Maschi, or stuffed tomatoes in tomato sauce (Sudan)

Posted in Africa, Casseroles on September 22nd, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Sudan used to be the largest country in Africa and one of the largest in the world, until the southern part separated into South Sudan in 2011. There are hundreds of different ethnic groups, but most Sudanese are Muslims and speak Arabic. English is the second official language. With the names Nubia and Ethiopia (which nowadays is a different country) Sudan has a rich history of ancient civilizations, spanning over 10,000 years, most of which resided along the river Nile. Since its own independence in it 1956 it has gone through two civil wars and the Darfur war. Sudan suffers from many problems, from human rights violations and hunger to desertification (most of the country is already desert). While the economy is growing, the oil reserves haven’t been able to abate poverty. Football and various kinds of traditional music are important parts of the culture.

Because of the huge ethnic diversity, the Sudanese cuisine is also very diverse. It has got significant influences from Middle East. Stews served with porridge or bread form the traditional meal, especially a bread called kissra made from durra or corn. For porridge sorghum and millet are also used. Stews often contain offal, fish potatoes, eggplant, onion, greems. tomatoes and okra, sometimes dairy as well. They may be flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom, sometimes dates or peanut butter. Alcohol is banned by law, but illegal alcoholic drinks are brewed from e.g. dates. Some non-alcoholic drinks are made from fruit, others from corn flour. Coffee and hibiscus tea are very popular. Coffee is often spiced and sweetened with plenty of sugar.

This was a bit of a peculiar recipe (I don’t know how authentic): tomatoes in tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes. They are, however, stuffed with something other than tomatoes. In Europe when tomatoes are stuffed usually a slice is removed from the top and the innards scooped out. Here, however, a deep cross is cut into the tomato before scooping. They were a bit hard to fill without spilling the stuffing, and somewhat difficult to fry, as well. Plus they hardly even look like stuffed tomatoes in the photo. I used kumatoes (tomatoes that are green when ripe), hoping for a nice contrast in the photo, but you can barely see it. The dish was okay, it tastes like you’d expect – tomatoes, dill and cinnamon. The cinnamon makes for a very nice smell when baking it. The original recipe didn’t have cooking times or temperatures, so I had to make them up.



2/3 lbs/300 g mock minced meat (e.g. finely chopped seitan or 1 1/4 cup/3 dl reconstituted TVP)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
4 tbsp chopped fresh dill
7 oz/200 g cooked rice
8 firm, large tomatoes
4 tbsp (coconut) oil
1.5 cups/360 ml tomato paste
1.5 cups/360 ml water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp garlic powder
green olives for garnish

Preheat the oven to 390F/200C. Mix the rice, mock minced meat, salt, pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder and dill together.

Slit the tomatoes halfway across the centre (to create a fairly deep cross in the stem end). Squeeze the tomatoes to open the slits and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the tomatoes in the fat, rolling them constantly until they become dark red on all sides. Remove the tomatoes along with the oil and place in a casserole dish.

Combine the tomato paste and water along with the salt, cinnamon and the other 1 tsp garlic powder. Stuff the tomatoes with the rice mixture and cover with the tomato sauce. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve hot, surrounded with sliced raw tomatoes and top each slice with green olives. Makes four portions.

Cucumber tomato salad with sumac (Iraq)

Posted in Middle East, Salads on August 30th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Iraq is a large country in Middle East, with about 36 million inhabitants, most of them Muslims. Almost 10 million live in the capital of Baghdad. Iraq contains the region of Ancient Mesopotamia, often considered the birthplace of human civilization. The population has been estimated as 30 million already in year 800! These days Iraq is unfortunately better known for recent wars, Saddam Hussein and ISIS. The country mostly consists of desert and mountains, but the deltas of the legendary rivers Tigris and Euphrates also allow for plentiful agriculture. Oil is, of course, a very important export and Iraq has the second largest remaining oil reserves in the world. One of the main problems is the lack of housing and the country is struggling to build enough new homes. The most important form of culture is maqam, traditional sung poetry.

