International Meals – Kuwait

We return to somewhat less shaky alphabetical ground with Kuwait.  Best known in the US as the country whose invasion by Iraq in 1990 precipitated the first Gulf War, Kuwait has a long and complicated history as a part of a number of empires, including the Greeks, the Persians, the Ottomans, and the British.  It gained independence in the 1960s, and for a time was the biggest oil exporter in the region, despite its small size.

The national dish of Kuwait is machboos, a dish consisting of spiced chicken or lamb, rice cooked in the meat stock, and a middle layer consisting of split peas, raisins, and onions.  We’re going to use the recipe published on “United Noshes” from someone named “Al.”  That’s capital A lowercase “ell”.  The recipe was NOT produced by AI, as far as we know.

To start, I had to do something EXTREMELY unusual, that has not come up a single time on this blog so far.

No, just kidding – I had to chop up an onion.


The other major bit of prep work before we could attack the chicken was to make a spice blend called bezar.  This involved toasting a number of different spices one at a time, since they all have different cooking times, then blending them in a grinder.

Toasted spicesGround Spices
We don’t mind making our own spice blends, because toasting spices always makes the kitchen smell AMAZING.

One of the things that makes this dish complicated is that the chicken is cooked four different ways – it is poached, then seared, then braised, then baked.  To start with, the chicken is poached from the King’s forest in boiling water for ten minutes to start the cooking process, but also to flavor the cooking water into a stock.

Poached chicken

Next up, we fry the aforementioned onions with some garlic.  Once they’ve softened a bit, the chicken goes in to get a bit of color on it.

Chicken frying

This picture was taken BEFORE said color had started to appear. Once the chicken has a sear on it, you go in with the spices, water, and some tomato paste and let it braise.  And here we confront the fact that this is a “someone’s dad named Al” recipe, because we have directions like “cook until the chicken is soft and the sauce tastes amazing.”  Thanks, Al.

Chicken braising
The rear pot is the dried yellow split peas getting underway in some boiling water. Once they’re tender, you cook some more onions, then mix them with the peas and the raisins and simmer some more.

But wait, we also need rice.  As per usual on this blog, we refuse to cook rice using any method OTHER than a rice cooker unless it’s absolutely necessary.  And it wasn’t in this case – the recipe explicitly contemplated using one.  The only distinctive feature here is that the rice is cooked in the chicken stock we made while we were poaching the chicken.

Finally, the braised chicken gets sprinkled with cinnamon and put in a pan to roast “until the smell is unbearable.”

Chicken ready to bake.
This is the part where I suspect Al’s recollections leave something to be desired – we’re putting chicken in a hot oven with no liquid and no covering. Won’t this dry things out?

Well, as it turns out, yes, it does a bit.  In hindsight, I should have listened to my suspicion and looked at a few more recipes, which would have indicated to COVER the chicken, and possibly pour some oil over the chicken to keep it moist.

The recipe didn’t SAY to reduce the tomato sauce after braising the chicken, but it was a bit thin, so we left it on the heat while we took care of everything else. Here’s the whole pile, ready for assembly.

Machboos components

And here it is assembled.

That looks pretty doesn’t it?  Despite being a little dry, the flavor was excellent – we served the rest of the tomato sauce on the side, and it was absolutely delicious over the chicken, rice, and peas.  The only change I’d make, were I to make this again, besides covering the chicken in the oven, would be to add more raisins.  Their sweetness was an excellent contrast to everything else, but there weren’t ENOUGH.

Now, Kuwait is a strictly Islamic country – you can’t get so much as a beer at the airport. But I was able to locate one of the MOST popular drinks in the country.  I found it at a store called (checks notes) “Celtic Treasure Chest.”  Wait, what?

Apparently the frequent drink of choice in this middle eastern country is a blackcurrant  soda from Manchester.  I blame colonialism.  It’s usually safe to blame colonialism.

To finish the meal, we made a ring cake called Gers Ogili, Gers apparently just means “circle,” so this is the circle of Ogili.  It’s a fairly dense cake that uses rather a LOT of saffron, giving it an intense yellow color.

You whip eggs and sugar together in one bowl, put your dry ingredients in a second, and your wet ingredients in a third. In addition to the aforementioned saffron, the cake also contains rosewater and cardamom.

Cake ingredients

The batter was baked in our (newly acquired for this purpose) bundt pan, and produced a dense, delicious cake with a really striking appearance.

Gers ogali cake

And that’s Kuwait!  Only one more “K” country to go, and it’s probably one of the hardest countries to spell in the entire world.  Stay tuned!

Gers Ogali

International Meals – South Korea

If North Korea had a paucity of choices, South Korea is the opposite – there’s so much good stuff that it was hard to narrow it down.  Korean Fried Chicken is definitely having a moment, at least in Vancouver – you can’t throw a stick without hitting a new place.  (Although they have politely requested that people stop throwing sticks at their restaurants.)

However, deep frying at home sucks, so we decided to do something else.

