62. Ukraine and Belarus

Ukraine and Belarus are located in Eastern Europe, bordering the west of Russia, both being former members of the USSR. Their cuisines have therefore been influenced by the neighbours of Russia, the Baltic states to the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, and the Balkan Peninsula to the south. The high-societies of these countries have historically been very taken with Italian, German and French cuisines, and influences from these countries have therefore pervaded some aspects of the food culture, although little filtered down to typical working-class recipes, particularly after the 20th century political upheavals resulted in an extinction of the privileged classes. The traditional cuisines of these countries therefore are heavily based in the rustic home cooked meals of the working classes. Bread in particular is an important staple in both Ukraine and Belarus, with Ukraine boasting some of the most fertile soils in Europe, and is sometimes called the “breadbasket of Europe”, due to its history of prolific wheat and grain production and export. Belarus, on the other hand, has less favourable conditions for growing wheat and therefore has more rye bread. I found this week’s cuisine to be a nice addition to my winter menu – warm and comforting, with simple but effective flavour combinations. 


Pork chop, mushroom kasha and roasted garden vegetables

pork chop and kasha.JPGKasha refers to whole buckwheat grains that have been dry roasted until they are a lovely reddish brown colour. The grains can then be cooked in water or stock, as you might cook rice or quinoa, until they have absorbed the liquid and are tender. I don’t think I’d ever eaten buckwheat this way before, and was impressed with the texture and flavour. The large size of the grains means that it feels like a substantial side dish, while the pre-roasting of the buckwheat lends a deep, nutty flavour that is much more flavoursome than rice or quinoa. Kasha as a dish is thought to be over 1000 years old, representing one of the oldest known dishes of Eastern Europe. Kasha can be combined with meat or vegetables and is served as a side to almost anything in this part of the world. It it also sometimes eaten as a porridge for breakfast after being boiled in milk. I made my kasha side dish with mixed forest mushrooms, onion, parsley, dill, and some obligatory butter. I say obligatory because in Russia there is a saying that “you’ll never spoil kasha with a lot of butter”. The rest of the meal doesn’t have a particularly special name or preparation owned by this part of the world, but is commonly eaten with kasha. I fried pork chops with a little mustard, and baked some cute garden vegetables, including orange and purple carrots, Brussel sprouts and radishes.


Green borscht

green borscht.JPGThe most famous borscht is of course the hot beetroot variety, which I already cooked for Russia week, and therefore couldn’t in all good conscience cook again. However, the origins of borscht lie in an ancient soup that was more of a green colour, being made from pickled common hogweed, a herb that grows in damp meadows. This original concept gave rise to many types of soups, of which the beetroot borscht has become the most popular. Indeed, the word “borscht” actually means “hogweed” or “stubble”, referring to the spines of hogweed. These days, green borscht (zeleny borshch) is traditionally made with sorrel, a common spring herb that is quite sour, although I couldn’t source any so I used spinach, kale and silverbeet instead, adding a little vinegar to enhance the sour taste. Meat can be added, or omitted in favour of eggs as the protein source, which is what I did. Other vegetables commonly included in the soup are carrot, onion and potato, often flavoured with dill. Borscht is one of the dishes commonly prepared as an offering to the souls of dead relatives on Forefathers’ Night (Dzyady), usually held in October/November, as well a for Christmas Eve dinner, when it is traditional to eat 12 meatless dishes. However, borscht of all varieties is also eaten all year round, triggering the Ukrainian saying “borscht and porridge are our food”. I can’t argue with that!


Chicken Kiev, mashed potato, beetroot salad and broccolini

chicken kiev.JPGChicken Kiev describes a preparation of a boned and skinned chicken breast, rolled flat, and stuffed with butter and herbs. The outside of the breast is subsequently coated in egg and breadcrumbs, and the whole thing is fried or baked until golden brown and crispy on the outside, with explosively hot butter on the inside. This latter feature is considered so dangerous that pamphlets were distributed to tourists of the Soviet, warning about the dangers of eating chicken Kiev, lest they unwittingly splatter themselves with molten butter. Chicken Kiev is clearly named after the capital of Ukraine, although the origins of the dish are far less black and white. In Ukraine, Russia and Poland, the dish is often called “côtelette de volaille”, which is actually a general French term for “chicken cutlet” (not referring to this specific preparation), and has predominantly come to be called chicken Kiev in the English speaking world, although the reference to Kiev is sometimes also used in Eastern Europe. Confusingly, in France, chicken breasts coated with eggs, breadcrumbs and sautéed are treated “à l’anglaise” (“English style”). It is thought, therefore, that the dish is originally French, with some English influence over the battering, and was introduced to Eastern Europe in the 18th century when French cuisine was hugely popular among upper Russian society. Its explosive popularity in this region then led to a synonymity with the city of Kiev for the rest of the world. Chicken Kiev is therefore of complicated origins, but Ukrainian enough in name for my purposes. Also… it’s delicious! I served my chicken Kiev with mashed potato, steamed broccolini, and a typical Ukrainian beetroot salad made with cubes of cooked beetroot, carrot, potato, peas and pickles, flavoured with mustard and dill. 


Machanka and draniki

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Machanka is found in various forms across Eastern Europe, but is particularly famous in Belarus, where it manifests as a meat stew (usually pieces of pork or pork sausages) in a broth made of stock, thickened with flour and sour cream, all flavoured with black pepper, onion and bay leaves. Legend has it that the preponderance of pork in dishes from this region came about during the Ottoman Empire, when Muslim rulers would not confiscate pigs from the locals because the consumption of pork is forbidden under Islam practices. Pork therefore became a more reliable staple of the Belarusian and Ukrainian diet than other domesticated meats. I made my machanka with pork sausages, and the preparation strongly reminded me of the typical British comfort food from my childhood: sausages with onion gravy. However, I would go so far as to posit that machanka is superior to that beloved classic, because the gravy is thicker and more abundant. The other winning aspect of machanka is that it is commonly served with draniki. Draniki (meaning “having been grated”) are a Belarusian potato pancake, often touted as the most famous and national dish, They are made by grating raw potato and onion, and then mixing it into a batter of egg and a little flour. There is some tension over the inclusion of flour, with purists saying it should never be included in a true draniki, but it also depends on the sorts of potatoes available to you, and, lacking the famously starchy Belarusian variety, I was content to cheat a little. The pancakes are then fried until they are browned and crispy on the outside, steaming and fluffy on the inside. Just the thing to mop up all of that meat and onion infused gravy! No wonder the average Belarusian consumes over 180kg of potatoes a year, and in the Soviet Union, citizens of Belarus were sometimes pejoratively called “bulbashi” (meaning “potato”). Certainly, then, this dish won’t be winning many awards for beauty, healthiness or fresh new innovations, but if you’ve had a cold hard day and want a little warmth and comfort in your evening, I can’t think of anything better than wrapping yourself in a blanket of machanka and draniki.