The history of Iraqi cuisine goes back as far as 10,000 years. Old “cookbooks”, written on clay tablets, have been found in ancient ruins. Like Middle Eastern cuisines in general, vegetables (e.g. tomatoes, okra, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini and peppers), cereals (especially basmati rice and bulgur wheat), legumes, nuts and seeds (e.g. sesame seeds, pistachios, almonds and walnuts) and fresh and dried fruit (e.g. dates, raisins, apricots, citrus fruit and pomegranates) form an important part of the cuisine. Lamb and chicken are also popular and fish, beef and cheeses are eaten too. Food tends to be flavourful and aromatic, thanks to the aforementioned ingredients, tamarind, olives, olive oil, spices and herbs. The latter include thyme, parsley, oregano, mint, dill, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, fenugreek and saffron. Mezza is a collection of salads, dips, pickled vegetables and finger foods. Other popular types of dishes include e.g. stews, casseroles, skewers, pastries and the originally Indian rice dish biryani. Desserts are often flavoured with nuts, rosewater and honey.

I try to avoid posting very similar dishes in a row, but now I’ve posted another cold salad. Well, it is summer? Found on, this is a very simple salad, but the addition of sumac makes it special and delicious. I’ve had sumac in my cupboard for many years, but for some reason I never thought to use it like this. I thought the result would be too tart, but it’s not, even though tartness is the main flavour of sumac. You can find it in Middle Eastern stores. It is also used in za’atar, a mixture of herbs, sesame seeds and sumac. The salad should be eaten pretty quickly, as the acidity in the sumac starts to pickle the cucumber. So if you don’t have many eaters, maybe don’t make a full portion.

Sumac salad

Iraqi sumac salad

1 large cucumber
1 large tomato
1/4 medium onion (or red onion)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sumac
salt to taste

Cut the cucumbers in half. length-wise. Slice these halves into thin semi-circles. Cut the tomato into chunks. Cut the onion into long slices. Mix all the vegetables together in a salad bowl. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the salad and add the sumac and salt to taste. Mix well and serve immediately.

Cold tofu salad (Taiwan)

Posted in Asia, Protein main dishes, Salads on July 25th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

The official name of Taiwan is “Republic of China”, which may be confusing as the official name of China is “People’s Republic of China”. Taiwan has been ruled by the Japanese and the Chinese and the current existence of the state is a bit muddled, as China (PRC) – and as a result a lot of the international community – considers it a part of their country. A founding member of the UN, Taiwan was kicked out of it in 1971.

99% of Taiwan consists of the smallish island of Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa. It used to be inhibited by Austronesian aborigines until the arrival of Spanish and Dutch settlers in the 1600s. There are still half a million people of aborigine origin (16 officially recognized tribes) living there. Taiwan is a highly developed country both economically and socially. Most people speak Mandarin and are either Buddhist or Taoist, with a large Yiguandao minority. Confucianism is also a major influence on other religions.

Bubble tea may be the best known Taiwanese food and tea (black, green and especially oolong) in general is widely enjoyed. Most styles of Taiwanese cuisine have major Chinese and some Japanese influence. Seafood, pork, chicken, rice and soy products are main ingredients, traditionally also taro, sweet potato and millet. Beef used to be rarely eaten, but beef noodle soup has become very popular. Besides rice, soups, vermicelli/noodles and hotpots, omelets and pancakes are common. Tofu is served in many ways, including stuffed and stinky tofu. As in mainland China, most seasonings aren’t herbs and spices as such, but soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, fermented black beans, pickles etc. Xiaochi are snacks that have been compared to Spanish tapas. Desserts include pastries, jellies, ice creams and moi-ji, similar to Japanese mochi, all of them often featuring beans.

This tofu salad recipe originates from Wikia. It’s perfect food for hot weather: a bit salty/umami because of the soy sauce, but the rice vinegar, ginger, cilantro and the tofu itself make for a cooling, refreshing flavour. I wasn’t sure which tofu to use as the recipe said to use “Mori-Nu Lite” tofu, but there are several varieties of Mori-Nu lite (firm, soft etc). So I used silken tofu, which is used in many Asian dishes. You have to be careful when cutting and moving the tofu (I recommend sliding it off the cutting board into the serving dish) as it is quite fragile, but I liked the result.