First up, however, is the absolutely mandatory Korean side dish / condiment / national dish – kimchi!  And the reason it’s first up is that it takes a bit of time to ferment properly.  So with our meal scheduled for Saturday evening, we took Tuesday night to get the cabbage going.

I made another trip out for supplies, and discovered that the Korean supermarket not only sells WHOLE Napa cabbages, but you can also buy half and quarter portions, too.  Which is a good thing, because half a Napa cabbage still represents about six pounds of cabbage! To start, you salt all the leaves and then leave it to soak for a few hours.

Napa cabbage soaking

Ideally, you leave it to soak in a basin larger than the cabbage itself, but we don’t HAVE a basin larger than even HALF of one of these beasts.

Once it’s ready, you cook some glutinous rice flour and sugar in water to make a sticky base for the sauce, the rest of which consists of garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, fermented shrimp, and a LOT of gochugaru. (Korean red pepper flakes.)  Like, a LOT a lot.

Kimchi ingredients
Or, at least, you’re SUPPOSED to put in the fermented shrimp, and not just buy them and then leave them in the freezer like an idiot.  Sigh. (We added a little bit to the Kimchi right before serving, at the suggestion of our guest.)

Once the sauce is mixed, you also add in some thinly sliced carrot, green onion, and daikon radish.  Also something called “water dropwort,” but in this case the store didn’t have it. And then you get messy!

Applying kimchi sauce to cabbage
To do this right, you have to get in there and smear sauce on each and every cabbage leaf.  It takes a while.  But once you’re done, that’s it!  Kimchi goes into containers on the counter to ferment for a day or two, and then into the fridge.

Kimchi in tupperware
For our main dish, we’re making bulgogi. Turns out this literally means “fire meat.” Can’t argue with that.  But also can’t actually use fire, since we’re on the fourth floor now.  But that’s a problem for Saturday us.  First, FRIDAY us has to make up a tasty marinade.
Bulgogi marinade
Obviously, there’s many different recipes.  The one we went with included Korean pear, onion, garlic, ginger, green onion, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, and carrot.  As it turns out, pureed pear looks EXACTLY like pureed onion, but you don’t want to get those two confused!

We mixed that up, smeared it over some nice thinly sliced top sirloin, and that went into the fridge as well.

Saturday, it was time to put everything together, as well as make our side dishes.  And for extra special nervous making, we had invited an actual Korean person over to share the meal! For those keeping score at home, this is the third time we have done this – the first two were Brazil and Italy.

As mentioned last week, Korean meals typically have a range of side dishes, or banchan.  If you count rice (you probably shouldn’t) we’d be having three.  The only interesting thing to say about the rice is that short-grain sushi rice, like we used last week, appears to be the standard tabletop rice in Korea.

Next up, a nice simple dish with bean sprouts.  A quick blanch in boiling water, then mix together with garlic, fish sauce, and sesame oil.  Done.

Bean sprout side dish

Our final banchan involves potatoes.  While potatoes are originally native to the Americas, they are at this point a staple just about everywhere, and that definitely includes Korea.  This is another simple one – fry potatoes and onions in oil, and then glaze with soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. (The picture was taken in the “pre-glazing” portion of the program.)

Potatoes cooking.

For the very final step, the bulgogi came out of the fridge, and was slapped onto a hot cast iron grill to quickly cook.  So quick, that I didn’t even remember to snap a picture.

Given that, let’s skip to the final spread!

Korean Meal
Clockwise from upper left, we have lettuce for wrapping, kimchi, soy sauce potatoes, chewy sweet rice flour desserts that our guest brought, seasoned bean sprouts, bulgogi, and rice.  Looks pretty tempting, doesn’t it?  Here’s a pile of everything on a plate:

Korean plate o'food
Om nom nom.  This was SO good.  My only complaint would be that I didn’t cook the potatoes long enough, so they were a bit too crunchy.  But the flavor of everything was great, and in particular, we nailed the kimchi.  Our guest (who we COMPLETLY FORGOT to take a picture with, as usual) said that she couldn’t believe we had done it ourselves from scratch, and that it was an excellent job.

Normally, I’d be concerned that she was just being polite, but not this time.  We did an excellent job.

You may be wondering about the liquid in the glass.  We had not one but TWO Korean beverages available for the meal.

Cinnamon drink and Makegoli
The one on the left was brought by our guest, and is called Sujeonggwa, or cinnamon punch.  It’s quite sweet, but it tastes of cinnamon and dried persimmon.  In other words, it’s fall in a glass.

The one on the right is Makegolli, which is a fermented sparkling rice wine.  Our guest was quite surprised that we had a bottle on hand, but it turns out there’s a local store quite close to us that specializes in making the stuff.

They’re also not technically allowed to sell alcohol for takeaway unless you buy food, because they are not a liquor store.  So I bought a scone.  They also have a basket of $1 Rice Krispie treats by the door, if you REALLY don’t want to shell out too much extra.

That aside, Makegolli is ALSO delicious.  There’s a little chart on the bottle to show how the levels of “sour”, “sparkly” and “sweet” change over time.  This was a quite young bottle, so “sweet” was the dominant of the three.

