International Meals – Djibouti

Sometimes, this blog has long stories about the hunt for ingredients, or the problems of authenticity and colonialism, or moving to a foreign country during the apocalypse.

And sometimes we just make a straightforward recipe or two with readily available ingredients.

Our biggest concern coming into this week is that we have four countries coming up soon that are all in fairly close geographic proximity: Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, and that it might prove challenging to differentiate them.  But – it turns out that each one has an acknowledged national dish, and, miracles and wonders, they are not even tiny variants of the SAME dish.  They also don’t seem to involve endangered species.  That’s NEXT week…

Djibouti is a small country in East Africa at the exit of the Red Sea.  Its present borders were established when France decided it needed a way to keep an eye on the Suez canal, and did the imperialism thing.  The country has been independent since 1977.

Less important than the political borders, however, is the fact that Djibouti is a seaport with easy access to Africa, India, and the Middle East, and the cuisine combines all of those influences.  The acknowledged national dish is a lamb and rice dish named Skoudehkaris, which bears a strong resemblance to an Indian biryani.

The cooking is pretty simple – first brown the lamb in a heavy pot.

Lamb going into the pot

Once it’s seared, add some onions, garlic, tomatoes and spices.

Lamb with onions and spices

This spices in this case are a pretty standard mix of “c” spices – cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, cardamom, and cumin.  There are different versions of this recipe online, and we kinda took an average between them.  One of the question marks was whether to cook it on the stovetop or put the pot in the oven.  We opted for the oven so we could use the stovetop to make bread. Everything got covered with water, and in it went.

So… bread.  The traditional Ethiopian bread is injera, which is a delicious sour, spongy flatbread.  We have also failed miserably every time we’ve tried to make it.  Fortunately, Djiboutian breads tend to be closer to the Sudanese laxoox style than the Ethiopian style, meaning they are slightly thicker, and use millet or sorghum flour instead of teff.

Millet and whole wheat flour

The recipe we used called for a mix of millet flour, whole wheat flour, and regular flour.  Since we already have WAY too many types of specialty flour cluttering up the cabinet, I was happy to discover that our local grocer had whole millet in the bulk section, so we just made our OWN damn flour, in a nice small quantity.

The flour gets mixed with yeast and left to rise overnight, until it’s nice and bubbly.

Bubbly batter.

This is definitely much closer to a batter than a dough.  It’s a little thicker than pancake batter, but not much.  The hard part was getting it to achieve the nice dry texture on one side without burning on the other side.  We had… mixed success at this.  Leigh definitely did better than I did.

Laxoox in progress

This is a pretty good “in progress” shot – the texture is bubbly, which is right, but you can see some of the dough is still raw.

As we were finishing up the flatbreads, the stew came out of the oven.  Unlike most Indian biryani recipes, this recipe does NOT call for precooking the rice at all – the raw rice just gets hurled into the pot and left to cook and soak up the liquid until it’s ready to eat.  On balance, we should have probably used a bit MORE liquid, as the final product didn’t have as much sauce as the illustrations in the recipes.

Djiboutian meal

And there it is – a one pot lamb and rice stew that took next to no effort to make, and some nice chewy flatbreads to eat it with. No drama this week at all.

And it turns out – no drama can be pretty darn tasty!  The rice soaked up all the spices and was very flavorful.  The lamb turned out perfectly cooked, and the flatbreads that weren’t either raw or burned (i.e., the ones Leigh made) were perfect for scooping everything up together.  I would heartily recommend this stew as a midweek meal, as long as you can wait the hour or so it takes to cook.

A note on the recipes – both of the version of this stew that we consulted come from slicker, more professional “Recipe around the world” blogs than ours.  There’s always a BIT of a concern going to “international food for westerners” sources that they’ve been dumbed down, but as far as we can tell, this really is the basic outline of the recipe.

Djibouti –  your food is tasty! And, we appreciate not having to drive halfway across Canada for obscure cooking supplies for a change.  Next week, the tiny island of Dominica, which is definitely NOT the Dominican Republic.

Skoudehkaris #1
Skoudehkaris #2
Laxoox (Djiboutian Bread)

International Meals – Denmark

Denmark did not quite go as planned.

I mean, I’m sure the country is doing fine, but our Danish meal ran into a few snags.