Cold tofu salad

Taiwanese tofu salad

1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (I used tamari)
0.5 tbsp oil
1/4 cup/0.6 dl chopped cilantro
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 finely sliced spring onion (green parts only)
1 pack Mori-Nu tofu (see notes)

Cut the tofu into large cubes. Mix all the other ingredients together and pour over the tofu. Serve immediately.

Halwa, or spiced candy (Somalia)

Posted in Africa, Desserts and sweets on June 24th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia is sadly nowadays best known internationally for wars, refugees, pirates, famines and female circumcision. The country has a very long history, dating to the Paleolithic age, and used to be a prosperous nation in antiquity. The people used to trade with Indians in particular, making big money with cinnamon. Islam arrived to Somalia very early on. Camels originate from the region and remain very important, with 80 % of the population being nomads. Music and literature have been crucial parts of Somali culture, as is incense. Myrrh and frankincense are also major exports. Population growth is extremely high, but fortunately HIV prevalence is low. One threat Somalia currently faces is desertification. It has very little arable land and temperatures are some of the hottest in the world.

I have a bit of personal relationship with Somalia, as I translated a Somali learning textbook from English into Finnish in 2010. Sadly I’ve forgotten pretty much everything (it is a very difficult language anyway, though has some unexpected similarities with Finnish).

The Somali cuisine is heavily Muslim, so no pork is alcohol is served and all meat must be halal. Indian spice trading influences are still clearly felt, with spices like cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves used a lot, as well as the more unusual sage. Sambuusa is a salty pastry similar to Indian samosa and sabayad is a flatbread resembling Indian paratha. There are also influences from e.g. Ethiopia, Middle East, Turkey and Italy. Canjeero is a spongy pancake-like bread like Ethiopian injera, but traditionally made from sorghum. Polenta and pasta are also popular. Other popular ingredients include e.g. goat and camel meat, fish, ghee (clarified butter), peanuts, coconut, bananas and beans, especially adzuki beans. Both lunch and breakfast are important meals. Some savory dishes are flavored with sugar or honey. Various fruit juices may be served at meals.

Xalwo, xalwad, halwa, halwo or halwad is a popular Somali candy. This recipe was very vague, so I don’t know if the result was what it was supposed to be. At least it was much thinner than in the original picture. It was quite jelly-like, but apparently it is supposed to be. Not really my cup of tea because of the texture. I usually write my own instructions, but here I’m using the original instructions as I don’t know if I’ve intepreted them correctly. I only made 1/4 of the recipe, which still makes plenty.


Somali halwa

1 cup/2.4 dl water
1/2 cup/1.2 dl sugar
1/2 cup/1.2 dl light brown sugar
1/4 cup/0.6 dl corn starch + 1/8 cup/0.3 dl water
1/4 cup/0.6 dl oil
1/4 tsp ground cloves (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron powder

Bring the sugar and the water to boil. Mix cornstarch and water with the saffron, allow it to dissolve. Add the cornstarch to the mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring. As the mixture turns thick, start adding oil. This might take about 30 minutes.

Continue adding oil when it sticks to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until the mixture gets separated. When it starts to leave the sides of the pan add cardamom and cloves. Put the halwa on a baking sheet. Let cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Black bean, red pepper and squash casserole (Martinique)

Posted in Caribbean, Casseroles on May 7th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Martinique is an island in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean and an overseas region of France, so a part of the Eurozone and officially French-speaking, though the local Creole is also used. The French have also influenced the local culture. Martinique was “found” by Columbus, though it had been been inhabited by indigenous tribes. Most of the population is descended from African slaves who used to work on the sugar plantations. Martinique is a popular tourist destination, not only for its beaches, but also tropical beaches, mountains and volcanoes. Rum and bananas are the main exports. Local music is very important for the culture, including the genres zouk and bèlè, which also incorporates dance.