And finally, dessert!  These tasty little packages, called gyeongdan, are just rice flour with a little sugar syrup inside, but they were a great conclusion to a hearty meal.

Korean rice cake dessert

And that’s it for South Korea!  We had a wonderful time with our guest, and will be eating leftover kimchi for WEEKS.  Next up, we have to decide if we’re doing Kosovo – they’re recognized by more countries than not, but they aren’t on the UN list.

Soy sauce potatoes
Seasoned mung beans

International Meals – North Korea

Let’s get something out of the way right up front – alphabetical order is a social construct.  Sure, we could put North Korea under “N”.  That would make more sense, probably.  Or we could put it under “D” for DPRK, which is what the United Nations does.  After all, we put the “Democratic Republic of the Congo” there.

But we didn’t.  We’re putting it here. Moving on.

North Korea is one of the most secretive states on the planet.  Not for nothing is it called “The Hermit Kingdom.”  And while there is a long traditional food culture in that part of the Korean peninsula, our understanding is that your average North Korean is more likely to be hungry than they are to be feasting on traditional delicacies.

So we’re going to split the difference here – we’re going to attempt to make one relatively modern North Korean dish, which was born out of the need to make something from very little.  And to balance it, we’re also going to make a more traditional dish from the North.

All of this also has our usual caveats applied – we don’t know what we’re doing, we’re not very good at research, and a number of approximations, both intentional and un- have inevitably crept in.

The good news is that there are a number of excellent Korean supermarkets in Vancouver, so ingredient hunting was pretty straightforward.

Korean ingredients
Look at all this neat stuff!  You can tell it’s Korean by the Chinese characters on the bean curd sheets, and the Japanese ones on the mustard paste. The buckwheat noodles are at least DEFINITELY Korean, although on closer inspection they turned out to be sweet potato, and not buckwheat. Look, we’re trying, OK?

For our “modern make the best of it” dish, we’re making Injo Gogi Bop.  This literally means “artificial meat rice.”  This sounds worse than it is – the dish is actually just sushi rice inside a bean curd wrapper, with a flavorful sauce. Done right, the texture is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike meat.

Lots of sources talk about this dish, (here’s the Wikipedia article) but very few provide an actual recipe.  We consulted our friend Ji Hyun for advice and she came through with a recipe.  Thanks Ji Hyun!  Weirdly, the only recipe on the English language internet that she found for us was from… a German meal kit site.  She also found a video of some nice German people attempting to make it.

OK, so how do you do this?  Rather than making bean curd wrappers from scratch, which is part of the origin of this dish, we opted to follow the meal kit route by buying ours premade and soaking them.

Bean curd sheets soaking

And this is the first place we went wrong – the meal kit site doesn’t say how LONG you need to soak these for.  Opinions vary on the internet, but several hours is the low end, and we hadn’t allowed that.  So they never really unfurled the way they were supposed to.

Next up, you make sushi rice.  Rice cooker. Bam.

Finally, you make a sauce by frying some onions, green onion, and garlic together, then mixing that with soy sauce and Korean chili flakes.

Injo gogi bap sauce
This is actually where 95% of the flavor in this dish comes from, and it wasn’t half bad at all.

The final assembly, in theory, consists of rolling out the beautifully flat soybean sheets, putting a dollop of sushi rice in each one, and then rolling them up to make a nice “meaty” little package.

In practice, our sheets never really unrolled, so we ended up having to make bean curd – rice – bean curd sandwiches instead.

Bean curd and rice assembly

For our second, more old-school dish, we decided to make a cold buckwheat noodle recipe called Mul Naengmyeon. I mentioned that the noodles we purchased did not seem to contain much buckwheat, but it turns out that’s not disqualifying – there’s a whole family of noodles that works for this dish, and the ones we bought seem to fall comfortably within it.

Being a cold dish, there wasn’t a LOT of complex prep here.  Cook noodles in boiling water, shock in ice bath. They had a fascinating translucent color.

Naengmyeon noodles
Top with broth (yes, out of a bag – we went lazy), slices of cucumber and Korean pear, and serve with mustard paste and vinegar on the side.

Finally, we made a banchan.  If you’ve eaten in a Korean restaurant, you know that meals tend to be served with a bunch of tasty little side dishes called banchan.  We were already making two mains, so we went with just one side, a cucumber and sesame salad.

And here’s the final spread, with the sauce on the Injo Gogi Bap.

North Korean meal

Sure looks a mess, doesn’t it? Still, the important thing is taste, right?  And this poverty food, born out of necessity and desperation was… actually pretty tasty!  It’s hard to go wrong with garlic, soy, and chili as a seasoning mix.  The noodles had a fun chewy texture, although I would say they definitely needed the mustard and vinegar to perk them up a bit.  And our banchan, while basic, was also quite good.

And that was Korea, North!  Next up, we’re staying in the “Ks” with, surprise, surprise, Korea, South.