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61. Paraguay and Uruguay

Paraguay and Uruguay are not extremely similar countries culinarily. In fact, they aren’t even neighbours, being separated by Argentina. However, they are both a bit too small/culinarily limited (at least, from what I can find on the internet) to address separately, and are surrounded by relative giants of cuisine, so I decided to pop them together. Also, they both end in “guay”, so that’s similar enough, right? The two countries do share some similarities, such as a deep and passionate love of “asado” (barbeque), as well as a mix between indigenous ingredients and Mediterranean influences. Uruguay, however, has retained fewer traditional indigenous recipes, as the colonists reportedly didn’t trust the native food, choosing to maintain their traditional European ways the best they could. Whereas only 2.4% of Uruguayans report having indigenous ancestry, 95% of the Paraguayan population is of partial indigenous decent. This may be part of the reason that indigenous ingredients and preparations are more prevalent in Paraguay. Another quirk of Paraguayan cuisine is that it is traditionally all heavily calorific, containing liberal dashes of lard and cheese in most recipes. This is thought to stem from the aftermath of the Paraguayan War in the 1800s, when food was limited and so home cooks sought to adapt everyday recipes to make them as filling and nourishing as possible in order to stretch them a little further among family members.


Chivito

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Chivito is widely considered to be the national dish of Uruguay, and, at the risk of sounding ineloquent, it can be best described as a super awesome sandwich. It starts with white bread or buns, filled with mayonnaise, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, cheese, pancetta or ham and a fried egg, finally topped with a succulent piece of grilled beef steak. This last ingredient is called churrasco, and in itself barbecued steak is a close contender for the national dish of Uruguay, with the country producing some of the finest beef in the world. A Uruguayan barbecue over hot coals (called an “asado”) is famous for being the ultimate dream for a hungry carnivore. Like all great sandwiches, chivito has flexibility in its nature, and other potential ingredients therefore include salad items such as cucumber, beetroot, or red capsicum. The word “chivito” is a diminutive of the word for goat “chivo”, referring to a young goat/kid. Young goats are commonly barbecued in neighbouring Argentina and legend has it that the name for the sandwich was born when an Argentinian woman requested some in a Uruguayan restaurant on the final day of the year 1944. The famous chef, Antonio Carbonaro, lacking goat meat, gave her a steak sandwich instead, and so chivito was born! The sandwich is undeniably delicious, and often commented on as greater than the sum of its parts. So beloved is this dish in Uruguay that there has been speculation that infamous Uruguayan football star, Luis Suárez, bit the ear of the opposing team player because he was having withdrawals from chivito while staying in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Nobody could argue that chivito is truly a sandwich you can sink your teeth into!


Bori bori

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Bori bori, also sometimes called vori vori, is a yellow Paraguayan soup that contains little dumpling balls made of cornmeal and cheese. It usually contains a protein, such as beef shank, or, as I’ve used, chicken. The name comes originally from the Spanish word “bolita” meaning little ball, and was then modified by the indigenous Guarani language, in which repetition signifies abundance, and therefore “bori bori” would mean “many little balls”. Apparently the size of the balls is important, and should be around the size of a large grape. There is even a name for balls that are made too small: “tu’i rupi’a” meaning “parakeet eggs”: how shameful! I made my soup by browning whole chicken breasts in oil, then frying some onion, carrot, celery and capsicum. To this I added chopped tomato, the shredded chicken and chicken stock, and then boiled until the ingredients were soft and melded. I made the little balls by combining while cornmeal, white cheese, fat from the top of the soup and egg, then boiled them separately so as not to cloud my soup. I found that Paraguay is no exception to my suspicion that every country has a version of a restorative chicken soup that is nourishing and delicious. Indeed, bori bori is purportedly one of the few traditional Paraguayan meals that transcends class boundaries and is eaten in every layer of society, from the most humble of rustic dinner tables, to the fanciest of elegant banquets.


Pastel de carne

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The Uruguayan “pastel de carne” means “meat pie”, and is basically a lot like a cottage pie, with a few South American flares. Beef mince is first fried along with onions, garlic, capsicum and celery and spiced with plenty of pepper and oregano. This is combined with hard boiled eggs, and, optionally, some raisins and olives, then topped with a thick layer of fluffy mashed potato. Grated cheese is finally added to the top, and the casserole is cooked in the oven until the top is brown and bubbling. I always loved cottage pie, but honestly, pastel de carne is much better. Whoever thought of adding cheese to the top is a genius, and the addition of eggs, sweet raisins, and salty olives is a wonderful improvement. Usually I refrain from presenting meals partially eaten, because I know that if I start eating them, I may get a little carried away and, before you know it, there’ll only be three photos for the week. However, I made an exception to this rule because I couldn’t stand not showing the wonderful mince filling under the potato crust!


Pira caldo and sopa Paraguaya

pira caldo and sopa paraguaya.JPG

If, like me, you have a small smattering of Spanish understanding, you may have already inferred that “sopa Paraguaya” means “Paraguayan soup” and refers to the red soup in the picture, and that “pira caldo” must mean something else? You would be wrong, however, and I was very confused by the terminology in the planning for this week! Pira caldo refers to the pictured Paraguayan fish soup, with “pira” meaning “fish” in the indigenous Guarani language, and “caldo” meaning “broth” in Spanish. As Paraguay is landlocked, the fish in question is usually freshwater, such as catfish. Vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and capsicums are first fried with fat, and then the fish broth, tomato puree along with herbs and spices, such as chilli, coriander and parsley, are added to make a hearty broth. The triangular yellow thing on the side of the soup in my picture is called sopa Paraguaya, and despite being called a soup, is actually more like a cornbread. There are a few stories behind the name, one of which involves the first constitutional president of Paraguay, Don Carlos Antonio López, whose large physique advertised his deep love of food, especially thick soups flavoured with milk, cheese, eggs and corn flour. One day, one of his cooks added a bit too much corn flour to his lunch of soup, and, lacking the time to start over again, decided to just put it in the clay oven and see how it went. Inevitably it made a moist dense bread, which the governor adored, jokingly naming the solid soup “sopa Paraguaya” thereafter. It’s made by first combining yellow corn meal, white cheese, yellow cheese, fat, milk, sugar and fried finely diced vegetables such as onion, capsicum and corn into a very thick dough. This is then placed in a skillet and baked in the oven until the outside is browned and the inside is cooked and steaming, sliced, and served as an accompaniment to any other meal. This dish was an absolute winner – I’ve tried and made many types of cornbread from the USA and I judge sopa Paraguaya as far superior to any of these. I think the rustic quality and inclusion of lots of chunky vegetables, including fresh corn, is what makes it so tasty. Oh, and the cheese doesn’t hurt either! The origin of this dish was likely from a fusion of Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaraní people, the latter of whom have a long history of baking doughy breads made from corn or manioc flour wrapped in banana leaves in hot ashes. The Spanish added cheese, eggs and milk to this concept, creating a new dish beloved by both peoples. To my mind this dish is also similar to the many varieties of “chipa” throughout Paraguay, which are small baked bread rolls, often made with manioc flour, eggs and cheese, eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or accompanying any other meal.