One of the quintessential Danish foods is Rugbrød, a particular style of sourdough dark rye bread which is used to make open faced sandwiches.  Having it on the table would be at least somewhat of a guarantee that we were in the neighborhood of authenticity. But we don’t have a sour going right now, and we don’t need a new pet.

Still, Vancouver is an enormous, diverse city – how hard can it be to find Danish rye?  Quite challenging, as it turns out.  There was a Danish baker just a few blocks from my office, which closed in 2018 after sixty years in business.  So that’s a shame.

And then I found La Charcuterie.  Their website lists a HUGE array of Scandinavian products.  Rugbrød! Spiced Herring! Medisterpølse! (A coiled Danish sausage.) And they have a deli attached.  Awesome, right?  It’s an hour drive away, but we can get some great Danish sandwiches, buy the products we want, maybe have a browse around for other things that would work well, and be all set for our Danish meal.

Our first clue should maybe have been that “La Charcuterie” ain’t exactly a Danish spelling.

When we got to the store, which is in a run down industrial park between a motorcycle shop and an auto parts store, there was a line of people out the door.  OK, this is a good sign, right?

Well, no.  Apparently the owner of this shop is a local legend, to the point that there has been an entire documentary made about him.  What he is legendary for is a constant, CONSTANT stream of vulgar stories, and enormous, cheap sandwiches. Turns out we had arrived in the domain of “The Sandwich Nazi.”  Seriously – that’s what it said on the door and on his Facebook page.

The store itself contained almost nothing of the bounty of Danish products advertised on the website – lots of tinned fish, but pretty much nothing else.  No Danish bread. (The sandwiches are on standard sub rolls.) No medisterpølse. No spiced herring.  Heck, not even a choice in what you are being served past “How many sandwiches you want?” (There was a menu on the wall, but it’s apparently just there for decoration.)  You have to pay cash, and you have to make your own change from the huge pile of loose bills sitting on a table behind the counter, because apparently he got busted for not washing his hands between handling money and food.

Oh, and the Sandwich Nazi is apparently Lebanese.

The sandwiches are enormous and overstuffed, but otherwise completely average.  Just a big pile of cold cuts on bread.  Dirt cheap, though – easily four servings from one 10CAD sandwich.

However, we were left with no Danish products whatsoever.

So we went home and bought some Russian Dark rye at Sav On Foods, which is not right, but as close as we could get, and some local pickled herring.

Oh well.  Let’s move on to the actual COOKING portion of the program, shall we?  Denmark had a survey for the official national dish in 2014, and the winner was stegt flæsk med persillesovs, or grilled pork belly with parsley sauce.  Accompanied by waxy potatoes, this is actually a pretty simple dish to make, and represents the third technique we’ve used to cook pork belly in the last two months.  (We also fried it for Colombia, and braised it for Dong Po Pork, which was not part of this blog series.)

To cook the pork belly, it is simply sliced into relatively thick slices and then roasted in a hot oven for 40 minutes until crisp.


Uncooked pork belly


Roasted Pork Belly

Meanwhile, you make a parsley sauce.  It starts with a butter and flour roux, into which you add milk.  This is cooked until it is thick, and then you season it and add a whole pile o’ parsley.

Parsley sauce

I am relatively certain we did not get this quite thick enough.  It was tasty, but runnier than in the video we watched.

This was accompanied by nicely boiled new potatoes.  Here’s the whole spread:

Danish meal

Denmark also has the advantage of being one of the few countries that we can simply walk down the street and easily buy beer from.  We know where to get Estonian beer in Vancouver, but the next time it’s going to be EASY isn’t going to be until Germany. (France?  Maybe?  I don’t know any French beers, but I don’t drink a lot of pilsners.)

But let’s not distract from the meal at hand!  How was stegt flæsk med persillesovs? Quite tasty!  Roasting the pork belly made it deliciously crispy, and drowning it in the parsley sauce (I put a lot more on after taking this picture) was a fantastic flavor enhancement.  The potatoes turned out perfectly, and also soaked up the sauce quite well.  And while the herring and bread weren’t the right herring and bread, they were still delicious.

I will mention dessert, which, while not Danish, was funny.  Nigella Lawson’s recipe of the day for inauguration day was, for some reason, “Bitter Orange Tart.” Can’t imagine why. But since I found some Seville oranges at the Granville Island Market, here it is.