Injo Gogi Bap
Mul Naengmyeon

International Meals – Kiribati

One of the struggles of this project is to not simply cut and paste our recipes from other bloggers who have taken on this task.  Especially since they’re mostly doing a better job.

In particular, United Noshes is doing a really exceptional job.  They have dinner parties.  They donate to charity.  They’ve been on NPR.  Have WE been on NPR?  No we have not.  Are we doing nearly a careful or accurate enough job to WARRANT being on NPR?  Also no.

But when United Noshes says they are unable to identify much, if any, of a distinct food culture for a country, we know we’re not going to do any better.  In order to avoid just copying them, I will generally do quite a bit of Googling, as well as checking actual cookbooks.  But in this case?

Nope – we’re just copying them.

To get a few things out of the way:

Kiribati is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific ocean. It is the 172nd largest country in the world by surface area, putting it between Sao Tome and Principe, and Bahrain.  By population, it is 178th. On the other hand, they have bent time and space to their will.

By which I mean there’s a big diversion in the international date line which Kiribati unilaterally declared in order to have the entire country be on the same day of the week as their major trading partner, Australia.

International Date Line
Can you guess where Kiribati is in this picture?

Two more facts before we get onto the food.  1) The name of this country is pronounced “Kiribass”. 2) Kiribati is very likely to be the first country we lose entirely to climate change.

OK, so before that happens, what are we making?  Two dishes – fried parrotfish, and pumpkin simmered in coconut milk.

Both are VERY simple, as befits a country with very little land area for cultivation of herbs and spices.  Let’s start with the fish.  Parrotfish are actually found all over the world, but since they are also found in the freezer at my local Supermarket 88, we decided to ape United Noshes and go with that.  After all, we can’t argue with this irrefutable evidence:

Kiribati stamp with parrotfish.

That’s more or less exactly what the frozen one looked like.

Uncanny, isn’t it?  I am NOT good at gutting, scaling, or filleting fish, as has already been established in this project, but fortunately, parrotfish have BIG scales, so it’s easy to tell when you’ve gotten them all.  A great deal of utterly terrible knife work later, and we had this.
Parrotfish filets

And a quick fry in oil later, we had this.
Fried parrotfish
That would appear to be fried fish, all right. To be clear, I used absolutely no seasoning or breading of any kind.  Just patted them dry with paper towels and hurled them into the oil.

For our other dish, we made Te bwaukin, or pumpkin simmered in coconut milk with pandan leaf.  And there’s really not much more to it than that.  There’s literally only one ingredient (sugar) that isn’t listed in the title of the recipe.

Chop up pumpkin. (shown here mid chop)

Put in a pot with coconut milk, sugar, and some pandan leaves.

Simmering pumpkin

The pandan leaves are interesting.  They have a really lovely, sweet fragrance, and are used for seasoning desserts all over Oceana and southeast Asia.  Our entire fridge now smells like pandan, and I am not complaining.

And with that, we’re done.  Here’s dinner:

Kiribati meal

Simple, isn’t it?  The nice thing about saltwater fish is that they taste just fine when you cook them without any seasoning.  It was a nice crunchy piece of flaky fish.  And the pumpkin was so sweet (if a bit mushy) that it was basically a dessert.  Nothing fancy here, but as authentic as we were likely to get, and nothing we wouldn’t eat again.

Thanks Kiribati!  We hope everyone gets out safely.

Next up, due to our refusal to file it under “N” or “D”, we have Korea, North.

Fried Parrotfish: Seriously, just toss it in hot oil for 12 minutes or so.
Pumpkin Simmered in Coconut Milk

International Meals – Kenya

For previous Christmas day meals, we’ve sometimes tried to make what would be traditional for the holiday in that country.  Not so much on this Christmas, but it was nice having the day off to cook.

Kenya is on the east coast of Africa, and has historically had a wide range of visitors, from Zheng He to Vasco de Gama. The colonial era wasn’t any less awful than anywhere else, but modern Kenyan society represents a wide range of intra- and extra- African influences.

When you google “national dish of Kenya,” the main result is ugali, or cooked cornmeal, used as a base to consume other dishes.  So we’ll make that.  Hot water, cornmeal.  Bam.

OK, what else?

We settled on two dishes, a veg and a curry.  The veg was also pretty simple: sukuma wiki, which literally means “stretch the week.”  It would traditionally be made with whatever vegetable was readily available in season to provide a filling means of pushing the food budget.  Collard greens would be very authentic, but those don’t turn up in our local Canadian grocery store all that frequently.  So kale it is!

Note: for a number of years, Leigh and I took part in an absolutely amazing scavenger hunt called “GISH”.  It is a running joke in GISH that kale is always redacted. Here is the only GISH item that I personally ever managed to get included in the annual coffee table book.  It has nothing to do with this meal, but I’m going to use this excuse to include it anyway.

Pirate cake

So anyway, to make Sukuma Wiki, you simply Sautee some onions, wilt in some [redacted], and then finish with heavy cream.

Bam. Done.  What else?

For our main dish, we are making a chicken curry called kuku paka. This is an abbreviation of “kuku wu kupaka”, which literally just means “chicken in sauce.” It’s a coconut milk based curry featuring not terribly exotic ingredients.