60. Melanesia

Melanesia comprises the countries of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, spread across the pacific ocean to the north and east of Australia. This is a rich and diverse area, evidenced by over 1300 languages spoken throughout the region, which is by far the densest rate of languages relative to land mass in the world. Over the years, parts of Melanesia were claimed by the Dutch, British, French, Australians, Germans and Japanese, exerting various linguistic, cultural and culinary influences during this time. The native people occupied this region for the last 40,000 years, during which time they domesticated crops such as sugarcane, yams, taro, sago and pandanus, as well as pigs, using sophisticated systems of swine husbandry. This has been traditionally complemented by fishing from the rich pacific ocean, as well as hunting of local marsupials and birds. Native food traditions are still held by many people of Melanesia, and many families grow most of their own ingredients to cook with, much of which resembles the anciently domesticated crops. In precolonial society, “prestige feasting” was a sort of sport, where groups would hold elaborate decadent feasts in attempts to outdo one another, which is thought to have substituted for violent warfare. I doubt my paltry offerings this week would emerge victorious from a competition of prestige feasting, but I must say, I am very taken with the concept!


Kokoda

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When I first heard about the dish called kokoda, I instantly thought of the Kokoda track, which is well known in Australia. The Kokoda track is a trail around 100 km long through Papua New Guinea, and was the scene of a battle between Japanese and primarily Australian armies during World War II. The trek is notoriously draining, featuring wild temperature variation between day and night, torrential rain and crippling tropical diseases. In modern times, it’s become a popular “bucket list” goal for Australians to walk the Kokoda trail, some of whom have died tackling the challenge. I have no idea whether or how this trail in Papua New Guinea is] linked to the dish of kokoda, but I’m certainly happier to cross the edible kokoda off my bucket list than a month-long trek through unwelcoming tropical jungle. Kokoda is a preparation of fresh fish cooked in acid, rather than heat, like a ceviche. Any fresh white salt water fish is combined with lemon juice, coconut cream, onion, chilli, spring onions, capsicums and tomato to create a bright, fresh combination that also has notes of richness from the coconut. Ceviche is one of my all time favourites, so I welcomed this delicious variation.


Oysters

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OK, I’m going to level with you. I was struggling to find a fourth meal this week during my planning. There are a lot of meat, coconut and root vegetable stews in this part of the world, and to be completely honest, they aren’t my favourite. My friends and boyfriend like those sort of stews, so I’m certainly not saying they are objectively bad, they are just a rare example of a dish that isn’t my cup of tea. However, it’s been a while since I’ve eaten oysters, and oysters are prevalent in Melanesia, particularly Vanuatu, which even contains a land mass named “Oyster Island”. Also, I haven’t been able to fit fresh, raw oysters into any of my meals thus far, and I haven’t eaten any in a while, so I was easy to convince to eat them instead of yet another coconut stew. Oysters are salt water bivalve molluscs, eaten either raw or cooked by many cultures of the world for at least 10,000 years, if archeological middens of Australia are to be believed. They are filter feeders, and can be particularly useful in removing pollutants from water, such as algae and sediment, although this also has made people more wary of eating them, given the rise in pollution in recent times. Oysters as a foodstuff are notoriously divisive – some adore them and others cannot abide the mere thought of eating them. Jonathan Swift apparently once remarked “he was a bold man that first ate an oyster”. There’s an old wives’ tale in the northern hemisphere that oysters should only be eaten in months that contain a letter “r”, presumably to avoid the summer months when oysters were more likely to spoil during transportation. Another old wives’ tale purports that oysters are a powerful aphrodisiac, and indeed recent research has shown that it may hold some truth, given that they are rich in compounds that can trigger levels of sex hormones. Those old wives might know best after all!


Mumu

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Mumu hails from Papua New Guinea, and is traditionally made by combining locally available foods such as leafy greens, root vegetables, meat (e.g. chicken, pork, cassowary or turtle), fruits such as green banana and pineapple together with spices and coconut milk. This layered mixture is encased in banana leaves and cooked in a ground oven filled with hot stones. I don’t think it would be wise for me to dig a ground oven in the small backyard of my rental property, so I improvised by cooking my mumu in a casserole dish on a low heat in the oven. Some of the recipes I read contained very serious warnings to take care if you use an earth oven, lest some of the local stray dogs uncover the unattended mumu while it’s cooking and ruin the feast. I’ve read a lot of recipes in my time, but that tip is certainly a first!


Lap lap

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Lap lap is a preparation from Vanuatu involving a combination of grated green bananas and manioc root, flavoured with coconut milk, onions, garlic and herbs, wrapped in tight packages of banana leaved and cooked on coals to create a starchy, smoky and comforting taste sensation. Variations can involve adding some meat into the package, for which I chose chicken wings, although a more traditional option would be flying fox. Apparently in Vanuatu the locals commonly eat straight from a communal pot, using their right hand to scoop out portions with flatbread. This concept sounds fantastic to me – if it’s cooked outside in banana leaves, that means zero washing up! Maybe I’ll start experiment with the zero cutlery/crockery/cookware concept as my next project?

59. Norway

Norway is undoubtedly a very special place. It’s had the highest Human Development Index ranking since 2009, and has been in the top 5 of the World Happiness Report rankings, holding the first place in 2017, as well as first place for the OECD Better Life Index, The Index of Public Integrity and the Democracy Index, as well as boasting incredibly low crime rates and high education scores. The English word Norway literally means “way leading to the north” and indeed the country sits on the northernmost tip of continental Europe, bordering Sweden, Finland and Russia to the south and east. By all accounts, the country has a special remote beauty, from the arctic tundras, to the myriad fjords and glaciers on the northern coasts, the steep jagged cliff faces encircling mountains, and the midnight summer sun and unending nights of winter, lit only by the magnificent Northern lights. Norwegian cuisine is distinct from its neighbours in that it uses a greater amount of seafood, such as smoked salmon, pickled herring, cod etc., due to its large coastline and long history of naval exploration. There is also a long history of hunting and eating game, such as moose, reindeer, fowl and mountain hare, often served with juniper berries and lingonberries. Due to the long winters, Norway has rich traditions of curing ingredients to prevent them from spoiling, including drying, salting, smoking and fermenting. Perhaps all of these particularities of the geography, ecology, culture and cuisine have contributed to Norway being such a successful cradle for human progress? A nutritious and delicious meal is certainly a good place to start when aiming for the pinnacles of democracy, happiness and human development in my opinion. 


