Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kyrgyz Plov Recipe

Kyrgyz chicken plov

Pilaf, plov, pulao, pilahvi, pelau, paella...different names for a rice based dish common in many countries. The Kyrgyz version called plov has meat and carrots while dried fruits and nuts are added in some other Central Asian countries like Tajikistan. Carrots are not commonly used to make plov other than in Central Asia. The Pakistani pulau has meat and lot of spices, the Spanish paella includes seafood while the Italian pilota has meat incorporated into a rice risotto. 

Plov is a surprisingly tasty dish made with just a few core ingredients. The Central Asian plov is probably almost always cooked with unlean (fatty!) chunks of meat and bones. Generally red meat is used but chicken plov is quite nice as well. Today I used (boneless!) sausage. Using sausage is uncommon, I used it because that’s what I had in the freezer.

Few points to note when making plov:
1. If you plan to use boneless meat keep the bones and add it together with meat when cooking
2. Garlic is cooked in stock, not sautéed. If you really want to sauté the garlic make sure it does not turn brown or burn, you will taste this later. I already made this mistake!
3. If you want to add spices, use pepper and cumin. Mixed herbs also works well.
4. Don’t be shy with the carrots. This is a carrot and meat dish after all, they both play a lead role.
I got asked a question regarding type of rice to use. I use parboiled rice. I think wholegrain/brown rice will work well also. For authentic Kyrgyz plov the variety of rice used is probably difficult to find in Europe. The rice is colored brick red, when you wash it the water turns red and streaks of red remain on the rice, even after cooking. The rice is thicker than long grain. Its thickness is comparable to calrose/arborio but longer and not as starchy. The rice remains firm even after cooking.

The recipe below is for one generous portion. A ‘standard’ recipe uses 1 part meat, 1 part carrots and two parts rice, by weight. 


One portion meat (100-150 grams) cut into 2cm cubes, or bigger
1 large carrot, cut into strips (about 2 cm long and 2-3mm wide)
½ medium sized onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, diced
50ml rice, thoroughly washed
75 ml water
2 tablespoons oil

1.  Heat oil over medium flame
2.  Add meat, carrots, onion and salt. Cook until the meat has browned, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking
3.  Add water and garlic, cover and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes
4.  Reduce heat to medium low, add rice and cook covered until rice is done, about 25-30 minutes
5.  Serve. If you want to be authentic serve a large 'mountain' of plov scattered with chunks of meaty bones and a whole bulb of steamed garlic sitting on top

Spinach in Blue Cheese Sauce with Fusilli

Spinach in Blue Cheese Sauce with Fusilli

This is a simple dish that can be ready in about 10-15 minutes. It is packed with flavour and nutrition.

For the blue cheese sauce I used equal amounts of blue cheese and crème fraiche. The cheese I used was soft ripened. It had an intense flavour, hence only a small amount was needed.

Instead of crème fraiche you can use buttermilk, yogurt, cream or milk.

There is no need to blitz the sauce since the cheese will melt when you add to the warm spinach.

The recipe does not have amounts. I estimated the amounts when cooking. The only thing to be careful of is the amount of sauce. If you add too much you will have to add more spinach to balance it, and this will be tricky. Use less sauce to start with and add more if necessary. 


Onion, diced
Meat such as bacon or smoked sausage (optional)
Garlic, minced or finely chopped
Blue cheese
Crème fraiche

1.       If using meat, fry it in oil over medium heat until caramelised
2.      Add onions and cook until translucent
3.      Add garlic and cook for a minute or two before it starts to brown
4.      Add spinach and seasoning
5.      Cook until the spinach is done
6.      Add blue cheese sauce and let it warm through
7.      To prepare blue cheese sauce, mix blue cheese and crème fraiche.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Savoury Polenta Recipe

Savoury Polenta with Pickled Herring and Carrots

This is a nice alternative to regular creamed cheesy polenta. Onion, garlic and mustard seeds add a nice savoury touch. Just a few additional ingredients, procedures and minutes completely transforms the polenta. I like both the creamed version as well as the savoury version but it is good to have choices to suit different moods and diets! The amount of water to use depends on your preference. If you use less water the polenta will be firmer.