First, you marinate the chicken using chili powder, garlic, lemon and salt.

Chicken marinade ingredients.

Mmm.. gros salt.

Next, you make a curry base consisting of onion, tomato, chilies, and cilantro.

Curry base ingredients

Knife for… scale?  To show we mean business?  Not sure. Moving on…

The base gets pureed and then cooked with some spices for a bit to get rid of the raw onion taste.  Once it’s ready, you add coconut milk to make it creamy.  Meanwhile, you broil the marinated chicken until it’s done and a bit charred in spots.

Broiled chicken.
Chicken and pan juices go in the pot with the sauce and everything gets simmered for a bit, and finally the whole thing is finished with a bit more heavy cream.  And with that, we’re ready to bring everything to the table!

My goodness, isn’t that pretty?  We’ve made some fairly beige meals on this journey, (looking at you, Iceland), but this was not one of those.  And in addition to being fun to look at, it was TASTY.  The richness of the coconut milk combined with the spices in the curry made for a hearty, satisfying meal.  The [redacted] was crunchy and rich with cream, and the ugali was… fine.  It was fine.  It soaked up the sauce nicely.

Next up, we return to Oceana for a country that isn’t pronounced the way you think it is.

Kuku Paku
Sukuma Wiki

International Meals – Kazakhstan

It’s been a hot minute since we posted one of these, but we’ve been busy.  Specifically, we’ve moved!  Now that we have our permanent residency in Canada, we decided that we’d rather start building some equity of our own, rather than continue to help our landlord do so. So we’ve purchased a condo.

Of greater relevance to THIS blog, however, is our new kitchen.  The oven is tiny, but we have SO much more counter space!

Counter space with dough ingredients
Look at all that room!  And there’s even more on either side of the range top.

Good thing, too, because the perceptive among you may have looked at that picture with flour, water, salt, and eggs, plus an expanse of blank countertop, and deduced that we are making glue.  But you’d be wrong, because glue doesn’t HAVE eggs, silly!  Add eggs to glue, and you get noodles!

Add sugar to glue, and you get cake.

I have no idea how cooking actually works.

At any rate, we are going to attempt the national dish of Kazakhstan, beshbarmak. Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers”, and is a dish of meat and noodles that is intended to be eaten with your hands on festive occasions.  Since it’s not a terribly complicated recipe, we decided to complicate matters a bit by making our own noodles.

To balance that, we are using a SLIGHTLY non-traditional way to cook the lamb.

Instant pot
Because we sprang for the Instant Pot with the stainless steel insert, we are going to be able to save some effort here by doing everything in one pot – moving it back and forth from the pressure cooker to the stovetop.

But first, let’s get that dough going.  Mix, knead, and rest.

Dough in plastic wrap.

Ball of dough in plastic wrap.  Not the most exciting photo.  Then roll out.  I rolled it to what I THOUGHT was fairly thin, but future me will wish I had gone even farther.

Dough rolled out and cut into squares
Various recipes have differing ideas about how large these squares should be.  Again, hindsight is 20/20, but we’d probably have gone slightly smaller if we knew then what we know now.

Here’s the sequence.  First, the lamb is cleaned with vinegar, and then boiled on the stove to get the first round of foam and fat off.

Lamb on stove.

Next, the meat is drained and then the pot is refilled with water for a 30 minute pressure cook.  At the end of this, you have tender cooked lamb and a nice pot of broth. The lamb is removed, and the broth goes back to the stove top, where it is used to cook a big pile of onions.

Chopped onions
Out with the onions, in with the pasta.  It poofed up pretty thick, which is why we wished past us had done a better job.

Pasta draining
Finally. two cups of the stock are boiled with more onions (diced this time), salt, and a fresh bay leaf to make a sauce.  Yes, I know – the joke is that bay leaves don’t actually DO anything.  I thought so too.  But science has been scienced, and you can’t argue with science.
Sauce and herbs
With that done, it’s time to assemble: noodles, onions, meat, greenery, (dill and parsley, here) and sauce, with a nice bowl of broth on the side.
Kazakh meal
And it was perfectly fine.  Super exciting?  Not really. But onions, dough, and meat with a few herbs is a nice filling comfort meal all over the world.

It’s not at the top of the list of international meals we’re eager to make again, but it’s ALSO nowhere near the top of the list of international meals that weren’t to our tastes, either.  It was just a solid, hearty meal that was MUCH easier to make on a big countertop.

Next up – Kenya!


International Meals – Jordan

Full disclosure – this meal was WEEKS ago.  But I wanted to finish writing up our Japan trip, and the school year is starting, and we’re buying a condo, and we agreed to run a roller derby officiating clinic, so it’s taken a bit.

We’ve visited this part of the world, primarily while in the “I”s, so I knew where to head for the specialty ingredients we would need.  The national dish of Jordan is Mansaf, which is meat cooked with a fermented yogurt sauce.