The Martinique cuisine is a fusion of African, French, Caribbean and South Asian. For example one of the most popular dishes is chicken colombo, a curry with Sri Lankan influences, seasoned with spice, tamarind, coconut milk and often wine and rum. In general many dishes are quite spicy and may be flavoured with e.g parsley, thyme, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, vanilla and ginger. Seafood is used in most dishes, often served as a curry or soup. Besides rice, other starches like yam, cassava and breadfruit are eaten. Other popular ingredients include bananas, plantains, chayote, avocado and squash. Desserts often feature rum and/or pineapple.

A veganized version of this recipe made for a pretty nice, slightly tart casserole, even if nothing special. I roasted my squash a little too long, which meant that instead of cubes it turned into a mush when I mixed the ingredients… But I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing.

Black bean, red pepper and squash casserole

Black bean, red pepper and squash casserole

1 butternut squash
1 1/2 cup/3.6 dl sliced onion
2 tsp oil
1/4 cup/0.6 dl dry sherry
2 red bell peppers
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup/1.2 dl soy yoghurt + 1/2 cup/1.2 dl sour cream (or 1 cup cashew yoghurt)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl minced parsley
1 cup/2.4 dl cooked black beans
1 cup/2.4 dl cooked brown rice
1 cup/2.4 dl grated vegan cheese or 1 tsp corn starch + 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Split squash in half and place on a baking sheet, cut side down. Bake the squash for 20 minutes.

In a large skillet saute the onion at medium heat. Add the oil, sherry, red peppers and garlic. Stir-fry until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove the seeds from the squash and peel. Cut it in cubes and mix all the ingredients together. Spoon the mixture into a large greased baking dish. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350F/175C. Serve hot. Makes six portions (or so).

Vegan surströmming, or fermented herring (Sweden)

Posted in Europe, Starters and appetizers on April 1st, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe, located in Scandinavia, in Northern Europe. A whopping 65 % of the land area is covered by forests, which explains the low population density. There are also plenty of lakes and some mountains. A constitutional monarchy led by a king, it ranks very high in democracy, equality, human development and other such indices. It has mostly managed to avoid wars since the 19th century, remaining officially neutral in both world wars (though it helped several of its neighbouring countries in WWII). It is a part of EU, but not the Eurozone. Nowadays Sweden is perhaps best known for being the origin of IKEA (in fact owned by the Dutch), the band ABBA (and many other artists), the Pirate Bay/Pirate Party, as well as quite a few authors, including seven Nobel prize winners, children’s author Astrid Lindgren and bestseller king Stieg Larsson.

The Swedish cuisine has traditionally built on meat, seafood (especially herring and salmon), potatoes and various types of bread, with some dairy products thrown in. Rutabaga used to be a popular root vegetable which the Brits even call “Swede”. Spices aren’t used much, though fresh dill and chives are popular in summer dishes. Pea soup served with mustard and followed by pancake is a traditional Thursday meal (as in Finland). Swedish meatballs are probably the most famous Swedish dish, not that unusual as far as meatballs go, but traditionally served with (mashed) potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam. (Wild) berries in general are important, often served as thick dessert soups like bilberry soup. There is also a tradition of various sweet buns, pastries, cakes and cookies, enjoyed with coffee. Swedes drink a lot of both milk and coffee. There are also several traditional candies, most of them flavored with peppermint or salty licorice.

Surströmming (literally “sour herring”) is a fermented (essentially rotten) herring product which smells very putrid. Like really, utterly horrible. Even as a kid in Finland I heard stories of surströmming cans exploding (from the fermentation gases building up) rendering the house permanently uninhabitable. Some airlines banned surströmming cans a few years ago. According to Wikipedia, German food critic and author Wolfgang Fassbender wrote that “the biggest challenge when eating surströmming is to vomit only after the first bite, as opposed to before.” And that’s not a hyperbole – see YouTube for proof (you were warned). Truly a dish worth veganizing, right? Sadly(?) this is just an April Fools joke. (However, the existence of surströmming nor the claims made about it in this passage are not jokes!) Stinky tofu and natto may be the closest vegan equivalents to surströmming, though much less nauseating.