Bitter Orange Tart

Next up, we head to eastern Africa for the first time since Burundi with the small nation of Djibouti.

Stegt flæsk med persillesovs (pork belly with parsley sauce)
Bitter Orange Tart


International Meals – Democratic Republic of the Congo

It’s been a year, but it’s time to start a new letter!  There’s only five “D” countries, so this will probably take a little less time.  This week, we start with the other “Congo” country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Which was renamed “Zaire” from 1965 until 1997.)

As we pointed out a few weeks ago when we did the Republic of the Congo, the DRC was principally oppressed by Belgium, rather than France who did the oppressing across the river. However, there are a lot more similarities than differences, to the point that they two countries share the same national dish, which we have chosen to prepare for this meal, rather than last time.

That national dish is Poulet à la Moambé, a chicken stew made with palm nut cream.  We’ve encountered palm nut oil repeatedly in African recipes, but this stuff is a bit different.  For one, it comes in a can, rather than a bottle:

Can of palm nut cream

For a second, the actual product looks very different, but we’ll get to that in a second.

First, let me talk about the exact recipe we chose to use.  There’s a number of versions of this recipe online aimed at western cooks.  It’s not surprising, because (spoiler) this stew is REALLY GOOD.  So we started by reading those.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all of them call for peanut butter rather than palm nut cream, because it’s a much more readily available ingredient in North America.  We would likely have picked one of those until I ran across this simple comment in response to one of the more promising:

“That’s a lovely recipe but not moambe.”

To their credit, the blog authors (I’ll link the whole post below) respectfully entered a conversation with the commenter, who ended up sharing their full recipe for authentic moambé chicken made with palm nut cream.  And THAT’S the one we’re making today – one we literally transcribed from a comment thread.

We start the recipe by sweating some onions and garlic in red palm oil. (We haven’t gotten to the cream yet.)

Onions being sweated

Once those are translucent, we add some cumin, water, thyme, a scotch bonnet pepper, and the cream which, as it turns out, has the consistency of natural peanut butter.

Moambé going into the pot.

(Not the best picture, sorry.)  After the moambé has melted, the sauce is left to simmer for a LONG time. All of the timings in this recipe are somewhat vague, but 90 minutes seemed a good approximation.  At the end of that period, a thick layer of oil has separated, and is floating on the top of the sauce.

Oil separating from moambé sauce

The next bit was rather annoying – we had to skim off the oil without bringing too much of the very thick underlying sauce with it.  This oil was used to sear our chicken pieces on both sides.

Chicken pieces searing

Once they have a good color, they get thrown back into the pot of sauce, and left to simmer for as long as you can possibly stand it, while your apartment fills with the impossibly delicious smell of this stew.

Cooked stew

Note the happy little Scotch bonnet pepper floating around in there.

While we’re pretty comfortable with the authenticity of this dish, the next one is a bit more of a question mark.  Lots of African recipes call for chopped leaf vegetables. There’s always a question, however, as to which ones are the best choices.  In the past, we’ve used spinach. However, for this one, we wanted to try amaranth, which is also a staple vegetable in Africa.

However, we ended up with a version we bought at a Chinese supermarket, marked “Xian Cai”.  Is this the same amaranth that is grown in Africa?  Is it authentic to the DRC? I must confess, we really don’t know. The recipes calls for “wild spinach”, which the African grocer MIGHT have had in the freezer, but we decided we’d rather sacrifice certainty for taste.

But let’s get on with it.  We’re making a variant of a dish called “Fumbwa”, which would normally involve dried fish.  We varied it by leaving out the fish, but otherwise left it basically the same.

It’s a pretty simple preparation. First, you chop the leaves.  The Chinese amaranth we bought has pink streaked through the leaves, and is quite attractive:

Chinese amaranth

You can see why we decided to go with these rather than frozen spinach leaves!

The leaves are simmered in water with a bit more palm oil, scallions, garlic, tomatoes, and a stock cube.

Stew simmering.

It is then finished with either peanut butter or ground peanuts.  If peanut butter, you have to wait for it to melt, but ground peanuts just need to cook long enough to heat through.  Here’s the final product.