The original type of yogurt that would have been used with this is called laban jameed, and consists of goat’s milk yogurt that’s been preserved with salt and then dried into hard balls.  These are then crumbled and reconstituted, and represent a really clever way of storing milk in a hot climate.

However, this form is challenging to locate in North America, and every source we looked at assured us that Iranian liquid Kashk is essentially the same thing, just skipping the “dried and then rehydrated” step. So we got that.


Preparation of the dish as a whole is not complicated.  You just deal with each of the parts and then put them together.  Part the first: boil some nice lamb shanks until tender.
Lamb shank
(They are not yet tender in this photo.)

Part the second, thin the yogurt with a little bit of water, bring to a low heat on the stove and add the lamb.

Yogurt on stove
It doesn’t LOOK terribly appetizing at this point, but it had a wonderful tangy fragrance.

Part the third, make rice.  We continue to ignore directions that don’t involve “put in device designed expressly for this purpose and push button.”

Finally, bread.  We just purchased it, rather than making our own this time.
Persian bread

And that’s it for prep.  Final step is to just layer everything and pour more sauce over it all.

Assembled mansaf

We didn’t just make the one dish, however – we needed an accompaniment and something to drink.  For the former, we made a Jordanian roasted eggplant dip, moutabal. It seems very similar to baba ganoush, but apparently many baba ganoush recipes do not use tahini, and this one does.

At any rate, just like hummus, the recipe is pretty simple.  Cook your vegetable, eggplant in this case.

Eggplants on a roasting tray

Then mush them up with tahini, lemon juice and salt. Bam.


And to drink, Limoana, which is basically mint lemonade. Mint, fresh lemon juice, sugar, and ice.  What’s not to like?  Unfortunately, I didn’t let the sugar syrup cool far enough, so it melted the ice.  Still tasty, but not quite the intended texture.

Lemonade in a blender.
Here’s the final spread.
Jordanian meal
This was excellent.  The tangy yogurt coating on the lamb in particular was really memorable.  The bitterness of the eggplant was offset by the tartness of the lamb and the lemonade.  No notes.

And that’s Jordan, and the Js!  Next up, Kazakhstan.

Mansaf (Lamb with yoghurt sauce)
Moutabal (Roasted Eggplant Dip)
Limoana (Mint Lemonade)

International Meals – Japan

If you were to Google “national dish of Japan,” what would you expect to find?  Ramen? Sushi? Pocky?  Nope.  What tends to come back is “curry.” Now, obviously, “curry” is a word with easily hundreds of definitions around the world, but in Japan, it generally refers to this: (photo credit: Serious Eats)

Japanese curry boxes

Japanese curry tends to be very sweet, very mild, and really only dates from the mid to late 19th century.  We’re not making this.

Instead, we’re going to make some high-effort Tonkatsu ramen.  (“Tonkatsu” by itself is a fried pork cutlet. “Tonkatsu Ramen” means a broth made with pork bones.  I don’t know where the cutlet went in this etymology.)

As such, I biked over to Granville Island to start the process by seeing how many “misc” UPC tags I could induce the butcher to generate.  I’ve mentioned the Granville Island Public Market before – it’s a combination tourist trap / actual useful market, like Lexington Market in Baltimore, the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, or the West Side Market in Cleveland.  Unlike those, however, it’s also located on a beautiful island on the water, so my bike ride home looked like this:

Vancouver waterfront

My appreciation of the view was SLIGHTLY tempered by the rock-hard, ice-cold pig foot digging into my back.  The trouble with doing this by bicycle is that I had just purchased, in addition to the foot, a large bag of frozen bones (“misc”), a substantial quantity of frozen pork back fat (“misc”), and a slab of refrigerated, skin-on pork belly, (not “misc”)  all of which had to go in the backpack for my ride home.

But only slightly tempered.  I mean – LOOK at that view!

Once I got home, the actual ramenating was a process which would take several days.  First off, we wanted to make a pork chashu topping, which involves a long cooking time and then an overnight chill in the fridge.

First, the skin is removed from the pork belly, and saved for later.

Pork belly

Next, a little cha-shibari, and it goes in a pot with soy sauce, sugar, and water, to simmer for 3 hours. (Photo was taken before the addition of the water)

Finally it gets wrapped in plastic to set overnight.

Plastic wrapped pork

Now, since this makes WAY more chashu than we were going to need for two bowls of ramen, and we didn’t have time to make the broth the very next day, instead we decided to make Japanese curry out of a box.  So yeah, I lied about not making that.

Japanese Curry

We tossed in some apples and corn.  It was good!  Definitely NOT our official “Japan meal for the blog” however.

For that we needed to make the broth, which was an all day process.  Fortunately, Leigh generally works from home over the summer, so was able to babysit it during the day.  To start, we boiled the bones and pig foot by themselves for about half an hour to get off the initial round of froth.

Pig bones
After half an hour, you remove the bones, strain the liquid carefully to get rid of solids, and then return the liquid to the pot.  The bones and foot get washed, and then they go back in the pot as well.  What else goes in the pot? The skin from the pork belly, the back fat, an apple, an onion, and some garlic and ginger.

