47. Malta

When I broke the news that Maltese cuisine was on the menu this week, my notoriously sweet-toothed boyfriend was hopeful that we would therefore be eating Maltesers, which are balls of wafer coated in chocolate. Some quick research, however, revealed that Maltesers take their name from a combination of “malt” and tease”, and have nothing to do with the islands of Malta. Quite the devastating disappointment… In reality, Maltese cuisine is an exemplar of culinary fusion. The name “Malta” is thought to have come from a derivation of the Greek for honey, named so because of an endemic species of bees from the island whose honey was purportedly particularly sweet. Malta consists of a remote group of small, but densely populated, islands off the coast of Sicily in Italy that has been inhabited since 5200 BC, and has been historically fought over by major world powers due to its importance in naval strategy and trade routes. Indeed, it is commonly cited as the centre of the old world. One of the most famous inhabitants were the Knights Hospitaller, who were a medieval Catholic military order that were driven out of Rhodes, and subsequently colonised Malta for 300 years In the 16th century, to protect Roman Christianity from the south. The Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, French and British have also all reigned over the centuries, with Malta becoming an independent state in 1964. The food has therefore dramatically evolved over the different changes of power to suit the tastes of the commanding residents, and Mediterranean, European and Arabic cuisines have subsequently combined, also influenced by the availability of ingredients, which predominantly need to be imported. An honourable mention of a popular food that I didn’t cook this week is pastizzi, which are savoury pastries usually filled with local cheeses or mushy peas. The Maltese people are apparently the most generous in the world, with 83% of the population giving to charity. I assume their generosity would extend to food customs, and that dinner at a Maltese home would be a welcoming and comforting affair.



Bragioli, translating to “beef olives”, are parcels of veal mince, combined with bread crumbs, garlic, bacon, parsley, oregano and egg to set. They are wrapped in very thin flattened strips of beef steaks, tied up with string, then cooked in a stew of tomato, red wine, and vegetables. I used small whole potatoes, onions and tomatoes, as well as carrots and peas, flavoured with basil, bay leaves and parsley in my stew. The name “beef olives” is a bit confusing, as there aren’t actually any olives in the dish, but it is thought to have come about because the beef parcels resemble stuffed olives once they are cooked. All of the recipes for this dish made a point of saying that it was particularly good for using cuts of beef that were not of high quality. I therefore bought one of the cheapest cuts in the supermarket, with not a great deal of faith that it would turn out as tender as they said. I was wrong, though, the meat was soft and delicious, and the red wine infusion created a wonderful gradient of taste throughout the mince parcels. This meal is a good example of the “rustic” or “peasant” Maltese food, making the best out of common and/or substandard ingredients, with some special flair coming not from its expense, but its careful and time-consuming preparation. However, as with most peasant food, it produces some of the most delicious, ingenious and comforting meals.

Torta tal lampuki

torta tal lampuki.JPG

“Torta” means pie and “lampuki” is a particular type of Maltese fish. Torta tal lampuki is therefore a Maltese fish pie. Being an island nation, Malta is especially dependent on seafood, and the lampuki season, which occurs between August and November, is greatly anticipated by fishermen and inhabitants alike. I couldn’t source lampuki, so instead I used tuna, which is also used to make pies in Malta. To make the filling I combined the cooked tuna with spinach, onion, garlic, parsley, tomatoes, capers, peas and olives – sautéing everything until it was cooked. I then made my pie crust with my trusted recipe of butter, flour, salt and water, mixed up in the food processor and then kneaded into a dough. I then rolled out sheets, placed the filling inside, then sealed up the edged. I made little freehand fish out of the extra dough to denote its filling, although they didn’t turn out quite as artistic as I had hoped. Perhaps I should stick to cooking? Pies are very traditional British fare, but the addition of tomatoes, olives and capers gives an unmistakable Mediterranean flavour to the dish. Tora tal lampuki therefore exemplifies the culinary fusion of Maltese history.

Soppa tal-armla

soppa tal armla.JPG

Soups are much loved in Malta, and many varieties are frequently made by home-cooks and restaurant alike. Soppa tal-armla literally means “widow’s soup”, which is one of the more evocative names I’ve come across during my cooking adventure. Luckily the soup is not thought to cause widowhood, but rather is nutritious, easy and cheap such that it is popular amongst widows. As with most recipes that were developed by a community of home-cooks, there is no definitive recipe for this dish, but it is usually made with vegetables (most often cauliflower, kohlrabi, carrot, potato, garlic and onion) in a broth flavoured with tomatoes or tomato paste and garnished with parsley. On top of this is placed servings of gbejniet, which are small white soft Maltese cheeses. This sort of cheese is actually protected by the European Union, and as such cannot be made outside of Malta. It was therefore impossible for me to find in Australia, so I substituted a soft sheep’s feta, which is apparently similar. This dish is certainly nutritious, cheap and comforting, and I’m quite glad that widows have adopted it as their eponymous dish – I hope that it nourishes and warms them for many years to come!