Finished amaranth stew

And finally, we made fufu. Again.

Fufu.  Again.

Fufu is an incredibly important subsistence food throughout Africa.  It’s hard to understate how critical it is for meeting basic caloric requirements for millions of people. Very few Congolese could afford to make the chicken stew we are making here on a regular basis – fufu is truly a critical part of the food ecosystem on the continent.

But man – am I terrible at making it appetizing.  We tried adding butter and salt to the cassava flour and water paste this time.  It didn’t seem to help.  As always, it functioned as a reasonably adequate way to move sauce from plate to face, but since we ARE privileged enough to have chicken available, we mostly stuck with that and the amaranth stew.

Here’s the final assembly:

DRC Full Meal

Doesn’t that look pretty? It’s not JUST about appearances, of course, but it doesn’t hurt that the colors on this plate are gorgeous.

And you know what?  It doesn’t just look good – it’s delicious! The chicken was fall-apart tender, and had absorbed the deliciously not-quite-peanut flavor of the moambé and the other seasonings.  And as tasty as the chicken was, the amaranth almost stole the show – the peanuts, tomatoes, and greens together made for a tart, salty, and crunchy combination that was just dynamite.  The one change I would make for next time would be to slice the Scotch bonnet, rather than leaving it whole, to try and kick the heat up another notch or two.  (It was great as it was, but it would ALSO be great spicier.)

This is definitely one of our favorite African national dishes so far, and we certainly hope DRC can find the stability and development it needs for more of the population there to be able to enjoy it on a regular basis.

Next up, we return to Europe to visit Denmark!

Moambé Chicken (This is the blog from which we copied the recipe out of the comments.  I’ve transcribed the version we used in a more traditional format below.)
Fumbwa (Congolese Spinach Stew)

Moambé Chicken
(Per “e” in the comments of the blog above)
2 large onions
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tbs ground cumin
1 can tomato paste
handful of fresh thyme, tied with twine
800g can of Palm Nut Cream
2 cubes stock
1 hot pepper (optional)
2 lbs chicken

1. Sweat onions in palm oil with a good amount of salt at medium high in a heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven.
2. Once the onions are translucent, add garlic and cumin.  Cook until fragrant.
3. Add tomato paste and allow to darken
4. Lower heat, add thyme, entire can of Palm Nut Cream, stock cubes, and about 3/4 L water until cream is completely covered.
5. Cook, stirring, until the cream has melted.
6. Add water until the mixture has the consistency of brown soup.
7. Add hot pepper if desired. (Dan: consider slicing for maximum effect.)
8. Allow to come to boil and cook for ~45 minutes until thickened a bit.
9. Lower the heat, partially cover, and cook for a further 45 minutes, adding water as needed to prevent it becoming too thick. This would be a good time to take your chicken out of the fridge so it comes up to room temperature.
10. Apply a little salt to the chicken and cut breasts into large pieces. Remove skin if present.
11. The moambe should change smell somewhat, oil should be visible on top.  Be careful, as the hot oil can spatter, burn, and stain.
12. Carefully skim the oil from the sauce.
13. Using the oil, brown the chicken on all sides.
14. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper, then add the chicken.
15. Cook until breasts have fallen apart and other cuts are done. (ideally, simmer as long as possible here.)

International Meals – The Czech Republic

And so, we come to the end of the “C”s!  Amazingly, it has taken almost precisely a year of calendar time – Cambodia was February 9, 2020.  Of course, February 9, 2020 was  A BILLION YEARS AGO.  Remember Australian wildfires? Or, you know, other people?

Le sigh.

But we’re going out with a tasty meal, anyway.  We’ve both actually BEEN to the Czech Republic, which makes it only the third country on the list for which that is true. (The other two being Belgium and Canada; Leigh but not Dan has been to Austria.) If you would like to read about our exciting adventures in the land of Smetana and Pavlov, you can start here.  Our trip included a food tour, and we’d definitely recommend it to visitors to Prague once the apocalypse concludes.

The national dish of the Czech Republic is pečené vepřové s knedlíky a se zelím, or Roast Pork with Dumplings and Cabbage. We are NOT going to be using the Czech spellings for things more than once, because diacriticals are HARD, y’all.

