Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 183! Tuvalu - Papaya Pineapple Marmalade - Up Next, Uganda

When I was kid, my Mom always had marmalade in the house. Golden-orange, glistening and sweet on the front of the tongue, tart half way through, and then just a hint of bitterness at the back, it was full of chewy slivers of Seville orange rind that released a heavenly orange blossom scent; this was real grown-up orange marmalade. Nothing Smuckers about it. As was her ritual, she would decant the marmalade from the store-bought container into a beautiful, antique cut-glass jam jar with a hinged sterling silver lid and matching spoon, which made spreading it all the more elegant. And, as was also her habit, she had it almost every morning on crispy toast with whipped sweet unsalted butter. A more beautiful accompaniment to black coffee does not exist. So, while this Pacific Islands recipe from the tiny island nation of Tuvalu is considerably sweeter (and more tropical) than the marmalade of my childhood memories, it has the very same sensory and and olfactory qualities that immediately awaken the senses in a distinctly foodgasmy kind of way. Now what could be bad about that?

A Polynesian island nation (formerly known as the Ellice Islands) in the Pacific Ocean, Tuvalu sits midway between Hawaii and Australia. Comprised of four reef islands and five atolls, it's closest maritime neighbors are Kiribati, Naru, Samoa and Fiji (all countries whose meals I've prepared!). Slightly more than 10,000 people live on this 10 square mile island, making it the 3th least populated and 4th smallest country in the world. Sadly, due to the earth's rising temperatures and global warming these low lying islands are experiencing increased risk of flooding and ecological damage that threatens their future existence.

First inhabited by Polynesians, the country was sighted by Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana in 1568. . By the 19 century, the country became a British protectorate, but in 1974, the islanders voted for separate dependency status from Britain and separated from the Gilbert Islands (now known as Kiribati). Finally, in 1978, the islands became an independent commonwealth. Interestingly, this island has no military force or budget and relies on the Maritme Police Surveilance Unit as needed. Close monitary ties are maintained with New Zealand  and Australia, and to a lesser degree with Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

Cuisine in Tuvalu is limited by the country's lack of fertile soil and the stress on fishing resources due to an increasing population. Pulaka, a tuber grown underground in composted soil is the main source of carbohydrates and fish, coconut crabs, turtle and sea birds supply protein. Bananas, breadfruit, coconut and coconut milk. In addition, only about 1,000 tourists per year visit the island due the country's remote location, so for the most part, simple, traditional food is the staple of Tuvalian people.

Dice a ripe pineapple
 Dice a ripe papaya
 I combined grated ginger, grated and zested lemon for texture and flavor
 Lemon juice and sugar are the only additional ingredients
 Combine everything in a pot, bring to a boil and cook until mixture reaches 244 F
 A golden spoonful of marmalade lusciousness - eat as is, on toast or use on pork!

Papaya-Pineapple Marmalade (Recipe adapted from The Pacific Islands Cookbook)

2 cups finely diced ripe pineapple (2 lbs.)
2 cups diced ripe papaya
4 cups sugar
1-1 / 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind  or lemon zest (½ lemon or more if you like it tart)
1 /4 cup lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger, if desired

Mix pineapple and sugar in large shallow saucepan and let stand while preparing the papaya.
Add papaya.
Add grated lemon rind and juice.
Bring slowly to boiling point and boil about 30 minutes until mixture sheets from spoon, or until temperature reaches 224º degrees Farenheit on a candy thermometer.
Pour into sterilized half-pint jars and seal.This marmalade does not keep longer than 6 months

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Day 182! Turkmenistan - Shurpa~Hearty Spiced Lamb - Up Next, Tuvalu