Krabbefest

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Krabbefest literally means “feast of crab” and takes place in the Norwegian summer, when there is an abundance of brown crabs in the waters surrounding Bergen. Ever since the seventh week of my cooking challenge, when I couldn’t find any crayfish for a Swedish crayfish party, I’ve been romanticising the event, where people sit outside under the summer sun late into the day, sharing crayfish, bread, dill and salads under paper lanterns. I therefore jumped at this opportunity to replicate a similar neighbouring concept, as mud crabs are apparently fairly similar to brown crabs, and my city has those in abundance. I cooked the crabs in boiling water flavoured with salt, sugar, beer, lemons and dill. I served the crab with homemade mayonnaise, and, although not pictured, lots of dark rye bread and salad. Crab is one of my favourite flavours: the subtle delicate sweetness of the meat is unique to a select few in the crustacean family, and is always a decadent delight. However, for me, buying and cooking whole crabs is a bittersweet joy, as, inevitably, pain accompanies the process. The first of these pains is financial, as I still haven’t managed to make any fisherman friends who would take me crabbing, despite there being a wide abundance of wild crabs near where I live. Perhaps I should start hanging out at boat ramps? The second of these pains is the pain of cleaning my kitchen, as, no matter how hard I try, the process of cleaning the crabs is messy and smelly. The third pain is literally of the flesh. I am generally a very careful and precise cook and despite cooking so much it is a very rare occasion in which I ever cut or burn myself. However, every time I’ve cleaned crab, I’ve ended up with a horrible festering wound on my hands, inflicted by the very sharp spines on the shell while trying to force the claws open. I was nearing the end of cleaning these crabs and feeling quite smug and self-congratulatory that I hadn’t hurt myself this time, when, of course, I sliced open my right thumb pad. The most inconvenient aspect of this is that now my thumbprint recognition software on my smartphone doesn’t recognise the new mutilated flesh as human, and I have to type in my password every time. Talk about first world problems! Despite my complaints, the crab meat was incredible, and worth all the pain (just…).


Stekt fisk, agurksalat, lefse and vegetables

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Stekt fisk, meaning fried fish, is a simple yet classic preparation of white fish, such as cod, coated in a light dusting of flour, seasoned, then panfried in a little oil. Agurksalat means “cucumber salad” and is a preparation of sliced cucumber, vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, salt and parsley. It’s a light and refreshing dish that I wouldn’t have thought would go well with a fish dinner, but is actually a perfect accompaniment to the hot fried flesh. Lefse is the most uniquely Norwegian item on this plate, being a traditional flatbread made with a dough of cooked and mashed potatoes, plain flour, butter and milk.  Once the dough is formed, a rolling pin with deep grooves and spikes is traditionally used to roll it into thin sheets, although, lacking a specific lefse rolling pin in my arsenal of kitchen tools, I just used a regular one. The rolled out lefse dough is then cooked  on a griddle, and has the advantage of taking a very short time to be ready in the grand scheme of breads. Once cooked, lefse can be eaten with both sweet and savoury toppings, the most common being knobs of butter that the lefse is then rolled around like a cigar, known as “lefse-klenning”. There is a legend floating around that the Norse God Odin served lefse to slain warrior Vikings upon their appearance in Valhalla to nourish them before their final battle. This would have to be a truly divine act, however, given that potatoes didn’t exist in Norway during Viking times… Maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a different sort of lefse without potatoes?


Fiskesuppe

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Fiskesuppe “fish soup”, is a fish stock and milk-based broth containing any fish and seafood handy to the cook, as well as vegetables such as celery, onion, leek, carrots, parsnip, celeriac and potatoes. I used cod and clams for my fiskesuppe, and infused and garnished the soup with bulging handfuls of dill, as is traditional. It is a soup rather than a bisque, which describes a thicker creamy mixture, whereas this recipe should be lighter and relatively thin. This is fortunate, because I think I must have eaten 6 litres of this soup over the week. I made lots on purpose, because I knew in my heart that I would love fiskesuppe. Fortunately, this love of dairy-based fish preparations was belatedly discovered when I began my cooking challenge, and before that I wouldn’t have guessed that I would become so enamoured of the combination. After all, warm fish milk is not the most appetising of descriptions. Although not pictured, I ate my fiskesuppe with dark rye bread, and it kept me very warm in one of the coldest weeks of the Brisbane winter this year (a sunny maximum of 23 degrees Celsius… perhaps I shouldn’t complain?).


Fårikål

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Fårikål is widely considered to be the national dish of Norway, although there is a story surrounding this fact that I think is extremely cute in a very typically Scandinavian way. Fårikål was elected to the esteemed position of national dish by popular vote through a radio program back in the 1970s. Apparently the citizens thought the matter forever settled, because when a food and agriculture minister announced a new competition in recent years, scandal and uproar gripped the community, and many called indignantly for her resignation over the insult to fårikål. However, in the end, all was well; the citizens voted and fårikål was confirmed as the correct choice after all. This was likely helped along by the group called Fårikålens Venner (friends of fårikål), who have set their ambitions higher than just Norway, and campaign to have fårikål recognised as the world’s best national dish. A completely unbiased decision, I’m sure! I won’t dare to make any sort of statement about “world’s best” with fearsome organisations such as “friends of fårikål” stalking in the shadows, but I will say that fårikål is certainly one of the most minimalistic national dishes I’ve struck in my culinary adventure. There are five ingredients: lamb or mutton, cabbage, whole black peppercorns, salt and water. The major two ingredients are helpfully described in the name, which means “sheep in cabbage”, and are layered alternately in a pot and cooked without stirring. These components are stewed together for hours until the meat is fall-apart tender, and the flavours have infused the rich broth. Fårikål is traditionally prepared in early autumn, after the annual round up of sheep from grazing in the mountains over summer, and even boasts its own Feast Day on the last Thursday of every September. I really did try to make this dish look beautiful, however, I’m an amateur cook and blogger, not a miracle worker, and there’s only so much that can be done with lighting and filters when you are working with a bowl of brown mush… However, what fårikål lacks in beauty, it makes up for in the sort of warm comforting taste that can only be achieved by slow cooked and simple recipes. I can imagine that, despite the limited ingredients, every Norwegian grandmother has her own secrets that make her fårikål unique and beloved by all of her descendants.