So there’s three things here – dumplings, cabbage (in the form of saurkraut), and pork.  Let’s start with the dumplings, since they were the most work.  Right off the bat, we run into the only new-to-us ingredient this week: Instant Flour!

Instant Flour

Sold under the brand name “Wondra” in the US, this is apparently flour which has been pre-cooked and has a coarser texture than regular flour.  The Czech person who made the video we were following was insistent that all-purpose flour would NOT give the right texture for the dumplings.  And who are we to argue with a Czech person on the internet?

The interesting thing is that apparently this stuff is regularly available in just about any supermarket, and we just never noticed it, because we never needed it.

So using the instant flour, you make an otherwise standard yeast dough, and then leave it alone to rise.

Dumpling Dough

Once it’s risen, you divide it into three parts and shape them into cylinders:

Dumplings before baking.

Not super pretty, but then I never actually claimed we knew what we were doing.  And at any rate it doesn’t matter.  Because the next step for these dumplings is to be steamed, and they only JUST barely fit in our steamer.  Which means that AFTER steaming, and the concomitant volume gain, they were going to be shaped EXACTLY LIKE the steamer:

Steamed dumplings

However, while the appearance won’t win any prizes, the texture turned out just about perfect – just the right mix of chewy and bouncy.  You’ll see them sliced up down below.

Next up, sauerkraut!  We made another trip to Granville Market, not because it was necessarily the CLOSEST place to get sauerkraut, but because we like going to Granville Market.  We also bought some Czech salami that didn’t actually make it into the meal.

The Czech take on cabbage is actually quite different from a lot of other places.  We STARTED with a tub of pickled cabbage that we could very easily have just donked out on a plate and eaten as is.  We then added salt, caraway seeds, and a surprising amount of sugar.  This got cooked for a good 30 minutes or so.

Sauerkraut Cooking

While the sugar was soaking into the cabbage, in another pan we browned some onions in oil.  And the recipe is not kidding about browning – you cook them for a good 15-20 minutes.

Browned onions

One the onions are cooked, they get thickened with (regular) flour to make a roux, and that gets dumped back in with the cabbage.  The whole mixture is then cooked for a bit longer so it becomes a thick, sweet, cabbagy sauce.  Very different from the sharp kraut that gets put on hot dogs at the ballpark.

Finally, let’s talk pork.  It is a running joke between Leigh, I, and… well pretty much anyone who, you know, likes food, that any time a recipe calls for a single clove of garlic that there must be some mistake.  Surely they must mean a head of garlic, right?

Well, this recipe DOES call for a head of garlic.


We do love us some garlic.  Maybe not PEELING an entire head of garlic, but it’s a small price to pay, right?  In addition to the garlic, the only other seasonings going into the pan with the pork are an onion, some salt, and caraway seeds. Cover with water, and you’re done with prep.  The pork is by far the simplest dish on the menu tonight.

Pork before cooking.

The only fussiness is that you have to flip the pork chunks a few times during cooking.  Which, honestly, is not that fussy.

And that’s it! Pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings!  This is ALSO the first country we’ve done since Belgium (and Canada, of course) where we’ve been easily able to run down to the neighborhood liquor store and pick up beer from the country in question. Although we did learn on our food tour that the Pilsner Urquel that gets exported is NOT really the same as what you get if you order it in the coutnry.

Still – ain’t that purdy?  Honestly, this plate should have had more cabbage, and it shortly DID.  This is not a meal for people who want carefully delineated zones of food on their plate.  This is a meal for slopping everything together, and trying to get some dumpling, pork, and cabbage in each bite.

And the cabbage really was the star of the show – the sweet, thick, saucy cabbage mortared the pork and dumplings into a whole that was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  The meal would definitely be one I would prepare for guests who I LIKED, and wanted to FEED, not necessarily impress with artsy presentation.

And – there was desert!

Kolaches are a traditional Czech pastry that consists of a puffy dough with a variety of possible fillings.  This was actually the fussiest of all the things we made – some versions of this recipe (not the one we used, of course) can require up to five separate rises! The dough itself is quite rich and reminiscent of challah, using milk, butter, and eggs. It’s also very soft.

Kolache Dough

After the dough has risen, you shape it into little balls, put them in a pie tin, and then let them rise again.