Tonight's aromatic and hearty soup is the perfect meal for a raw, wintry evening. Rich with root vegetables and lamb broth, I started it last night and refrigerated it overnight so I could easily skim excess fat off the top before adding the vegetables. And, like many soups, this one is delicious hot from the pot, but even better the next day after all the flavors have had a chance to meld. A simple, honest soup, infused with cumin, coriander and just the right amount of heat from red pepper flakes, this meal is sure to warm your belly and your soul.
Map Courtesy of Lonely Planet
One of six independent Turkic states in Central Asia, Turkmenistan was a constituent of of the Soviet Republic until 1991 when it declared it's independence. This beautiful, rugged country is bordered by Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea. A country many may not have heard of, Turkmenistan is the world's 4th largest producer of natural gas reserves, although much of this valuable resource is covered by black desert sand. The country is also one of the world's largest producers of cotton, and is known for producing beautifully embroidered silk fabrics. The county's long and interesting history includes conquests by the Achaean Empire of Ancient Persia and Alexander the Great, as well as the establishment of the Silk Road trading between Asia and the Mediterranean. In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered the region and introduced Islam and by the 12th century, Genghis Khan took control of the eastern portion of the Caspian Sea. Up until the 19th century, the Turkmen people lived under the rule and strife of various empires and labored under inter-tribal wars. By 1894, Russia gained control of the country and incorporated it into its empire. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country eventually declared independence.  To this day however, the country maintains severe restrictions on foreign travel for citizens and struggles with discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Cuisine in Turkmenistan has many similarities to Central Asian cooking as well as nomadic traditions, but differs in it's frequent use of fish, owing to it's proximity to the Caspian Sea. Overall, food is quite simple, using a variety of vegetables, radishes, tomatoes, onions, red and black pepper, mint, parsley, safron and garlic. Lamb, or mutton is the most common source of protein. Pilav, a lamb, carrot, rice and onion dish is among the most common. And, Shurpa (tonight's dish) is a regularly enjoyed soup made of lamb broth, potatoes (or root vegetables) and tomatoes. Bread is also a staple food, and cooked in clay ovens in nearly every home. Fruits and vegetables are grown in great variety, with melons being one of the sweetest, best crops the country offers.

Cube lamb and brown in oil in large dutch oven
 Add onions and brown
 Add broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours
Turnips, zucchini, carrots, green peppers and cilantro are added after meat is tender
 Cumin, Corriander and red pepper flakes
 Chick peas - I added extra because I love them
 The recipe called for whole tomatoes, but I used canned because I forgot to buy fresh - oops
Dice up vegetables and toss into the pot

 Ah, fragrant cilantro - and a sweet little dish I picked up for a buck at a church thrift shop
 Done! Shurpa - a lovely, rich root vegetable soup on a winter day

Shurpa - Hearty Spiced Lamb Soup (Recipe courtesy of soupsong)
Serves 8

1/4 cup olive oil
1½ pounds stewing lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup onions, chopped
10 cups beef stock
1 large turnip, peeled and cut into a ½-inch dice
1 large zucchini, cut into a ½-inch dice
2 carrots, cut into a ½-inch dice
2 big green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into strips
1½ pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1½ teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained
salt to taste
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
Garnish: 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large Dutch oven, brown the meat in the hot oil over high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the onions and cook 5 or so more minutes, until the onions are softened and have taken on color. Spoon off all the fat that you can, pour in the stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 1½ hours. Refrigerate the soup, preferably overnight, so you can easily remove the fat.

About an hour before serving, start chopping the vegetables. Bring the skimmed soup to a boil over medium heat, then add the turnip, zucchini, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cumin, hot pepper flakes, coriander, and chickpeas. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Salt to taste, then stir in the vinegar. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with lots of finely minced cilantro.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 181 - Turkey! Dolma Stuffed Grape Leaves with Ground Lamb ~ Up Next, Turkmenistan

When I was pregnant with my second son, I had a whole slew of bizarre food cravings. I couldn't stand the smell of Chinese food (which I love), couldn't get enough mangoes, and Italian food of any kind was my preferred dinner. I also had a brief love affair with tuna subs (with pickles, of course). But the random craving that most stands out was an intense 15 minute binge on stuffed grape leaves a.k.a. dolmas. On one particular trip to the grocery store, the craving was so overwhelming that I single mindedly hunted down a container in the refrigerated section, ripped the oily package open in the isle and dug in, impervious to the bemused looks of my fellow shoppers. Okay - I was 8 months pregnant and way, way past the "isn't she cute" look -- I was huge, desperate and had no shame. So, although Turkey has virtually hundreds upon hundreds of incredible dishes of all kinds, I had to make dolmas, because, well, I have an emotional attachment to them and have never tried to make them...until now...........

