wireless thermometer

This is a Bluetooth grill thermometer we picked up last year, and let me tell you, it’s amazing.  Especially when your oven sucks and takes three times as long to get things to the proper temperature as the recipe says it will.  Did I mention we’re moving?

At any rate, once the duck came back out and was sliced, it was absolutely gorgeous inside, and the slightly (ok, very) singed crust didn’t hurt the flavor at all.

Sliced duck breast

For a side dish, we went with a very simple mushrooms provençal. What makes something unambiguously provençal?  Well, obviously, Herbes de Provence.

Herbes de Provence

I’ve made various versions of this blend in the past, but they had it at the duck store, so we decided to just get it pre-made.  The actual recipe couldn’t be simpler – sauté mushrooms in butter and herbs until done.

Sauteeing mushrooms

And here was the meal, including a cheese plate that probably looks awfully familiar if you read last week’s entry. We also bought a nice French Pinot Noir, since that’s the wine everyone says you should drink with duck.

Second French meal

And it was pretty darn good.  Not life-changing like last week’s meal, but better than a lot of things we make.  The duck, in particular, while it didn’t pick up as much of the flavor of the marinade as one might hope, was a lovely texture.  The herbs did a nice job of accenting the mushrooms.

We did also make a classic French dessert, tart au citron. The crust for this is a pate sucrée, or “sugar crust.”  It’s got a LOT of butter, so it gets rested for a while in the fridge before you roll it out, and then rested for ANOTHER half an hour afterwards, because you don’t want the butter melting out too soon.  It needs to be COLD when it goes in the oven.

We didn’t take any pictures of mixing the dough, because it’s not very exciting, but here’s the crust all rolled out and ready to bake:

Unbaked pie crust

And here it is filled with random desi chickpeas, because we don’t have any pie weights.  Sorry, chickpeas, but you were rendered inedible for a good cause!

Pie full of chickpeas.

The chickpeas are part of a process called “blind baking”, where you weigh down the crust and bake it first in order to stop it puffing up too much.  You also want to bake it before you put the filling in so it doesn’t get soggy.

About that filling.

The filling for this tart is technically a custard, so it used eggs.  LOTS of eggs.  Four whole eggs, AND four more yolks to boot.  Plus butter, a metric ton of lemon juice, and the zest from two whole lemons. (It’s French, it HAS to be metric.)

Lemon filling cooking.

This gets cooked until it’s thick, and then poured into the tart crust for a final bake.  And here’s the final product.

Lemon tart

It was SUPER tart and delicious.  If you’re looking for a dessert to impress people once it’s safe to once again impress people in your region, this is an excellent choice.  Also, it looks like Pac Man once you’ve cut a few slices out, so there’s that.

And that’s it for France!  We could obviously cook for months and never finish exploring the whole country, but we do need to move on.  The pace may slow a bit here as we get ready to move, but we HAVE finished the Fs, so next up, Gabon!

Magret de Canard
Mushrooms Provençal
Tart au Citron

International Meals – France Part 1

I have to admit – we were intimidated by France.  It’s hard to think of a food culture with more of a reputation for being challenging.  To some extent, that’s definitely Western bias – Thai food, for example, is easily as complicated in terms of balancing of different types of flavors.  But hey – we’re westerners.  We grew up with French cooking held up as the epitome of sophistication and precision.

How to even know where to start?  Well, two weeks ago we consulted with Puppy Shredder.  This week, it was clearly time to call Princess Beetch.

She was gracious enough to make a lot of great suggestions, and based on her input and some other research, we decided to make two meals.  No particular sorting by region or type of food – just two collections of dishes that sounded good to us.

So to start out this week’s adventure, we went shopping!  Unlike for Asian cuisines, we don’t need to visit a specialized “French” store for any special ingredients.  Instead, we visited a number of stores specializing in the ingredients themselves: a cheesemonger, a meatmonger, a chocolatemonger, and a coffeemonger. (I choose to assume that you can mong anything, not just a short list including iron, war, and whores.)

French shopping booty

From left to right, top to bottom – cheese, chocolate, coffee, cheese, cheese, demiglace, and cheese.

Our first dish was to be Entrecôte à la Bordelaise, a pan fried steak topped with Bordelaise sauce.