Dough balls before risingDough balls after rising

The holes in the “post rise” picture are not some weird artifact of the rise – we pushed those in on purpose.  Why did we do that?  Fillings! Tasty, tasty fillings!  There were a number of possibilities, but we went with three very traditional ones – sweetened cream cheese, apricot, and plum.

Kolache fillings

Fine, Czech pedants – we are aware that PRUNE, not PLUM is the traditional filling.  Close enough, and this plum jam (also purchased on our market trip) is amazing. A quick egg wash and bake, and this was the final result:

Finished Kolaches

And seriously – what is not to like here? Soft, chewy, pastry, and sweet gooey stuff in the middle.

Czech Republic – your food is tasty, your statuary is very weird, and we salute you for both.

A note on the recipes for this week – the recipes for everything but the Kolaches are extracted from videos on the website “”.  Since videos are really annoying to cook from, I transcribed them, and will include both the transcribed text and the original videos.

Next time, we start the (much shorter) list of “D”s with the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

Roast Pork, Dumplings, and Sauerkraut. (Video)
Czech Pork and Cabbage Text
Czech Dumplings Text



International Meals – Cyprus

I guarantee we will NOT be maintaining an average pace of an international meal every 4 days for the entire year.  But it’s tasty while it lasts…

Today we head to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has had a long and checkered history. It has at various times been conquered by Alexander the Great, Cato the Younger, Richard the Lionheart, the Republic of Venice, and the Ottoman Empire. It has also been sold outright to the Knights Templar and leased to the British. The twentieth century history of the island is ugly.  The northern third has been occupied by Turkish troops since 1974, and Turkey is the only UN country which recognizes it as a separate state.

But you can’t eat politics, so what makes Cypriot food different than Greek or Turkish food?  In a word: halloumi. What is halloumi, you ask?

Haloumi Cheese

That label ain’t kidding, either – halloumi is indeed unique and delicious. It will turn up in two of our three dishes today, and there’s absolutely no reason we couldn’t have put it in the third one. A traditional preparation, as can be seen on the package, would be to grill slices of this, and it’s also frequently used in saganaki, where it is set on fire.

Wait, why didn’t we set this on fire?  That sounds AWESOME!


We’re making three dishes – a cheese filled pastry, a ground pork and pasta bake, and a side salad.  Another unquestionably Cypriot choice would have been a type of sausage called sheftalia, made with caul fat. Not finding it for sale in our local Mediterranean grocer, and not wanting to go down the road of making sausage from scratch, we opted to skip that one.

Let’s start with the salad.  Apparently the one unique ingredient that would make this an undoubtedly Cypriot salad, rather than just your basic Greek salad, would be caper leaves.  Couldn’t find those, so this is a Greek salad, Feta cheese and all.  This is where we could have tossed in halloumi if we wanted to, but we decided to opt for variety.  While there’s nothing particularly Cypriot about this in its current incarnation, it’s certainly something you could easily eat while you were there.

Greek salad

Moving on, our next ingredient was a cheese filled pastry called flaounes. According to the apparently Irish person in THIS video, neither Google translate nor he has the slightest idea how to pronounce it. According to the actual Cypriot person in this video, it’s pronounced “FLAU-neighs”.  But do watch the Irish guy, he’s funny.  He also points out that this pastry was a technical challenge in a Season 6 episode of the Great British Baking Show. More on that later. They are eaten at Easter by Orthodox Cypriots, and as a Ramadan fast breaker by Muslim Turkish Cypriots.

So how do you make these things? First off, you need to make your dough and give it time to rise. This is a yeast raised pastry, interestingly enough.  It’s a pretty standard dough – flour, water, salt, yeast, and olive oil for fat:

Dry ingredients for dough.

The recipe was a bit vague on quantities.  “Add enough water to make it firm.”  mmkay… Well, we all know variable hydration is a thing in baking recipes anyway, so we took our best guess. It ended up a bit too wet, and we had to add more flour when we were rolling it out to keep it from being a blobby sticky mess.

While the dough was rising, we made our cheese filling.  Traditional flaounes have a traditional mix of traditional cheeses in addition to traditional halloumi that we were NOT able to locate in Vancouver. Other alternatives that are suggested online are havarti, pecorino Romano, and cheddar.  Our recipe called for cheddar, so that’s what we did – grated with the Halloumi, a bit of flour and mint, some baking powder for leavening, and some eggs. Raisins are also SUPER common in these things, but we decided to make the perfectly acceptable raisinless version. (Yes, spell checker, I am sticking with “raisinless” as a word.  Go away.)