50 ml fine polenta
150ml-250 ml water
½ medium onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons oil
Cooked beans, meat or vegetables (optional)
Chili powder or paprika (optional)

1.      Heat oil over medium heat
2.      Add mustard seeds and when they start pop add onion and salt
3.      Sauté onion until it starts to turn brown, then add garlic and sauté for few minutes more. Don’t let the garlic burn
4.      Add water and polenta and stir vigorously to avoid lumps being formed
5.      Cook until polenta is ready, about 10 minutes. Keep stirring the whole time

    One Pot Rice and Blackbeans Recipe

    One Pot Rice and Blackbeans

    This is a simple and delicious one pot dish. The dish can be ready in about 20 minutes, with minimal effort required. The end result is like risotto, creamy with a rich sauce. 

    Meat, fish or vegetables can be added, if preferred.

    Don’t be shy with salt, the dishes uses a lot.

    ·   50 ml rice
    ·   150 ml water, boiling
    ·   50ml tomato puree
    ·   100 ml cooked blackbeans
    ·   ½ onion, chopped
    ·   1 clove garlic, minced
    ·   ½ teaspoon mixed spice of your choice
    ·   1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (optional)
    ·   1 tablespoon oil

    ·   Saute onions and garlic over medium heat until translucent
    ·   Add tomato puree and cook for about 5 minutes
    ·   Add rice, beans and water and cook covered until rice is done, about 15-20 minutes
    ·   Optional: Drizzle some olive oil or stir in some butter before serving, for extra flavour and creaminess.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Polenta Porridge Recipe

    If you are slightly bored with regular rolled oats porridge and looking for exciting alternatives, polenta porridge is worth considering. It has all the characteristics that you look for in a good porridge – creamy, filling, tasty and quick and easy to prepare.

    Generally it takes a long time for polenta to cook. For example the recommended cooking time for coarse polenta is 40-50 minutes while its a bit quicker for fine polenta. Personally I have never followed the recommended cooking times since it is far too long for me. I usually cook polenta until it reaches the texture that I find acceptable. For me polenta is done when it is no longer crunchy. That takes about 10-15 minutes. 

    The polenta porridge can be served with fresh or dried fruits, jam, sugar or any other sweetener.

    ·   50 ml fine polenta
    ·   150 ml water
    ·   150 ml milk
    ·   Fruits (dried or fresh), jam or sugar
    ·   Nuts (optional)
    ·   Pinch of salt

    ·   Add all the ingredients except nuts to a pot placed on medium heat
    ·   Stir continuously and cook until the polenta is done, about 10 minutes - 15 minutes
    ·   Sprinkle with dried nuts

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Chicken liver and smoked sausage parfait (low fat version)

    Chicken liver and smoked sausage parfait with spicy potatoes
    This is a low fat version that uses oil and milk instead of butter and cream. It is absolutely delicious, and the butter and cream is not really missed.

    The recipe combines chicken liver with lightly smoked sausage. The sausage I used had potato as one of the fillers and this made the parfait creamer, both in terms of taste and texture. You may not get the same result if you use sausage with higher meat content.

    Parfait is usually finished off by blitzing to make it silky smooth, cooling, placing in ramekins, topping with butter, refrigerating, waiting and then eating. Too many steps involved after the parfait is cooked, I skipped these steps and took the quicker and shorter pot-to-plate route. I wasn’t going to wait and was quite happy to avoid the extra artery clogging buttering process. And warm parfait is very tasty.

    The list of ingredients looks short and basic but it’s the end result that counts. The amounts are estimates since I cooked without weighing and measuring. Basically use similar amounts of liver and sausage, or vary according to your preference. If using a meaty or strong flavoured sausage use less otherwise it will mute the livery taste.