French sauces are, of course, a large part of the terror (not terroir) associated with the cuisine.  Bordelaise, for example, is a reduction of Bordeaux wine with shallots and bone marrow.  So far, so good, right?  Then you look more carefully at the ingredient list, and there’s one line: demi glace. Well, OK, let’s make demi glace.  What’s that?

Demi glace, is a mix of Espagnol sauce and part brown stock.

OK – what’s Espagnol sauce?

Espagnol sauce is made from brown stock and roux.

But what’s brown stock in particular?

Brown stock is made from veal bones, ham knuckles, pork rind, aromatics…

…oh my god.

Proper demiglace involves boiling pounds of bones and gallons of liquids for hours, as it turns out.  And there is just no shortcut to getting that extreme depth of flavor.

Except – we did find a shortcut: we just bought some.  Turns out our friendly neighborhood butcher where we bought the steak and the beef marrow bones (and the ostrich a few weeks back) makes their own and sells it in frozen cubes.

The other key ingredient in a Bordelaise sauce is, of course, Bordeaux.  Hilariously, we found one called “Château Canada.”  Yes, it’s from France.

Chateau Canada Wine

OK, let’s make some sauce.  Once you have the demiglace in hand, the sauce itself isn’t too bad.  You start by extracting the marrow from a few beef bones.

Beef marrow
This gets boiled for just a little while, until it turns a really unattractive shade of grey.  Who cares? Marrow is delicious.

Cooked beef marros

In a pan, you sauté some shallots in butter, then add the wine and some thyme.  Happily, our little garden box has been producing thyme like crazy, so we had some right off the stalk.

Bordelaise sauce in progress

I promise the actual sauce was less blurry.  We’ll just call this an action shot and move on.

And move on we do – after this cooks most of the liquid off, you add the demiglace, cook some more, and finally add the bone marrow and cook THAT together.  You’re left with a dense, dense sauce, full of shallots and luscious flavor.  It also foamed a bit yellow for some reason – no idea why. The final sauce didn’t stay that color when it was taken off the heat.

Almost finished Bordelaise sauce.

What are we PUTTING this sauce on, anyway? Well, a steak!  The cooking process is so simple and so fast, that I didn’t remember to take a picture of it before it was done.  Just sear the heck out of a good quality ribeye steak for a few minutes on each side, use a damn thermometer instead of guessing, and you’re done.  Here it is topped with the sauce.

Steak with Bordelaise sauce

One dish down.  What else did we make?  To go with our steak, we decided to make tartiflettte, which is a potato dish made with cheese and bacon.  Traditionally, the cheese to use would be Reblochon, which is usually pretty hard to come by in North America.

The good new is that the cheese shop we visited did have authentic Reblochon in stock.  The bad news is that it was $40 a kilogram, and the recipe called for a full wheel’s worth.  Cheese is EXPENSIVE in Canada, y’all.  We opted to sacrifice authenticity in the name of not paying more for the cheese than for the steak, and got a lovely Quebecois cheese called Fou du Roy instead.

The tartiflette is not too tough to assemble.  You boil some potatoes, and while they’re going, you also fry some lardons, which is a fancy way of saying chopped bacon.


The bacon fat (never waste bacon fat) is then used to fry some onions and garlic, and the pan is deglazed with vermouth.  Then you just stack everything up in a casserole – potatoes, bacon, onions, potatoes, bacon, onions.

But now then the magic happens.  First you pour on heavy cream:

Cream going onto tartiflette

And then the cheese.  So much cheese.

Unbaked tartiflette 

This gets baked in the oven until… well, words don’t suffice.

Baked tartiflette

Please do not lick the screen.  It sure does look delicious though, doesn’t it?

So this was our main course – Entrecôte à la Bordelaise and Tartiflette. Served with the remainder of the Bordeaux, of course.

French main course

Rather than render a verdict yet, I’m going to continue to describe the rest of the meal, and give our overall impressions at the end.  Next up – cheese course! (A traditional French meal might have been preceded by a soup, and followed at this point by a salad, but we only had so many brain cells available.  Cheese involves nothing more complicated than unwrapping cheese.)