Located in Western Asia (Anatolian Peninsula) and East Thrace in Southeastern Europe, Turkey is bordered by Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria as well as the Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus, Aegean and Black Seas. A democratic, secular, constitutional republic, Turkey's ancient cultural heritage maintains it's traditions along with a strong economic, military and regional presence, owing in part to it's strategic location at the crossroad of Europe and Asia.. The country's rich history includes, but is not limited to, Alexander The Great's conquests, Achilles' famed battle against the Trojan's in Homer's Iliad as well as the site where the Ottoman Empire fought legendary battles. Some of the world's most extensive remains of the Roman Empire are preserved in this beautiful country. One of the world's oldest continually inhabited countries, the vast majority of Turkish people are Muslim and speak Turkish, but Kurkish and Zazaki are also spoken by Kurds and Zazas who account for about 18% of the population. A little known fact about Turkey is that the tulip was first cultivated in the Ottoman empire.

Cuisine in Turkey is influenced by Ottoman, Asian, Middle Eastern and Balkan traditions, but varies greatly by region. In the Aegean area, food tends to be lighter in it's use of spices and extensive use of seafood. In the Black Sea region, fish is a staple and to the southeast, Kebabs, mezes and bakalava are enjoyed. Still to the west, olive oil is used extensively, and is actually considered as a category of cooking all its own. Of course, stuffed grape leaves, or Dolma (means stuffed or to be stuffed), are regularly eaten in most households. When stuffed with a meat and rice mixture, they are served hot with yogurt and lemon. When stuffed with rice, they are generally served at room temperature.

Rice, pine nuts and mint for the filling - I used brown rice because that's what I had
 Grape leaves packed in water and salt - rinse, drain and pat dry
 Minced onions and garlic are sauteed in olive oil until soft
 Dried mint and dill 
 Finely chopped parsley - oops, I forgot to add it to the filling mixture
 Mix ground lamb with rice, onions and spices - I gave up on the spoon and used my hands
 1.Turn leaf shiny side down                                                                       
              2. Roll up
3. Fold one side over
                              4. Fold other side over
                                                                       5. Roll the whole thing up

Tower of Dolma Beauty
 Place dolma seam side down in a heavy dutch oven lined with grape leaves, add broth
 Place a heavy plate or weight on top of dolma to keep them from opening up while simmering
 Serve warm with lemon and yogurt - These are wonderful as an appetizer or main dish!

Dolma Stuffed Grape Leaves with Lamb (Recipe Courtesy of Epicurious)
*Can be adapted to vegetarian by omitting lamb and increasing rice to 1 cup*

1 lb ground lamb or beef
1 jar grape leaves
2 medium onions finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely chopped
3 T olive oil
2 T pine nuts
1 T dried mint
3 T minced Italian parsley
1 t dried dill weed
1/3 C uncooked long-grain white rice
2 C beef broth or bouillion
2 T fresh lemon juice
Lemon wedges


Sauté onion and garlic in 2 T olive oil until softened. Combine in large bowl with raw lamb or beef, herbs, rice, and pine nuts.

Unroll, wash and pat dry the grape leaves and trim off stems. With shiny side down, placed small amount of filling in center of each leaf and roll up, tucking in the sides. Arrange in layers, seam side down, in a large Dutch oven. Pour beef broth, lemon juice, and remaining T olive oil over the stuffed grape leaves, and lay a heavy heat-proof dish or press over them to keep them from unwrapping. Simmer uncovered 1 - 1-1/2 hours. Serve with lemon wedges - either hot or room temperature.

Makes 3-4 dozen, depending on size of grape leaves and amount of filling for each

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved