31 May 2012

Something to Love in Kyrgyzstan a Day: Hoopoes

This is likely our last month in Kyrgyzstan for a while.  There's a small chance we'll get to come back at the end of the summer, but we'll probably end up on the east coast of the US for a while.  I'm looking forward to that, but it's hard to leave Kyrgyzstan again.  So this month's something-a-day will be about Kyrgyzstan, both from this most recent stay here, and when we were here in 2005/6. 

Photo taken in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, March 31, 2011.
Hoopoe

I still remember how delighted I was to see this bird last year in Tokmok since it's not found in the western hemisphere and it's one of those birds that crops up in books.

I haven't really seen a lot of new birds here because I haven't gotten out of the cities much, but it's been so much fun to see and learn about the birds I have seen in the last year and a half.

30 May 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha

I finished this a week or two ago and yes, I hadn't read it before.  I'm a little (or a lot) slow on some things.  Anyway, I liked it in many ways, especially as a reasonably good history (probably) of what it could have been like to be a geisha before and after WWII. 

However, I wasn't much interested in the major plot point and I didn't find Sayuri to be a particularly likable character, and other characters came off badly even though it was Sayuri who had treated them badly to get what she wanted.  I wasn't drive by the plot to finish the book, but by the feeling that I was getting a glimpse into a piece of history (even if it was exoticized).

Recipe a Day: Milkshake from a Bag

Here's the final recipe for the month.  I'm glad I did this project in May because even though the produce is getting better now, it's going to be at least 85 degrees in the kitchen for the summer and I won't be cooking as much.

This is how we make milkshakes here.  My oldest is the official milkshake maker of the family.  I'd actually never watched him do this because I didn't want to become the official milkshake maker.

This is a very flexible recipe, obviously, and it's the number one reason my husband wanted to get a blender.  I love these.  The ice cream bars here are really good, but the regular bulk vanilla ice cream is nasty, and I'd rather eat this.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A bag of frozen whole milk
  • Stuff to make it taste good (fruit, nuts, cocoa, sugar, mint)
  • A blender

We buy approximately one-liter bags of milk here.  This is whole milk and it was frozen solid.  However, that's too frozen for our blender, so my husband put it in the microwave for a bit and is now banging the bag on the counter to soften things up just a little.

Meanwhile, my son was grinding up some peppermints and cocoa and sugar.  I have no idea what the proportions are because he doesn't measure.  I'm so proud.

And adding vanilla.

And blending everything together.  We like chocolate mint shakes, but you can use a million different things.  Use your imagination.

Add the milk.  You can see it's not a rock, but it's still pretty frozen.

Break it up some.

Add a little milk (more or less as needed, and depending on your blender).

And blend.

And poke and blend.  Sometimes we melt a bar of dark chocolate and add it at the very end while the blender is running.  The chocolate re-solidifies quickly in little tiny bits throughout the whole thing.  That's my favorite.

Keep poking and blending till it's ready.  Then pour it out and serve.  Yes, you will be able to pour these, so you'd better eat them quickly.  If you have a real milkshake place nearby, you won't be impressed with these, but they're great in a place like Kyrgyzstan.

29 May 2012

Recipe a Day: Georgian Khachapuri

This is probably my oldest's favorite thing to eat.  That's unfortunate since it doesn't have much about it except for the flavor that makes it worth eating, but I make it every couple of months anyway.  The photos show a doubled recipe which I almost never make; usually I make the way I've written it below.

I forgot to start taking pictures at the beginning.  Sorry about that.

Wheat flour works for this, although it's a little hearty for it. 

Here's what you'll need:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup flour mixed with 1/4 tsp each of baking soda and salt
  • About 2-3 cups grated or crumbled cheese (feta and mozzarella are a good mix)
  • 1 small egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 and make the dough.  Combine the 3 tablespoons olive oil and 3 tablespoons flour, then add the yogurt.  Mix in the 1 cup of flour, then add the 1/2 cup flour with the soda and salt.  The dough will be fairly soft but not too sticky.  You can cover it and let it sit for up to two hours (preheat the over later in that case, obviously), or use it right away.

Combine the cheeses and the egg. The eggs here have dark-colored yolks, so this looks yellower than yours probably would, unless you're using free-range eggs.

Roll the half the dough out on a lightly-floured surface.


This is rolled out thinner than it needs to be, but that's okay.  An 8-inch circle is fine.  It doesn't matter if it's round at the point.  Anyway, put half the cheese in the middle, leaving an inch or two around the edges.

Then fold the dough over the cheese to make a packet.

Keep folding.

Then I usually press it gently to seal it all together.  If you want to, you can shape into a neat circle.  Personally, I don't care.

Place on a baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough and the cheese.  If there's a hole in one side or the other, put that side up.

They'll bake at 400 for about 20 minutes.  You can also cook them on the stove, covered in a lightly-buttered skillet, over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes per side till golden.

See?  I don't care about the shape.  They'll puff up and turn golden when they're done.  If you're lucky, a little cheese will have oozed out and you can eat the crunchy bits.  I usually use a pizza cutter to cut these into fourths before serving.  These are good as a side dish because a little goes a long way.



Recipe a Day: Thai/Chinese Noodles with Lots of Vegetables and Sauce

This is one of my very favorite noodle dishes.  It's best with fresh noodles (amazing, actually), but very good with dried too. 