58. The Fertile Crescent

I am defining the Fertile Crescent as the countries of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I must admit, I approached this region with much trepidation during my initial planning. To even mention the names of some of these countries can elicit a frothing rage from some partisans, and with so much ongoing violence, persecution and untimely death in the area, it is an understandably sensitive topic. This is distressing, as my goal of communicating this project is to inspire increased home cooking, understanding of different cultures, and ultimately contribute to uniting humanity under the common characteristic of cooking and enjoying delicious food. I was perplexed about whether covering each country in isolation or lumping them all together would elicit more ire, but eventually the prospect of deciding who would be credited with inventing the falafel sealed my decision – I had to consider the countries together… The beginning of this week’s planning marked a very sad occasion for me – TV chef and famous traveller Anthony Bourdain died of an apparent suicide. He is famous for his television series in which he journeys across cities of the world, sampling their food, meeting their people, and discussing the culture. You can imagine, then, that we shared many passions, and I was very saddened by his passing. Bourdain himself visited the Fertile Crescent in 2013, and began that particular episode with the description: “It’s easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world, and there’s no hope – none – of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody, off”. Of course, what the episode actually revealed was Bourdain sitting down to, literally, break bread, with people from all sides of the conflict, and finding out that everyone was, well, human. And that is what I want to express most about this week, and what I think Bourdain would like to be remembered for – that every culture and nation is comprised of humans, and by and large those humans love to eat delicious things, take joy in feeding appreciative guests, and yearn to have their children’s tummies full of nutritious food when they go to bed at night. We could all benefit from remembering that more often, I think. Indeed, grassroots initiatives such as “Peace of Cake” have sought to put that message into action and restore trust by handing out cake to citizens, regardless of race or religion, with signs in all relevant languages promoting peace. Sometimes the simplest causes are the most noble. The “Fertile” part of the name “Fertile Crescent” refers to its particularly good soil, and its geographical role as a bridge between Africa and Eurasia, thereby accumulating great biodiversity from each. A hugely important part of this biodiversity was the rise of eight Neolithic founder crops, which were instrumental to early human agriculture: emmer wheat, einkorn, barley, flax, chick pea, pea, lentil and bitter vetch. Cows, goats, sheep and pigs were also domesticated here, and all of this cumulatively contributed to human evolution and migration throughout the world, and ultimately our success as a species. It is no surprise then that this region is also sometimes called “the cradle of civilisation”, and gave rise to many feats of early human genius, including writing, glass, irrigation, libraries, the wheel, and, as you are about to find out, some truly incredible food.


Fertile Crescent platter

Fertile crescent platter.jpg

In keeping with my diplomatic act of not attributing any of the most common, famous and shared foodstuffs to any single country or peoples of the Fertile Crescent, I prepared a tasting platter of some characteristic dishes that have indeterminate origins throughout the region. These are: flatbread, falafel, kibbeh, baba ghanoush, hummus, tabbouleh and sfeeha. Unlike many flatbreads, flatbread from this region is often slightly leavened, meaning a rising agent such as yeast is added to it. Falafel, as I alluded to in the introduction, is one of the most famous foodstuffs consumed in the Fertile Crescent. The name literally means “rollers” or “little balls”, and it consists of a deep fried patty made from ground legumes, usually chickpeas, and often flavoured with ingredients such as cumin, coriander, garlic, parsley, or green onion.  It is a common street food, eaten the world over as a meat-substitute by vegetarians, and often served inside a pita bread, or along with a selection of other entrees as a meze. Kibbeh (meaning “ball”) is also a deep-fried patty, but this time made of a filling of finely ground minced meat (such as beef or lamb) combined with onions, pine nuts, allspice, cumin and pepper. This is then covered in a coating of finely ground bulgur (cracked wheat), more mince, onion and pepper. The balls are often moulded into football shapes (as I did) and then deep fried until the outside is crunchy and golden, and the inside is moist and juicy. I am tempted to try baked kibbeh another time, which is a similar concept but with layers in a large casserole dish that goes into the oven. It seems much healthier and less time-consuming, but I wanted to try the real deal for my first time. Baba ghanoush and hummus are both dips, the former made from the smoky flavoured innards of fire-blackened eggplant mixed with tahini and olive oil, the latter made from ground chickpeas (hummus actually means “chickpeas”), tahini and olive oil. Common flavourings that can be added to both include lemon, parsley, cumin, garlic and paprika. There are recipes for hummus recorded since the 13th century, and it is often eaten for breakfast lunch and dinner, warm or cold, at restaurants, street vendors or at home, forming an integral part of daily life. I made both of my dips from scratch, blackening the eggplant under my electric grill rather than the traditional charcoal, and they were both thick, rich and wonderful. Tabbouleh (meaning “seasoning” or “dip”) is a salad made of chopped parsley, tomatoes, onion, mint and bulgur, flavoured with lemon, oil and garlic. It reflects the long history of edible herbs, grown in the mountains between Lebanon and Syria, which were hugely popular with the locals, and formed the basis of original tabboulehs. Finally, sfeeha are little open pies, traditionally made with a minced lamb filling with onion, pine nuts, pomegranate molasses, garlic and parsley, although I also made some with mashed roast pumpkin because I was catering for vegetarians. So, there you go, a platter clumsily uniting the cuisine of all countries in the Fertile Crescent. I’m not the first to attempt this, however; a renowned Israeli peace activist, Jonathan Kis-Lev, promotes the use of felafel and hummus as symbols of peace under which Israelis and Palestinians can unite. I’m not sure if it’s been effective thus far, but a meal like that certainly might dispose me to a more peaceful state of mind?


Musakhan and fattoush

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I can’t find any controversy about musakhan, so I guess it’s safe for me to tell you that it’s a Palestinian dish, in fact oft considered their national dish. It is traditionally prepared to celebrate the season in which olive oil is produced, but can now be enjoyed all year round. It is made with pieces of chicken, baked with olive oil, onions and pine nuts, flavoured with allspice, saffron, and considerable amounts of sumac, all served on top of some freshly baked flatbread called taboon bread. Sumac is a spice derived from berries of the Rhus shrub, which are dried and ground into a deep purple-red powder. It imparts a deep purple colour and unique flavour that is sour and slightly fruity. Sumac can also be used dry to garnish dips or salads, or to colour and flavour wet stews. For some reason every time I eat food heavily spiced with sumac, I note how much I adore the flavour and intend to cook with it more often, but then I never seem to remember. Perhaps this time? One of the things I love most about cuisine of the Fertile Crescent is the great variety of delicious salads! The rest of the world take note and learn from these people: the majority of you do not have enough salads… Fattoush is one such glorious salad, made from mixed greens, herbs and vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes, along with crisp pieces of fried flatbread, flavoured with olive oil, lemon juice and sumac. As with all great salads, fattoush is flexible to whatever might need using in the fridge, and can also include capsicum, feta cheese, onions, pomegranates, cabbage or whatever your practical heart desires to be used up first. Indeed, the very concept of fattoush sprang from practical housewives looking for new and inventive uses for stale flatbread, for which frying in oil is a brilliant and delicious idea.