Broth cooking

This is all going on at 7:30 in the morning, to be clear.  At this point, I put on the heat and went to work.  Over the course of the day, Leigh continued to skim off foam, and top up the water as needed.  When I came home, the apartment smelled amazing.

Now, one of the things Tonkotsu broth is known for is its milky white color.  The way you get that is by carefully removing the fat and skin, which are just barely still solid at this point, and giving them a whir in the blender.

Pork fat in blender

That gets returned to the pot.

Broth still cooking

One thing this broth DOESN’T have in it is salt. A bowl of ramen consists of a number of parts.  There’s broth, noodles, toppings, and tare.  The last one is absolutely critical, as it contains a large part of the flavor of the broth, and ALL of the salt, which is absolutely necessary to bring out the taste of everything else.  There are several types of tare, including soy tare, miso tare and shio tare.

We’ll be making the last one, which literally just means “salt tare”.  Starting the night before, we soaked some konbu seaweed in water.

Konbu in water

An hour or so before dinner, the konbu is joined a pot with the soaking liquid and a whole pile of dried fish flakes. (That’s flaked dried fish, not the things you feed to your pet goldfish.)

Fish flakes
After that gets cooked down, the solids are discarded, and the liquid is blended with vinegar, sake, and soy sauce to make the final tare.

The one other topping we decided to make was some burned garlic oil.  I’m used to trying to keep garlic THIS color:

Garlic cooking
Nope – this recipe calls for THIS, and even a little past:
Burned garlic
Our other toppings included chopped green onion and some pickled garlic. Here we are, ready for final assembly.
Ramen ready for assembly

Clockwise from upper left – empty bowl, random hunk of ginger (not going into the ramen), garlic oil, bluetooth speaker (not going into the ramen),  shio tare, a chef’s knife (DEFINITELY not going into the ramen), chashu pork, and green onion.

Oh, right – we boiled some noodles too.  That took about two minutes. (These are technically soba noodles, but they were the best looking noodles at the Japanese grocer the day we went.)

And here’s the final product:


Whew!  That was a lot of work! But LOOK at that result – the broth was beautifully milky, the chashu just dissolved into the hot broth, the ginger, onions, and garlic oil added some nice contrast, and the whole thing was just stunning.

Doing ramen the high effort was is a challenge, and makes me appreciate WHY restaurant ramen is so much better than our usual efforts at home.  This was spectacular.  Big thank you also to our friends for loaning us their cookbook.  (Which does mean no recipes this time around, but if you want to get your own book, it’s this one.)

Next up, we’re going to be using this blog for it’s original purpose for a bit, because coincidentally enough, we’re off to Japan!  Once we’re back, it’s on to the last “J” country – Jordan!

International Meals – Jamaica

really don’t like eggs.

It’s weird – I’m fine with French toast, crepes, custard, even tamago, but for whatever reason, I find eggs as eggs completely unpalatable.  It doesn’t matter what form they are in – scrambled, poached, benedict – I just don’t care for the taste.  Which seriously limits my options at brunch restaurants.  I really wish I DID like eggs – that 80% of the menu looks very interesting!  But there you are.

So anyway, this week we’re making the national dish of Jamaica – saltfish and ackee.

What are ackee, you ask? They are a fruit which can be quite toxic if not prepared correctly.  For that reason, they are only available in the US and Canada canned. So off we went to the Caribbean market for a few cans of this stuff, along with a package of salted cod.
Canned Ackee
Huh.  That’s kind of a funny looking fruit on the can.  I wonder what it looks like when we open it up?

Opened cans of ackee
Oh.  Oh dear.  Did I mention I have an absolutely visceral dislike of scrambled eggs?

Now to be absolutely clear – ackee tastes absolutely nothing LIKE scrambled eggs. Honestly, it doesn’t seem to have much of a flavor at all.  If anything, I would describe it as being like an extremely mild, buttery cheese.  Maybe it’s different fresh?

But oh my goodness did this tweak something in my lizard brain. (“EGGS!” the lizard shouted.)

Let’s press on.  Like any dish involving salted fish, the first step is to soak the fish for as long as possible to draw out the salt.  We had about five hours, and I suspect more would have been better.

Salted fish
Once the fish has been soaked in a few changes of water, you boil it and then shred it up.  Meanwhile, in a pan, you cook onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, thyme (we used something labelled “Jamaican thyme,” but it didn’t seem any different from the regular kind), and a Scotch bonnet pepper.

Vegetables cooking
Once those have softened up a bit, you toss in the fish and the ackee and let it all heat up.  We found two recipes for this dish which were nearly identical, except one said to cook the ackee for absolutely no longer than three minutes, and the other said at least fifteen.

Fine.  This is like that time we found one set of directions that said we had to set our hot water heater absolutely no higher than 115 F to avoid burning ourselves, and another that said absolutely no lower than 130 F to avoid Legionnaire’s disease.