    • 300 grams chicken liver, finely diced
    • 300 grams lightly smoked sausage, finely diced
    • 150 ml milk
    • 1 medium onion, finely diced (optional)
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 tablespoons oil
    • Salt to taste

    • Heat oil over medium heat
    • Sauté onion and garlic until translucent
    • Add liver, sausage and salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently
    • Add milk and cook until the parfait thickens, about 10 minutes
    • Blitz/blend the parfait until silky smooth

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Potato Bread (yeast-free) Recipe

    This is a simple potato bread that requires no yeast and relatively little kneading. To substitute for yeast I tried two options:
    1. baking powder
    2. baking soda and lemon juice

    Baking powder is a much better option. The bread made with baking soda felt much lighter but the bread sunk or collapsed once cooled. And the baking soda taste was quite strong, verging on being almost inedible. 

    The potato bread (made with baking powder) was quite moist and had a texture somewhere between that of cake and regular bread. It is not as light and airy like regular bread, it’s a bit more dense, but very delicious. This bread is best made like a flat bread, about an inch high.

    I kept leftover dough in the refrigerator and noticed mold after one day. So don’t keep leftovers in the refrigerator.

    Potato Bread

    1 cup mashed potato
    3 cups flour
    1 cup water (you may need a bit more or less)
    4 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt, or more

    1. Heat oven to 220°C/430°F
    2. Mix mashed potato and water until there are no lumps
    3. In a separate bowl mix together shifted flour, baking powder and salt.
    4. Add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and knead until soft and smooth
    5. Bake until the bread starts to brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Polenta Pudding/Halwa Recipe

    Polenta   Pudding/Halva

    Halwa/halva is a popular dessert in many Middle Eastern, Asian and Eastern European countries. Halva is usually made using semolina, nuts or even plain flour. The last halwas I tried were a Central Asian sunflower seed halva and a Turkish sesame halwa, both very delicious. I have never heard of polenta halva before, so this was an experiment that worked.

    Many recipes that I found on the internet were quite heavy on butter and sugar. I wanted a low sugar and low fat version that was just as delicious. The polenta halva turned out to be dense and sweet but not loaded with sugar and fat. Sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it!

    You can easily make it sugar free by substituting honey or other sweeteners, it will work just as well. I actually substituted about half of the butter with soy bean oil and for me it worked.

    The recipe uses both water and milk. To make the polenta halwa even creamer and richer substitute water with milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk or cream.

    The polenta halwa turns out to be relatively dryish in a good way. If you prefer a more ‘runny’ or moist pudding, you can increase the liquid or butter content. And if you want to spice it up a bit I think cardamom will work well.

    The polenta halwa will keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. It is nice eaten cold, straight from the refrigerator, or warmed.

    1 cup polenta
    ¼ cup sugar
    ½ cup water
    ½ cup milk
    ¼ cup raisins
    1 tablespoon golden syrup
    1 tablespoon butter

    1. Place a pan on medium heat and melt butter 
    2. Add polenta and toast until golden brown
    3. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring constantly
    4. Reduce the heat to low and keep stirring until the mixture thickens and lumps together 

      Friday, January 7, 2011

      Polenta Cookie Logs Recipe

      Polenta Cookie Logs
      These cookies are crispy, slightly chewy, dense and have an intense flavour. It is similar to a shortbread but the polenta adds more crunch and a slightly different texture and flavour. Overall a very addictive cookie. Friendly warning - once you start you can’t stop!

      If the dough seems dry and crumbly, don't worry. It will turn out fine during baking as the sugar and syrup do their work! If you concerned you can refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes before baking.

      If you want to make the logs lighter, you can replace some of the butter with egg. I tried this recipe by substituting half of the butter with oil and it worked fine.

      • 1 cup polenta
      • 1 cup flour
      • ½ cup butter
      • 1/3 cup sugar
      • 2 tablespoons golden syrup

      • Preheat the oven to 170 degrees
      • Mix polenta and flour
      • In a separate bowl beat together the butter, sugar and syrup until pale and fluffy
      • Add the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Do not overmix
      • Chill the mixture for 30 minutes (optional)
      • Shape as desired and bake until the cookies are golden brown and delicious, about 15 minutes

      Wednesday, January 5, 2011

      Chickpeas in lemon red wine sauce

      Chickpeas in lemon red wine sauce

      That’s right, not beef but chickpeas in lemon red wine sauce. I’ve never tried vegetarian dishes paired with red wine, except for cheeses! I had some leftover red wine and decided to experiment with chickpeas. I chose chickpeas because it has a fairly neutral taste that works well with most combinations.