Cheese plate

Upper left, Roquefort de Papillon, described by cheese expert Steve Jenkins as “The reason god invented caves.”  Lower left Tomme de Savoy, and right side Bouche de Lucay.  We were COMPLETELY full at this point.  So of course it was time to eat dessert.

And for dessert, it was time at last to turn to Julia Child, who we had managed to avoid consulting up to this point.  (I mean, technically, we made this first, but let’s not break the narrative flow here any worse than this parenthetical already has.)

Julia Child’s chocolate mousse recipe is complicated, but worth it.  Step one: butter, good chocolate, and coffee.

Butter, coffee, and chocolate

Melt in a double boiler, set aside.  Step two: egg yolks, sugar, and rum.

Egg yolks, rum, and sugar.

Whip over a double boiler, then continue to beat in an ice bath. We’re at three bowls and a saucepan and counting so far.

Next step – egg whites, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. (Didn’t get a separate picture of those.) Fold everything together, being extremely careful not to knock the air back out of the egg whites.

Mousse in progress

That’s two more bowls, one for the egg whites, and one for the folding.  Finally, the whole mixture gets transferred back to the fridge to set up.  Returning to our meal already in progress, we pulled the mouse out of the fridge to see if we had succeeded…

Chocolate Mousse

We had.

So what was our overall assessment of this meal?

This is not only one of the best meals we have ever made, this is reasonably high on the list of the best meals we have ever eaten, full stop.  There is, as it turns out, a reason French food is held in such high esteem.  All the steps are overwhelming, but there is a purpose behind each and every one, and that purpose is maximizing deliciousness.

The Bordelaise sauce was dark and rich and fruity and intense.  It perfectly complemented the steak, which we managed to cook to perfection.  The tartiflette was cheese, potatoes, bacon, and cream – just heaven on a plate.  All of the cheeses were amazing.

And the mousse was so good I may actually cry just remembering it.

We’re may not do this very often, but we’re definitely going to do it again.

Cat and tartiflette

No cheese for you, Wren!

Next up, more France!

Bordelaise Sauce
Chocolate Mousse

International Meals – Finland

Finland was fun.  By which I mean, our actual trip to Finland was fun.  Leigh had a conference there in 2009, and I tagged along. We have LOTS of pictures of that trip – we should really write it up for this, our alleged vacation blog, one of these days. But for right now, I’ll just give you this and let you wonder.

Finnish art of some kind.

For the present project, Finland turned out not to be a single meal, but a bunch of stuff spread out over several days.  Since one of the recipes called for vanilla sugar, that meant we would have to use up the contents of a vanilla pod for some other purpose. Difficult as it was, we made the ultimate sacrifice and forced ourselves to consume a crème brûlée.  It was awful, let me tell you – the things we do for this blog.

Crème Brûlée

So what was the vanilla sugar for, you ask?  One of my fondest food memories of our time in Finland was of a ubiquitous pastry – the cardamom bun.  They come in lots of different shapes, but what they all have in common is a lovely soft dough with lots and lots of cardamom in.

The version we picked, by virtue of it seeming to have been posted by an actual Finnish person, looks like a traditional cinnamon roll. First you make an enriched yeast dough with lots of cardamom in it, then after it’s had time to rise, you roll it out flat, then coat it with butter, sugar, and cardamom, cinnamon, or some combination of the two.

Rolled out cardamom bun dough

This is then rolled up and sliced into rounds.

Unbaked Finnish rolls.
An egg wash and a bake later, and we were rewarded with these beauties:
Baked cardamom buns

They may not be as beautiful as a cookbook, but they tasted amazing.  When we make large batches of stuff for this project, I often take the extras into work for my colleagues. NOT THIS TIME – the cardamom buns were ALL OURS.

Next up, we had planned to make two traditional dishes from Karelia – a stew and some pies.  However, two things prevented this from coming off according to the plan.  The first is that I got my COVID-19 shot the day before we had planned to make all the pies, and the attended soreness diminished my enthusiasm for doing much besides lying on the couch binging Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and complaining.

The more important thing, however, is that we realized that the stew and the pastries bake at COMPLETELY DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES, and so better planning would have been required to have them both ready at once.

Lets get the stew made, anyway.  Karelian Stew was recommended as a good choice for an archetypal Finnish dish by my local friend Puppy Shredder.  Karelia is a region of Finland which….