Shakshouka, freekeh, pomegranate and pistachio salad, and manakish

Shakshouka, salad and manakish.JPG

Shakshouka, meaning “mixture” is made by first frying up a thick chunky sauce of tomatoes, capsicum and onions, often flavoured with garlic, cumin and paprika. Once the sauce is cooked and at a desired consistency, little holes are made in the mixture and eggs are cracked into them and subsequently poached. The meal is then usually garnished with fresh parsley before serving with bread. Some say it was brought to the Fertile Crescent by Tunisian Jews, where it became famously associated with the region, and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner interchangeably. However, others say it was invented in Yemen or the Ottoman Empire, so perhaps the mystery is lost to time. Regardless, I adore shakshouka, as I do almost any egg preparation imaginable. I am fully supportive of any movement to bring more eggs into the lunch and dinner arena, as I strongly feel that they have been relegated to breakfast for far too long. The salad that I served with my shakshouka is not typical enough to earn a special name (like tabbouleh or fattoush), but includes common ingredients from the area, and I have seen a number of authentic-looking recipes that used this combination. More importantly, it sounded (and was) delicious! I combined cooked freekeh (a grain from green durum wheat that is roasted and rubbed), with some rocket leaves, pomegranate seeds, pistachio nuts and red capsicum. I also made manakish, which is often affectionately referred to as a Middle-Eastern “pizza”. It is a flatbread made from dough that is topped with ingredients prior to baking, such as Arabic cheeses, minced lamb, spinach, or olive oil and za’atar. I used the latter, which is one of the most traditional options, and is a spice mix made of dried and ground thyme, oregano and marjoram, with toasted sesame seeds and sumac. I served my manakish with some labneh, a yoghurt cheese, made by straining yoghurt to remove most of the whey, producing a thick and sour creamy product, often stored and sold in balls immersed in olive oil. I’ve never eaten manakish or labneh before now, and I loved them both, especially with all of the runny egg yolk, tomatoey sauce and crunchy salad to accompany them. I will definitely reproduce this meal in the future; it has all of the elements for success!


Chicken shawarma pita pocket

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Pita bread is perhaps the most famous of Arabic breads, possibly because of the childlike delight that engulfs the most cynical of diners upon opening up a seemingly solid circle of flatbread, and finding that it forms a convenient hollow pocket that can be stuffed with all of the ingredients of your dreams. The pita dough is made with wheat flour and a little bit of yeast, unlike many other unleavened flatbreads. The secret to forming the pocket is baking at incredibly high temperatures, which makes the dough expand quickly, puffing up into a steam-filled sphere. Once cooled, the bread returns to looking flat, but the middle remains hollow and separate. It’s actually one of the easier breads to make at home, and conveniently only needs to be proofed for about 15 minutes, which is convenient if, like me, your patience for hot fresh bread is severely limited. Pita can be eaten by itself, or as a vehicle for dips, or made into sandwiches by filling the pockets. I filled my pita pocket with a version of shawarma, which is a meat preparation where pieces of lamb, beef or poultry are stacked on a rotisserie and cooked, while servings are shaved off the outside as demand requires. Shawarma, literally meaning “turning”, is among the most popular street foods in the world, and is thought to originally derive from a similar Turkish preparation that morphed into the diner kebab.  I don’t have a rotisserie hanging around, but I roasted some chicken with some of the same spices used in shawarma and cut it into small pieces. Along with the chicken, I stuffed my pita pocket with lettuce, tomato, onion, tabbouleh and a garlic, yoghurt and tahini sauce. I remember requesting chicken shawarma pita pockets as a 7 year old as my fast food of choice, even when Macdonald’s was an available alternative, and my love of the combination hasn’t been dulled by the years – the juicy meat and crunchy fresh salad encased in the convenient warm sleeping bag of carbs is difficult to resist.

57. Thailand

Thai cuisine is definitely a contender for best in the world, with award-winning restaurants popular around the globe, and more dishes than any other country appearing in a 2017 “World’s 50 Best Foods” poll. I would posit that the major property that has caused the world to fall in love with Thai cuisine is balance. Dishes often have intricate balances between soft, chewy and crunchy textures, sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy and umami flavours, and a delicate mixture of fresh aromatic herbs and vegetables with fried savoury meats and steaming hot carbohydrates. If all of that sounds complicated, it may be because it is. Unlike, for example, most Mediterranean cuisine, Thai cooking rejects simplicity, and rather seeks to draw together many seemingly discordant ingredients into a harmonious symphony of flavour. Hungry yet? The different regions of Thailand have distinct cuisines that influence and are influenced by their neighbouring countries, as well as the local environment. For instance, in the south, next to the ocean, there is a greater abundance of seafood and coconut milk than in the north. Thai people originally ate with their hands, sitting on floor mats, however in the 1800s forks and spoons were introduced and it is now common practice to eat with cutlery; contrary to popular belief, chopsticks are seldom used. This aids the practice of “khluk”, which necessitates taking small servings from different dishes and mixing them together on your plate. I’m so happy that finally I’ve found a name for such an integral concept to my life! Another wonderful idea the Thais came up with is the rule that one should serve a variety of dishes, ideally more than there are people at the table. Such a strong focus on variety in every meal sounds like heaven to me – no wonder I’ve always adored Thai food!


Tom yum soup and Thai beef salad

Tom yum soup and thai beef salad.JPG

Tom yum/tom yam is a hot and sour soup, with “tom” describing the act of boiling, while “yam” refers to spicy and sour flavours. The broth is made with stock (often fish) added to a paste called nam prik pao, which contains roasted chillies, shallots and garlic. This is then combined with flavours of fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce, chillies, coriander and galangal. Any sort of meat can be included, but shrimp is one of the most common, and was what I used for mine. The inclusion of vegetables is also flexible, and I chose spring onion, tomatoes and straw mushrooms. There are varieties of tom yum that contain coconut or evaporated milk, but I chose to leave them out of mine. I don’t recall trying this soup before I made it, but I now absolutely adore the taste – warming and comforting, with the spicy aromatic sour taste making it exotic and exciting at the same time. Thailand is famous for its wonderful salads, which never ever consist of lonely wilted lettuce leaves, and almost always feature raw or cooked meat or seafood, with dressings that are absolutely bursting with flavour. So important is the salad concept in Thailand that there are specific names for the four main varieties: yam (meaning “mix” of any conceivable ingredient flavoured with shallots, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chillies), tam (meaning “pounded” such as green papaya salad), lap (minced meat and dry roasted rice) and phla (made with uncooked or only slightly cooked protein). To be honest, I’m not very sure about which category my salad falls under: I think it might qualify as nam tok, (meaning “waterfall” – referring to the juices spilling from the cooking meat) which is a variety of “lap” where the beef is sliced rather than minced? The meat was a bit rare so maybe it could be “phla” as well? Then again, just about anything could be included in a “yam”? Well, regardless, I grilled a steak to medium rare and sliced it thinly, then, while it was still warm, tossed it through with mixed leaves, Thai basil, red onion, cucumber, capsicum, chillies, roasted peanut pieces, mint, coriander and lemongrass. To this I added a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, shallots, garlic and chilli. I was incredibly impressed by this soup and salad combination – it was so tasty and filling, and surely not terribly calorific? Watchers-of-weight take heed!