Gravlax is salmon prepared by salt-curing (originally also mildly fermented), which results in a very salty, dense and fairly slimy product, which some people love and others hate. It is traditionally served on e.g. Christmas and also popular in Finland. Dehydrating watermelon became trendy a few years ago. You either marinate the melon in a salty brine/marinade and only dehydrate it a bit to get a juicy product, or dehydrate it all the way for “jerky” (not surprisingly with very low yields). Both are quite tasty, IMO, and good ways to use the watermelon you bought and disappointingly turned out not at all sweet. When I experimented with dehydrating watermelon I immediately thought the end-product resembled gravlax in texture and appearance, so I set out to develop a version. Of course you won’t get a perfect mock fish out of a fruit, but I found my results intriguing. (The surströmming is an April fools joke, but this recipe is not.) You can replace the seaweeds with other strongly sea-flavoured types.

Vegan gravlax

Vegan gravlax

1 pound/450 g red watermelon (preferably not very sweet)
1/4 cup/0.6 dl water
1 tbsp nori flakes or finely chopped nori sheets
1 tbsp dried dulse (a seaweed)
1 heaping tsp salt
2 tbsp dark (=very salty) soy sauce
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
(1 tsp chopped dill)

Heat the water until boiling and dissolve the seasonings in it. Let soak (and cool) for a while, then strain out the seaweeds. Cut the watermelon into chunks a little less than 1 inch thick. Remember it will shrink down a lot. If it has seeds, remove as many as you can without turning the flesh into a mush. Drain/pat the fruit down to remove excess liquid. Place in a ziplock bag with the marinade and refrigerate for a few hours, turning the bag over a few times to make sure all the melon is covered.

Place in the dehydrator (depending on the type you may want to place some parchment paper underneath) or in the oven on the lowest setting, e.g. 50C with the door open. Dehydrate for a few hours, turning once, until it has shrunk down quite a bit and feels dense and slimy, but not in any way dried out. Serve cold with bread. The bread in the picture is knäckebröd, a Swedish rye crispbread.

Jeow mak keua, or spicy eggplant dip (Laos)

Posted in Asia, Dips, sauces and condiments on March 13th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 4 Comments

Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, much less known in the West than many of its neighbours like China, Thailand and Vietnam. Its population is only about six million, very little in the Asian scale. It used to be a colony of France and gained independence in 1953. Laos is now a single-party socialist republic and Buddhism is an important part of the society, though animism is also practiced. The infrastructure and human rights situation are quite poor, but the economy is growing thanks to rich mineral resources. Tourism is also rapidly growing. Because of the small population quite a lot of wild nature still remains, mostly forests and mountains. Muay Lao, a type of kickboxing, is the national sport.

Sticky rice, eaten by hand, is the most important part of Lao cuisine – and even a very important part of the culture and national identity as a whole. Most Lao families grow their own rice. Larb is the most famous Lao dish, a spicy mixture of meat (sometimes fish), herbs, greens and spices. Spicy papaya salad, as well as other salads, is also popular in Laos. Grilling is a common preparation method. Lemongrass, galangal and Lao fish sauce are important seasonings. Other common ingredients and spices include kaffir lime, shallot, Lao eggplant, tamarind, cilantro, Lao dill, mint, several types of basil, chili, garlic, ginger and various greens and flowers. Main dishes may be be bitter, but never sweet. French cuisine is still visible in the capital Vientiane, where French baguettes remain popular. Kaipen is a popular fried seaweed snack.

It’s very hard to find vegan Lao recipes or even recipes that can be veganized, as so many Lao recipes are based on things like raw meat or fermented fish. I found several recipes for this jeow mak keua (or jaew mak khua), but based mine mostly on this one. The biggest difference I found that some versions included both roasted shallot and fresh green onion, some only green onion. I love roasted shallot, so I obviously went for that version. Traditionally the dip is eaten with sticky rice, but many people might want to dip something else, like vegetables.