Unmixed cheese filling

This photo is obviously pre-mixing and pre-eggs. Once the dough had risen and the filling had cooled off in the fridge, it was time to assemble our pastries.  Another point of controversy, in addition to raisins or raisinless (now I’m just screwing with the spell checker on purpose), is the shape in which to fold them.  Triangular and square both seem to be a thing.  We made a few of each.

Unbaked Flaounes

And here’s what they looked like after a quick egg wash and a fifteen minute bake:

Cooked Flaounes

Aren’t those pretty?  And they were VERY tasty.  The dough ended up with the approximate consistency of a pretzel, which makes no sense, because we did none of the things you would do to achieve that consistency in an ACTUAL pretzel. But who cares?  We LIKE pretzels, and we LIKE cheese, and man oh man do we love flaounes.

On to the main dish, Makaronia tou Fournou. Literally, “Oven Baked Pasta,” it’s the Cypriot version of a Greek casserole called Pastitsio. Ground meat, pasta, lots and lots of mint, and a Bechamel sauce on top.  The Cypriot element comes from once again putting in lots of halloumi cheese.

This one’s a bit of a timing challenge, because ideally you want to have your meat, your pasta, and your Bechamel all done at about the same time. This also resulted in somewhat fewer PICTURES of this process.  But here’s all three pots going at once in all their glory:

Let’s talk about these one at a time.  Upper left is penne pasta. Salt, water, pasta. Bam. No more talking.

At right is the meat.  Ground pork, in this case, which means this ISN’T the version the Turkish Cypriot Muslims are making. In addition, the recipe calls for onions, cinnamon, a LOT of mint, black pepper, cumin, and white wine.  As I am writing this up, I see it ALSO calls for parsley.  Which we did buy.  Probably should have used that.  Oh well. Maybe I’ll make tabouli this week.

Meat for Cypriot pasta bake

Seriously – this uses a LOT of dried mint. Finally, there’s the sauce.  Bechamel is one of the classic French sauces – it’s a cheesy white sauce thickened with flour.  It can be insipid if you’re not careful.  But we’re using really GOOD cheese here.  No in process pictures, sadly, but the process is “stir continuously for fifteen minutes,” so between that and trying to time the meat and the pasta, we didn’t remember the document this one.  That’s OK – just imagine a pot filled with featureless white sauce and you’re there.

The final assembly is just like a lasagna – layers of pasta, meat, and cheese (more haloumi, of course) topped with a thick layer of sauce and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Unbaked pasta bake

And after 25 minutes in the oven, hellloooo beautiful!

Baked pasta bake

The instructions said to let it cool for… an hour? That can’t be right, we’re hungry NOW.  Well, let’s start with some salad and flaounes.

Salad and flaounes

Upon further consultation, the recipe said we COULD go ahead and eat our pasta sooner, it would just be a bit messy. That’s cool, we’re hungry.

Serving of pasta bake.

This was very good.  NOT a meal for the lactose intolerant, but with a nice Mediterranean spice palate of mint, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg. And tasty, tasty cheese.

Since there were lots of leftovers, here’s a shot from the following evening’s dinner that shows what a slice of this stuff is supposed to look like if you actually let it set up properly.  For starters, it’s supposed to come in units of “slices” not “piles.”

Slice of pasta bake.

Cypriot food is pretty dang tasty, and we could definitely see making either of these dishes for other people in the future, once other people become a thing again.

A word on flaounes and The Great British Baking Show. A sad void in our pop-culture education was that neither of us had ever watched a single episode.  So, wanting to see what TV bakers would do with these things, we watched the episode in question.

A few observations:
1. GBBS is awesome, and we would like to watch more of it.
2. It is utterly unfair to judge someone for their pastry not looking right when the directions are SUPER VAGUE as to what is “right” and have no pictures.  I loved the show overall, but that part was REALLY mean, and it made me sad.

Next time, our final “C” country, the Czech Republic!

Makaronia Tou Fournou (Cypriot Pasta Bake)
Easter Flaounes
Cypriot Village Salad