Pla rad prik

Pla rad prik.jpg

Pla rad prik (literally meaning fish, to pour, chilli) is a whole fish, deep fried, and then served with a sweet and spicy sauce and garnish. It’s one of my favourite dishes from a very beautiful Thai restaurant located a couple of hours up the coast from where I live, which features outdoor seating around picturesque ponds, waterfalls and gardens. It has some of the most gourmet and delicious Thai food I’ve ever eaten, but the whole fried fish is possibly the most spectacular option of all. I used a snapper for my fish, first lightly coating it in flour, then deep frying in a wok half filled with vegetable oil. For the sauce, I combined minced coriander root, garlic, chillies, shallots, ginger, palm sugar, fish sauce and water, cooked until bubbling, then poured it over the fish along with lots of shallots and fresh lime juice. I adore this dish – the distinct textures of crunchy exterior, chewy shallots and soft juicy flesh and the contrasting flavours of spicy chillies, sour tamarind, sweet sugar, umami fish flesh and salty fish sauce creates a wonderful harmony of culinary experience. The only downside to this dish is that the oil is messy, and my house smelled like fish for more than a week afterwards… An excuse to go back to the restaurant and eat it there next time?


Green, red and Massaman curries

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Thailand is famous for its curries, which are usually made with a base of finely ground ingredients in a paste, to which protein, vegetables and coconut milk are added to form a soupy consistency. I love Thai curries, and I couldn’t pick just one to cook this week, so I made three of my favourites instead! They are all iconic in their own ways and equally delicious, especially when eaten with lots of fluffy, aromatic jasmine rice, which is indigenous to Thailand. I made the curry pastes from scratch several months ago with some friends, and have had them frozen until now. In the past I’ve only ever used store-bought paste, and I must say, I could taste the difference. Thai green curry paste is made with green chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, coriander root, cumin seeds, white pepper and salt, all ground together. After the paste is fried to release its flavours and aromas, coconut milk, mixed vegetables and a protein are then added, for which I used green beans, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, cashews and tofu. Red curry paste is made with dry red chillies, garlic, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root, cumin, lemongrass, shallots and pepper. The rest of the curry preparation is similar to the green, including coconut milk, a protein source (I used chicken) and assorted vegetables, for which I used red capsicum, baby corn and carrot. The final curry I made is the brown one in the photo, and called Massaman curry. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Massaman curry, because it’s the first proper meal I can remember making as a kid. I had already mastered toast and even soft-boiled eggs by this stage, but it was a whole new world when I learned to make a curry. I could then come home from school and make a nutritious and delicious dinner for my (hopefully) delighted parents, and in retrospect that early feeling of pride and satisfaction likely drove my lifelong interest in cooking. From memory, my childhood version (influenced no doubt by my ever trim and health conscious mother) was made with lean chicken, sweet potato, green beans and corn, which is not very traditional, but delicious and healthy all the same. The more traditional recipe that I made here contains large pieces of slow cooked beef, as well as potato, peanut and sweet spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves and nutmeg, along with traditional Thai spices such as coriander seeds, lemongrass, galangal, white pepper, garlic, tamarind paste and fish sauce, all immersed in a rich sauce of coconut milk. It is thought that the word Massaman derives from “Mussulman”, which is an archaic form of the word Muslim. The connection may be via the Persian merchant Sheik Ahmad Qomi, a central figure of the Thai noble court in the 17th century, and crucial to the import of all of the sweet spices listed above. Massaman is sweetly immortalised in an 18th century poem of a Thai King, written in his youth to his future wife, which reads: “Massaman, a curry made by my beloved, is fragrant of cumin and strong spices. Any man who has swallowed the curry is bound to long for her”. Funnily enough, when I tasted this Massaman curry, I was indeed instantly transported to the lost memories of my sweet childhood cooking adventures, accompanied by a yearning for those happy and simple times, so perhaps it does have a particular property that prompts melancholic reminiscence? 


Pad Thai

Pad Thai.JPG

Pad Thai, literally meaning “Thai stir fry” is the comfortable bastion of the panicked Westerner, quickly trying to locate something familiar and “not too foreign” on a Thai restaurant menu. Beloved by all, from the pickiest child to the most unadventurous of eaters, it comprises large flat rice noodles stir fried in a mild, slightly sweet sauce made with tamarind, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic, shallots, lime and palm sugar. Scrambled eggs, tofu, roasted chopped peanuts, bean sprouts and chilli are often added, along with meat or seafood, for which I used prawns. It’s thought that Pad Thai was introduced in the 1700s to the city of Ayutthaya by Chinese merchants, pedalling roadside carts of stir fried noodles. The dish was subsequently adapted to Thai ingredients and tastes, such as the addition of tamarind and fish sauce. Pad Thai was further popularised by the Thai government during World War II, when a rice shortage meant that rice noodles were promoted as an alternative, as the same volume could be produced with only 50% of the grain. The Thai people were instructed to eat the dish (with the slogan “noodle is your lunch”) because it would help their country’s ongoing food shortage, improve their health by adding variety to their diet, and also unite Thailand under a single national dish. The latter goal seems to be the seed of another story explaining how Pad Thai became the national dish: a competition was held in the early 1900s to find the best Thai meal, and Pad Thai emerged victorious. Whatever the truth, Pad Thai is now one of the most popular foods from Thailand, and has made it onto numerous lists of the world’s most delicious meals.