Yes, I have a friend in Finland who I refer to as “Puppy Shredder”.  Roller derby, right?

Anyway, Karelian stew is an astonishingly simple dish – it’s basically just meat, onions, salt, and some combination of peppercorns, allspice berries, and bay leaves.

Karelian Stew Ingredients

We chose to go maximally fancy and used three kinds of meat – lamb, pork, and beef.  Apparently the pork and beef version is so common in Finland that at many stores you can just buy “stew mix” which consists of pork and beef cut to appropriate size.  Not having that option, I had to manually cut the pork shoulder in to pieces myself! AND I had to cut up the onion.  SO MUCH WORK.

I kid, because cutting up the onion and the pork was literally the only work involved in making this dish.  You then just donk it all into a pot with some water, put it in the oven, and walk away for three hours.  The only other direction in the recipe we used is to put the lid on the pot “towards the end of cooking.”  Super helpful, that.

You’d think with all that extra time, I’d have remembered to take an “in process” shot of the stew, but I didn’t.  Thanks, AstraZeneca!  (No seriously, thank you – I am SO ready for this pandemic to be over.)

We did make what was ostensibly a Finnish version of mashed potatoes to go with.  It wasn’t terribly different from any other mashed potato recipe – peel, boil, mash with cream and butter.  The one interesting step was that it called for putting these potatoes back in a casserole, covering them with bread crumbs, and then baking them for an indeterminate length of time.  (One recipe I found called for a SIX hour bake!)

We didn’t have that length of time, and we only had Panko bread crumbs, which are from (checks notes) not Finland.  So they weren’t terribly authentic in any case.  But they were mashed potatoes with cream and butter, so what’s not to like?  They made a great base for the stew.

Karelian Stew

Before I talk about how things tasted, lets talk about the pies.  We made them the following evening, and since we had leftover stew, we WERE able to have more or less the whole meal as intended on the second evening.

The Karelian pies are a savory unleavened dough filled most often with rice porridge.  They are NOT sweet – the filling is just rice, milk, and salt for the version we made.

Rice porridge

That gets cooked down for an hour and then put in the fridge overnight (or two, in our case) to cool down.  The dough is equally simple – rye flour, all purpose flour, salt, and water.  Mix it together and roll it out:

Karelian pastry dough

Being a rye dough, it’s not the most exciting color in the world. But we had a TON of rye flour left from Estonia, so it’s good to keep using it.  We punched out little rounds of dough, and then formed an assembly line of rolling, filling, and shaping.

Karelian pies being made

You can see some in-progress pies top center.  The shape is certainly unique, and that’s not JUST because we are terrible at making them.  They’re SUPPOSED to be a unique shape.  The pies are baked for 15 minutes or so at the hottest temperature your oven can achieve.  (Spoiler: not all that hot, for ours)

Karelian pies

Definitely not quite the shape in the picture we were going from, but still identifiably the thing we were trying to make. Authentically, these would be served with a spread consisting of butter and hardboiled eggs, but neither of us LIKES hardboiled eggs, so even though we used authentic Finnish panko on the mashed potatoes, we decided to skip that extra detail here.

So here’s the whole Finnish meal, consisting of leftover mashed potatoes and stew, and piping hot pies.

Finnish meal

I gotta say – for only having six ingredients, the stew had an amazing depth of flavor.  The long cooking time drew all the flavor out of the bay leaves and allspice, and the broth was super deep and complex by the end. The flavor to effort ratio for this stew is just ridiculously excellent The pies were quite good too – a nice mix of chewy and crunchy on the outer layer, and a hearty filling from the rice porridge. .

In fact, the broth was SO good that we kept the extra, and two nights later used it to make the traditional beef noodle soup of Finland, pho.

Wait a minute, let me check my notes again…

Faux Finnish Pho

Finland is great.  You should go, and in the meantime, you should try some of these recipes.  Next up, a country with no discernable food history whatsoever. Frank? Francis?  Something like that.  That should be easy, right?

Finnish Cardamom / Cinnamon Rolls
Karelian Stew
Karelian Pies
Finnish Mashed Potatoes

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.


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?


Anyway, Finland awaits!

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!

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

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.

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:


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!

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