      I found that finishing off the dish with an acid (preferably lemon but I used apple cider vinegar) was necessary. I tried with and without the acid and found that it made a big difference. As we know lemon and chickpeas are good friends (hummus!). The acidity helps cut the sweetness from the red wine and the creaminess.

      I used a medium bodied table red wine. The wine was opened few days ago so it oxidised a little bit but still drinkable and cookable!

      In the recipe I have suggested cream, however I used milk and butter as a substitute for cream. You can alternatively use milk and flour if you want to make the dish healthier. I've suggested just 50ml cream. You can double the amount if you prefer more. Since cream is added right at the end and heated, if you feel 50ml is not enough just add more.

      • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
      • ½ cup red wine
      • ½ onion, diced
      • 2 cloves garlic, minced
      • 50 ml cream
      • 1 tablespoon oil
      • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
      • Salt to taste

      • Heat oil over medium heat
      • Add onions, garlic and salt and cook until onions turn translucent (or before the garlic starts burning)
      • Add red wine and cinnamon, lower heat and cook until the red wine reduces to a thick syrupy consistency
      • Add chickpeas and cream and heat gently
      • Finally add lemon juice and the dish is ready to rock and roll

      Tuesday, January 4, 2011

      Tangy Creamy Polenta

      This recipe produces a light and refreshing creamy polenta. It is creamy not because of cream or butter, but olive oil. Of course you can use cream or butter, in which case perhaps it is better to omit apple cider vinegar.

      The amount of tomato can be adjusted to your taste. The suggested amount produces a relatively mild taste, if you prefer a more tomatoey flavour, you can double the amount of puree.

      I prefer to add olive oil at the end so the olive oil flavour is more profound.

      • 50 ml  tomato puree
      • 100 ml polenta
      • 1 clove garlic, crushed
      • 500ml boiling water
      • 1 tablespoon mustard
      • 4 tablespoons olive oil
      • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
      • Salt to taste

      • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil, add tomato puree and garlic and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. If it starts sticking or burning, add a small amount of water
      • Add boiling water and slowly add polenta while whisking/stirring briskly
      • Add mustard and cook until done, stirring continuously
      • When polenta is cooked add olive oil and apple cider vinegar
      • Add salt during the process

      Saturday, January 1, 2011

      Dulce de Leche Recipe

      Dulce de leche

      Dulce de leche, also known as milk jam, is prepared using just two ingredients – milk and sugar. Slowly cooking milk and sugar transforms it into something extremely delicious. It is time consuming but very easy to prepare.

      Dulce de leche is popular in South America and it has even been mentioned that it originated in Argentina. Variations can be found in other parts of the world. France has confiture de lait and Norway has hamar pålegg, better known as HaPå.

      I have two versions below. Version 1 of the recipe is from Alton Brown and the second version is my own. Version 1 uses more sugar. Version 2 uses less sugar and molasses is added. I find that using less sugar gives a better texture, the dulce de leche is easier to spread. Also using molasses adds a deeper flavour. Both versions are excellent in their own special ways.

      Vanilla is optional. I have tried with and without and my personal preference is without vanilla.

      Dulce de leche can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.

      Ingredients (version 1)
      1 litre milk
      1½ cups sugar
      ½ teaspoon baking soda
      1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (optional)

      Ingredients (version 2)
      1 litre milk
      1 cup sugar
      20 ml molasses
      ½ teaspoon baking soda
      1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (optional)

      1. Combine the milk, sugar, molasses, vanilla bean and seeds in a large saucepan and place over medium heat
      2. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.
      3. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine
      4. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer
      5. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture
      6. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours
      7. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.

      Dulce De Leche Sauce
      To make dulce de leche sauce add a small amount of milk or cream and place pan over low heat. Heat very gently and add more milk or cream to get the desired consistency.

      Since cream is thicker than milk you will need to add less milk compared with cream. As a result the sauce will have a stronger dulce de leche flavour if you use milk instead of cream.
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