I found the dip quite nice. My husband doesn’t normally like eggplant and isn’t the biggest fan of excess cilantro, but surprisingly he enjoyed this dip with kropoek (Indonesian crackers that normally contain shrimp, but vegan version are also available – I prefer the normal vegan type, I find the emping type quite vile). Do note that the recipe makes surprisingly little, like half a cup or so, so for more than two people you might want to double the recipe.

Jeow mak keua

Jeow mak keua

1 small purple eggplant or a few Asian ones
1 red bird’s eye chili (or other chili), chopped
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
1/2 cup/1.2 dl cilantro, chopped
dash of soy sauce/Maggi
1 green onion, white part removed, chopped

Pierce the eggplant with a fork several times. Grill or roast the eggplant, shallot and garlic until mushy, naturally they will take different amounts of time, a purple eggplant up to 45 minutes in the oven (200C/390F). Scoop out the eggplant flesh and squeeze out the shallot and garlic. Mash or puree (I used an immersion blender), but let it remain a bit chunky. Add the other ingredients Serve at room temperature.

Le canard au tangor et à la vanille, or “duck” with clementine and vanilla (Réunion)

Posted in Africa, Protein main dishes on February 15th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — 2 Comments

Réunion is an island on the East coast of Africa, a bit farther away than Madagascar. It is an overseas department of France, so technically a part of France, the EU and the Eurozone. There are two volcanoes and three calderas. The world records for rain in 1 day (over 73 inches or almost 2 m!), and every period from 3 days to 15 days have been recorded on Réunion. The people and culture are quite multiethnic, mixing Europeans, Africans, Indians and Chinese.

Cari (curry) is a typical Réunionnais dish, flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and thyme. It is often served with rougail, a fiery chutney-like condiment, and various greens as a side dish. The French cuisine is present in such ingredients as potatoes and artichokes. Both cheese and wine are produced on Réunion, as well. Rice and beans are very popular and lentils are eaten too. Jackfruit and mango are enjoyed both green in savoury dishes and ripe as a sweet fruit. Vanilla is also used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

I’m quite fond of the mock duck I’ve bought in blue jars in Chinatown even when I still lived in Finland. And what would be a better use for it than a sauce with clementines and plenty of vanilla. It was quite nice, not spectacular but also not weird in any way. I imagine I might serve it again for some guests when I wanted to serve something quite unusual (yet tame). I used vanilla powder (which I have a big stash of) instead of vanilla beans. The cute little fruit in the photo are mini mandarins, delicious and also make for great props.

Le canard au tangor et à la vanille

Le canard au tangor et à la vanille

1.1 lbs/500 g (or two jars) mock duck, or e.g. chicken-style tofu
1 clementine, quartered
juice of 2 clementines
2 vanilla beans, split lengthways
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
salt and black pepper to taste
oil for frying

Fry the onion in oil until soft but not yet changed color. Add one vanilla bean and the clementine pieces. Simmer for two minutes. Add the tomatoes. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to break down and release their juices.

Add the clementine juice, the remaining vanilla bean and 1 dl/0.4 cups water. Simmer for two minutes. If you’re using canned mock duck, squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible so that it will absorb as much flavour as possible. Add the “duck” into the pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes more. Serve hot with a green salad. Serves four.

Saffron tea (Kuwait)

Posted in Drinks, Middle East on January 20th, 2014 by Maija Haavisto — Be the first to comment!

Kuwait is a very small Arab country located by the Persian Gulf. The earliest evidence of sailing has been found in Kuwait and for decades it was known as a center of boat construction. It used to be a major location for trade and has one of the biggest oil reserves in the world, though the Gulf War with its setting fire on hundreds of oil wells, as well as trade blockades, have damaged the prosperous economy. The country is tax-free, while the government owns the oil reserves. Kuwait is extremely hot in the summer, with average high temperatures over 45C (114F+) from June to August.