56. Austria

Austrian cuisine has been influenced by its neighbours Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. That’s a lot of neighbours for a relatively small country! Accordingly, each small region of Austria has differing cuisine, many of which are predominantly influenced by their closest international neighbour. Much traditional Austrian fare centres on meat: pork and meat are very popular, as is game, which can take the form of deer, wild boar, hare, pheasant, duck or partridge. Once all the choicest pieces of meat are gone, sausages are typically made, and take many different forms, from smoked, to raw, to cured, to blood varieties. Freshwater fish is served where large lakes allow fishing, and vegetables include the standard potato, asparagus, green beans and other assorted root vegetables that populate most of northern Europe. One of Austria’s greatest claims to culinary fame is the possible invention of croissant. Legend has it that a Viennese baker, working through the night, heard a noise under his shop, which turned out to be an invasion of the Turkish forces who were holding the city under siege. After alerting authorities, the tunnel was blown up and the invasion thwarted. The humble baker refused all other rewards, only asking that he might gain exclusive rights to bake crescent-shapes pastries, as the crescent is the symbol of Islam – and so, the croissant was born. I am a tad dubious of this story, however. Doesn’t it seem strange that you would celebrate victory over your opponents by recreating their symbol? Regardless, some Islamic fundamentalists refuse croissants to this day, so whether true or not, the story is taken seriously. Other than the croissant, Austria also claims an astounding number of remarkable musicians, scientists and philosophers throughout history, and perhaps their food might have contributed to this output? Mozart was apparently partial to liver dumplings with sauerkraut, and grand feasts and gluttony are featured in many of his operas, so perhaps there has been a pervasive culinary influence at work among the Austrian geniuses for centuries? Regardless, it’s a good excuse to eat its cuisine (as if I needed one!).


Tafelspitz

Tafelspitz.JPGTafelspitz literally means “tip of meat for the table” and consists of a large cut of meat boiled in a broth of vegetables. The cut of meat is called topside, top round or standing rump, depending on what part of the English-speaking world you come from, and is a cut from the top hind part of the cow. I boiled my tafelspitz for a few hours with chopped leek, celery, carrot, turnip, a browned half onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper, which created a delicious broth that is sometimes served alone or with some starchy inclusions prior to the main attraction. I didn’t include the broth in this meal, but keep your eyes peeled and it might turn up later! I accompanied my tafelspitz with a number of traditional sides, including roasted shoestring potatoes, carrots and turnips, asparagus, creamed spinach, and a horseradish and apple sauce. The latter was a wonderful surprise that I never would have thought of, but works wonderfully with beef. It’s very easy to make – I just stewed a couple of peeled apples until they were mushy, then mixed through some horseradish. I’ll definitely reuse that recipe – it’s far superior to either applesauce or horseradish alone in my humble opinion, and elevates beef to royal status. Speaking of which, tafelspitz may have risen in popularity after it became widely known that an Emperor of Austria from the late 1800s/early 1900s, Franz Joseph I, especially favoured the dish, and it was always sure to be included on his table. The (particularly vain?) emperor is rumoured to have favoured the dish because the meat is rendered so tender that he could eat it with only a fork, while the knife was left free to gaze at his reflection in. Anyone who wanted to express loyalty to their empire would be sure to eat tafelspitz regularly during this period in homage to their hirsute emperor. It was also apparently one of Sigmund Freud’s favourite meals, especially when he suffered from jaw cancer, and was the first recipe in the cookbook that he gifted his wife Martha after their wedding.


Griessnockerl

griessnockerl.JPGIf we break down the name into components, “griess” means semolina, “nockerl” means dumpling and “suppe” means soup. Ah, Austrians are so efficient and clear with their naming! Indeed, as you may have cunningly deduced, this meal consists of dumplings made of a combination of egg, butter, milk and fine semolina, seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper. These are then formed into egg-like shapes, and boiled in salted water until cooked through. Some recipes call for them to be cooked directly in broth, but this can result in some residue/cloudiness that is less aesthetically pleasing. The dumplings are (hopefully) therefore served in a clear broth, for which I used vegetable, and I added some carrots and seasoned with chives for a bit of extra colour and flavour. The griessnockerl reminded me strongly of Matzah ball soup, a traditional Jewish dish with round dumplings similarly formed with Matzah meal, eggs, water and a fat, but I can’t find any information about whether or how they could be linked. Of course, there has been a large Jewish presence in Austria periodically throughout history, although this was devastatingly reduced by the holocaust. Regardless of the true story of the two potentially related soups, for the sake of all, I hope the association is a happy one and involved collaboration and peace between accepting residents of Austria.


Wiener schnitzel, erdäpfelsalat and kopfsalat

wiener schnitzel.jpgThe first thing that needs to be cleared up about Austrian schnitzel, is that, despite the line from The Sound of Music “cream-coloured ponies and crisp apple strudel, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles”, schnitzel is never, ever, ever served with noodles. All clear? All right. On with the blog. Many sources describe the discussions surrounding the origin of Wiener schnitzel as “vigorously debated”. Key world powers  vie for the honour of being the first to have had the genius idea to coat flattened meat in breadcrumbs and then fry it. The Spanish Moors were purportedly doing it in the middle ages, while Jewish inhabitants of Constantinople had a similar dish in the 12th century. There are also vague assertions that the dish has French origins, although not many specific stories that I can find. Then there is the legend that an Austrian Field Marshal brought the dish back from Italy in 1857, where a similar dish exists, called cotoletta alla Milanese. This story was scandalously debunked in the 1970s by a truth-seeking historian, who found nothing to evidence the tale. This in conjunction with records of Austrian recipes for breaded meat from as far back as the 1700s means that perhaps the truth of the matter is lost to time. Regardless of the origin, “Wiener” translates to “Viennese”, as in “from Vienna”, the capital city of Austria, so that sounds like it’s Austrian enough for my purposes! To make Wiener schnitzel, a fillet of veal is flattened, then coated in seasoned plain flour, beaten egg, and finally bread crumbs. An important step is to press the bread crumbs into the meat, which creates a lighter, fluffier coating. The schnitzel is then pan fried in fat until golden and crispy. I served my schnitzel with a few traditional accompaniments, including erdäpfelsalat, which translates to “earth-apple (potato) salad” and is a warm potato salad flavoured with white wine vinegar, chicken stock, olive oil, mustard, red onion, black pepper and chives. I also made kopfsalat, which is a lettuce salad with a sweet vinaigrette dressing, and redcurrant jelly, which is tangy, sweet and goes well with a squeeze of lemon. Schnitzel is now popular all over the world, and has been a trusty inclusion on Australian pub and cafe menus for all of my living memory – a particular favourite with children. It’s no wonder – how can crumbed and fried meat be anything but delicious? 


Frittatensuppe

fritattensuppe.jpgThat’s right! The suspense is finally over. Now you’re finally going to find out what happened to the beef broth from the tafelspitz! I used it to make the entirely separate dish of frittatensuppe, which first involves making palatschinken, which are very eggy pancakes with a milk and flour base. These pancakes are then rolled up and sliced into thin strips, after which they are no longer palatschinken, but now frittaten. They are then placed in the broth, which is usually beef, but can also be vegetable or chicken, and served with parsley or chives. Very simple. I only realised after I’d made it that frittatensuppe is actually a version of noodle soup. Surely, then, it must be a restorative remedy for common colds and ailments? It seems that the combination of starchy solids floating in a nutritious broth has been tested by time and space and emerged victorious across all cultures.