Anyway, to go with the saltfish and ackee, we made coconut rice, which is literally just rice cooked in coconut milk, with some green onions on top.  And here’s the two of them together:

Saltfish and ackee
My goodness, it REALLY looks like scrambled eggs, doesn’t it?

I will reiterate again, however, that it doesn’t TASTE like eggs.  Mostly it tasted like salt.  I think we needed to soak the cod overnight, or change the water more, or something, because the salt flavor was really overpowering.  The buttery fruit was quite rich, as was the coconut rice – I can see why this is frequently eaten for energy in the morning.

That said – it wasn’t really our favorite international dish we’ve made, and that was probably our fault.  If you asked me to tune it to my own parochial tastes, I would probably add quite a few more tomatoes for acidity, or perhaps some lime juice.  Just something to cut the richness. But again – that’s my taste, not a comment on the quality of the dish itself.

As always, we want to stress that if one of these dishes turns out not to our taste, we are NOT making any judgements on the quality of that country’s cuisine.  Rather, the fault lies either in our taste, or in our own uninformed execution of the dish.

We also made a coconut toto, which is almost certainly not named after the small dog that wrote the soundtrack for the original Dune movie.  Instead, it’s a standard cake, made by creaming together butter and sugar, and then adding flour, rum, desiccated coconut, and a LOT of nutmeg.

Coconut toto
Not super exciting to look at, but absolutely delicious for dessert.
Slice of coconut toto
So that’s the national dish of Jamaica.  Everyone thought we were going to make jerk chicken, curry goat, or oxtail for this one, and frankly, we probably still will sometime soon.  Not necessarily as an official addition to the blog, but just because we LIKE those things, and this go-round has reminded us of their existence.

Next up, Japan!

Saltfish and Ackee
Coconut Toto

International Meals – Italy, Part 3: Sicily

This meal seemed to be cursed.

We decided to celebrate the land of approximately 25% of my ancestors with a dish called Pasta con le Sarde, or “Pasta With Sardines.” So naturally, we needed to acquire some sardines.

The FIRST time I went to get sardines, my car battery died.  So not only did I not get sardines, I also missed a brass band rehearsal, and eventually had to pay a LUDICROUS amount of money to have the thing replaced.  Thanks, supply chain!

Take 2: Got in my car several weeks later to drive to Granville Island.  Car started right up, got to the fish counter, and found out that fresh sardines are no longer a thing in Vancouver.  Something about currents.  The curse then kicked up to high gear when I LEFT Granville Island, and discovered that a race course had been set up such that I couldn’t get back within half a mile of our apartment. I had to park a long way off, go get my horn, walk back to the car before my parking ran out (in the pouring rain, of course) and go sit in a library for the next two hours.

On the other hand, if I HADN’T gone to fail to get fish, I would have been trapped INSIDE the race route, so that’s something, I guess.

Sooo…. canned it is, I guess. Not the ideal choice, but better than nothing.  (We later found out that frozen can be had if you know exactly which specialty grocery store to hit, but the ones I tried didn’t have them.)

We ALSO managed to buy the wrong size pasta, but at that point we just wanted to EAT, darnit.

OK, so what even IS this recipe?  Well, it’s a somewhat similar flavor mix to the salad we had last time, but with the addition of this bad boy:


But lets not get ahead of ourselves.  Our mise en place starts with soaking raisins and saffron in hot white wine.  Sicily really has been a crossroads for a LOT of cultures over the years.

Raisins soaking in white wine

Next up, let’s fry some bread crumbs in olive oil.

Bread Crumbs

And then chop up a buncha other stuff, including the inevitable onion.

Mise en place

That package of pine nuts has now made an appearance in all three Italian meals, so they’re pulling their weight, for sure. In addition to those, onion and fennel fronds on the cutting board, and the aforementioned raisins and breadcrumbs up top, you can also see the jar of anchovies from last week coming back out for another appearance, and the chopped fennel BULB at upper right.

Everything ready, it’s time to start cooking. You start by softening up the onion and fennel, then you add in the anchovies.

Onions, fennel, and anchovies 
This gets cooked until the anchovies have basically completely dissolved into the oil, which is kind of amazing.  Next up, in with the raisins and wine, which get cooked until they reduce away.

Raisins going into the sauce
Finally, in go the sardines and pine nuts.

Meanwhile, the pasta gets cooked separately until just this side of done, and finally everything gets tossed together with a little bit of pasta water.

It’s not actually all that complicated a dish.  Did I mention we did this one on a weeknight?

The breadcrumbs go on at the end when the dish is served, along with the fennel fronds.  And here it is!

Sicilian PastaNot my best food porn, which is a shame, because this was actually delicious.  The sweet raisins, salty anchovies, toasty pine nuts and bread crumbs, fishy sardines, and pungent fennel, all combined to make something that really felt of a place – there wasn’t any question of “isn’t this the same as what you can get across the border in the next country over?”

It was also delicious.  If I ever spot fresh sardines on a counter, I’ll snap them up so we can try this again with the not canned kind.

And after a solid year… that’s the “I”s done!  It’s been a long trip.  Next up, Jamaica!

Pasta con le Sarde