The Kuwaiti cuisine has been influenced by Arab and Persian cuisines and especially the Indian one. Foods are often flavoured with saffron, cinnamon and cardamom. Cumin, mustard seed, fennel seed and coriander seed are also common The national dish is biryani, a rich spiced rice dish known by anyone familiar with Indian food. Seafood is very popular, usually eaten with rice or khubz, a local flatbread. Main dishes may also be served with bulgur, spelt or noodles may also be served. Many dishes include eggs. Desserts tend to be rich, spiced cookies, cakes or dumplings, often with nuts. A proper Kuwaiti meal always includes dates and tea.

Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices by weight, but luckily minuscule quantities of it are used, so it is not unaffordable. This recipe makes for a very aromatic tea, though I find it hard to describe the taste. It makes you think of Indian chai, but is still quite different. Try it yourself!

Saffron tea

Kuwaiti saffron tea

1 1/2 cups/3.6 dl water
2 whole cardamom pods, broken
1 pinch saffron
2 teabags
1 tsp sugar

Combine the water, saffron and cardamom in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add teabags, and let tea steep for a minute. Strain into a cup and sweeten with sugar if desired. Serve hot.

Kutia wigilijna, or Christmas wheat pudding with poppy seed (Poland)

Posted in Desserts and sweets on December 18th, 2013 by Maija Haavisto — 1 Comment so far

Poland is a large country in Central Europe, located by the Baltic Sea. It has several mountainous areas and even one of the five deserts in Europe. About 1/3 of the country is covered by forest. Poland is an important agricultural producer of potatoes, rye, triticale and sugar beets. It has a very healthy economy, said to be unaffected by the recent recession. It is one of the most religious countries in Europe, being Roman Catholic. Football is the most important sport and poetry/literature and painting traditionally perhaps the most important types of art.

The Polish cuisine is known as quite heavy and meat-based, with sausages being particularly popular. Potatoes, mushrooms, beets and cabbage (including sauerkraut) are among the most important ingredients. Pickled cucumbers and buckwheat are also eaten a lot. Bread, rye or wheat, has been a crucial part of Polish cuisine. Nowadays the most well-known Polish dish world-wide is probably pierogi, a filled savoury or sweet dumpling. There are many kinds of soups, including several different kinds of beet soup. Soup may also be made out of e.g. tripe, sorrel, pickles or soured milk. Salads tend to be heavy and often feature potatoes, eggs, mayonnaise and/or sour cream. Most desserts are rich baked goods.

Kutia wigilijna is a traditional Polish Christmas dessert. Similar dishes are known in many neighbour countries. It is based on wheat berries (unprocessed wheat), but can also be made from kamut berries, barley or rice. Like many desserts of the region, especially Christmas ones, it is seasoned with ground poppy seed. Their flavour is quite similar to tahini, but more bitter, so the amount of sugar (and originally honey) isn’t excessive. (I was only able to find white poppy seed, for some reason.) The wheat berries seemed a bit weird in texture, so it might be more enjoyable made with rice, though the cooking time must be adjusted when using different grains. This recipe came from and I made it vegan.

Kutia wigilijna

Kutia wigilijna

1 cup/2.4 dl wheat berries or kamut berries
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup/2.4 dl poppy seeds
1/2 cup/1.2 dl confectioners’ sugar
4 tbsp agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
(1/4 tsp orange flower water, to replicate honey taste with the agave)
zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup plumped raisins
(1/2 cup ground walnuts)
(1/2 cup coarsely ground blanched almonds)
(5 plumped figs, chopped)
(5 plumped dates, chopped
1/2 cup vegan cream (like soy cream or cashew cream)

Rinse wheat berries well. Place them in a large pot and cover with plenty of water. Stir let soak overnight. Drain the wheat, rinse, drain again and place back in the pot. Add 6 cups/1.5 l cold water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender (90 minutes to 3 hours, mine took less than 2 hours). Drain and set aside to cool.

Place poppy seeds in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 15 minutes. Place the pan on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Poppy seeds are ready when they can be pulverized between the fingers. Drain and grind in a blender.

In a large bowl, combine cooled wheat, ground poppy seeds, sugar, agave, vanilla, zest, raisins and other dried fruit and nuts (if using). Mix well and add vegan cream, incorporating thoroughly. Serve cold. Makes 4-5 portions.