This is easier than it looks, especially if you have everything ready to go when it's time to cook.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 1 pound (or more) greens- bok choi is good, or jusay, or any number of other things
  • 1/4-1 pound sliced chicken, pork, beef, or tofu, optional
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fermented soybean paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1.5 cups water or broth
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Fresh or dried chiles, crushed or sliced, to taste
  • About a pound of dried rice noodles, or 2 pounds of fresh
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons minced garlic


Trim and chop up your greens and set aside. 
I used bok choi this time because my husband had just come home from the Chinese grocery store.

He wasn't able to get pressed tofu, so I pressed a regular block of tofu for a little while.  I usually use tofu with this.

If you've never used soybean paste, this looks a lot like what you might find in the US. 

Combine the paste with the soy sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar.

If you have a handy four-year-old around, he might mash it together for you.
And add the water and set aside.  You'll cook with this later.

Combine the 1/2 cup vinegar, sugar, and chiles and set aside.  This will be a sauce to pour over the finished dish.

Cook the noodles.  I generally just boil them, but you can soak and stir-fry too.  These are bean thread noodles in case you think they look weird.
Drain when they're done if you boiled and set aside.


Combine the cornstarch and water and set aside.


And slice your meat or tofu and set aside.

Make sure all the stuff you set aside is near the stove (meat/tofu, greens, sauce, and cornstarch) and ready to go.  Heat the oil and add the garlic.

Then add the tofu or meat and cook till it's browned. 


I used a lot (too much) tofu this time, but it still worked.  Browner tofu would be fine too; you choose.

Then add the greens.  You want a wok or something large to hold all the greens at first.

Stir-fry to decrease the volume of the greens (this almost looks more like American-style Greek salad or something like that, doesn't it?)

When the greens have wilted some, add the soybean paste sauce.

And the cornstarch/water mixture.  You'll probably need to stir it again before adding it.

I forgot to add the sugar earlier, so I did now.  Stir everything together, bring to a boil, and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Till the greens are tender but not mushy.  Serve over the noodles, or you can add the noodles to the big pot and let everyone serve herself.  Top with the chile-sugar-vinegar sauce.

28 May 2012

Strawberry Season

I love to be in Kyrgyzstan in the spring and summer and watch the local produce come into season.  For me, it starts with the jusay in mid-spring, and then the green garlic, and for the last two weeks there have been people all over Bishkek selling their strawberries.  Fresh, local, organic, and perfectly delicious strawberries.

 The cucumbers are dropping in price and soon there will be local, and raspberries too.  There are apricots and cherries from Osh, the peppers and tomatoes are finally starting to go back to prices that might be considered reasonable (although they'll drop a lot more), and later there will be eggplant again.  I hope the local eggplant appears before we leave, although it's not certain.

I'll be ready to eat cabbage again in the fall, but for now, I delighted that I don't have to eat it for a few months.

Recipe a Day: Colonial American Onion Soup and Stuffing

The title is a little misleading because this stuffing is decidedly not colonial, but at least the soup is.  I'm almost embarrassed to post the stuffing, but we like it here and it works.  I usually use naan for it here because naan doesn't save very well and I don't like the traditional system of eating stale naan dunked in hot milk.  So I tear up leftover bits of naan and save them in the freezer till I have enough to make stuffing.

I suppose this is really dressing, but that always sounds a little snobby to me.

This is one of the few meals I make that feels American to me. 

Here's what you'll need for the soup:

  • 1/4-1/2 cup butter (or more or less as you like)
  • 4 large onions, chopped (or more or less as you like)
  • 2 tablespoons flour (whole wheat is nice)
  • 1 liter water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2-1 tsp cayenne
  • Bread (one slice, or crumbs, or chunks, fresh or dry)


And what you need for the stuffing:

  • 2-8 tablespoons butter (more is yummier, but obviously not what you're supposed to do)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Lots of chunks of bread- at least 4-6 cups
  • Herbs and spices (I used thyme because that's pretty much all I had.  Dried herbs like sage are available here, but just at certain stores.)
  • Salt to taste- I think it's easy to oversalt this, so be careful
  • Cayenne pepper to taste, optional
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vinegar (5% or a little stronger)

Put the onions and butter in a pot and cook them for about 10 minutes.

Till they're soft and golden.

Add the flour.

And stir-fry for a couple of minutes.  It'll start to stick to the bottom, so pay attention, but it's not too big of a deal because you'll be adding water next.

Add the water and bring to a boil.

Then add the salt.

And the pepper (black is fine too).  Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

About 10 minutes before serving, throw in the bread.  I've used chunks like this (from the stuffing), or crumbs, or whole slices.  Continue to simmer till you're about ready to serve.

Meanwhile, combine the egg yolk and vinegar and beat together with a fork. 

I liked this photo.  When it's been at least 10 minutes since you added the bread, turn off the heat.  Add a few spoonfuls of the hot soup to the egg yolk and stir, then add the egg to the soup, stirring to keep the egg from curdling, but I've never had much of a problem, especially since it's just the yolk.

And serve.  Garnishing it with something green seems like a good idea.


 Meanwhile, it's easy to make some stuffing.  I think a drier one like this is good with soup, but you can add broth if you want it soggier.  Personally, I think naan makes a much better dry stuffing and junk bread in America makes better soggy stuffing.  There's also some leftover sliced rye bread in the photos.

Heat the onions and butter and cook till the onions are soft.

Then add the bread chunks.

And whatever spices/herbs you like. And the salt and pepper.

Then you just cook and stir for a few minutes or two till everything is covered and buttery.  Awfully simple.