Fried rabbit

fried rabbit.JPG

Rabbit is a national identity of Maltese cuisine, the most common dishes being fried rabbit or stewed rabbit. The consumption of rabbit dates back to the time of the knights and was particularly important during a sort of midsummer’s feast, which took place on June 29th. As I was already making a stew this week, I chose fried rabbit, which is traditionally eaten with chips. My first mission was to actually find rabbit, which is not popular to eat in Australia, and is generally considered a depression food. Complicating things further is the fact that rabbits are illegal in Queensland, where I live, reinforced by some very threatening signs on the way in, proclaiming that smuggling one into the state could cost you up to $44,000. A steep price indeed. Eventually, however, I found a butcher that imported frozen rabbit meat, and I bought one whole. Once I cut the rabbit into pieces, I marinated it overnight in red wine, lots of garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper. The next day I then fried the pieces on all sides, then let them simmer for a while in the marinate to absorb maximum flavour. I’ve had rabbit once or twice in restaurants, but have never cooked it before. I was surprised by how light and subtle the meat was – like chicken but denser. I cooked the “chips” in the oven on a very low heat and they were crunchy and delicious, especially when paired with peas, which are a particular favourite of mine.


46. Iceland

Although I don’t remember ever consciously trying any Icelandic food, I have held the vague impression that it’s widely considered one of the worst cuisines in the world by tourists. This may have partly come from notoriously adventurous TV chef Anthony Bourdain’s pronouncement of the traditional Icelandic fermented shark as his all-time worst food experience. Another meal that may have contributed to this reputation is the boiled sheep head, which is singed to remove hair and then served whole. Within the last hundred years, Iceland developed the concept of Þorramatur, which was originally intended to be a banquet to showcase many different examples of traditional cuisine, but has more recently developed into more of a sideshow of the most unusual selection food Iceland has to offer, designed to tempt daring tourists ready to torment their picky friends. Perhaps taking pride in oddity is a common trait in Iceland, if the exquisitely eccentric singer Björk is anything to go by. It was with resolution therefore that I embarked upon this week’s research, determined to find something delicious in Icelandic cuisine. Part of my ethos for undertaking this momentous cooking challenge is, in fact, a certainty that all countries hold wonderfully ingenious humans who have used the available ingredients to concoct the most delicious meals possible. Said available ingredients of Iceland are traditionally focused around lamb and its milk to make cheeses, and a wonderfully diverse array of cold-water seafood, including fish, skates, shark, lobster, shrimp and traditionally whale. Other classic ingredients include seabirds and their eggs, freshwater fish, rhubarb, berries, moss, wild mushroom, thyme, seaweed and local green leafy vegetables. Influences from surrounding countries, particularly Denmark, later popularised increased vegetable consumption, especially of root vegetables. Although fresh food is favoured in modern Iceland, traditionally, foods needed to be preserved for families to survive the long winter in a variety of ingenious ways, including being stored in salt, fermented in whey, as well as smoked and dried. Traditionally, home-cooked Icelandic food was served in an askur, which is a lidded wooden cask with handles. Each family member would have their own personal askur, often decorated to their liking, which they would clean themselves after each meal. But what’s my final verdict on Icelandic food, I hear you ask? I did pick and choose the recipes carefully, but I found all of the meals to be simple and hearty, showcasing combinations of flavours that are so much greater than the sum of their parts. Certainly, then, Iceland does not deserve its bad reputation, and I would love to visit there to try all of the dishes that I was not able to source ingredients for. Perhaps not the fermented shark though?

Lamb rack with stewed cabbage, potatoes and beans

lamb rack with red cabbage potatoes and green beans.JPG

Lamb is the main meat eaten in Iceland, and the Icelandic people have a long history of using every part of the animal to ensure nothing is wasted. This includes the whole sheep head I mentioned previously, as well as ram testicles. Traditionally, any meat not able to be eaten immediately needed to be preserved, and some of these preservation techniques because an integral part of the flavour. Indeed, one of the most famous Icelandic meals that I have not made this week, mostly due to supply issues, is smoked lamb leg, which is still served at Christmas. I tried to source some but failed, and was left wondering why we smoke so many pork products but never lamb!? Instead I therefore roasted a lamb rack, which is also popular in Iceland and sometimes served at Christmas. I seasoned it with thyme, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, fennel and cloves, then coated it in a light dusting of fine breadcrumbs before roasting. I stewed the red cabbage with red wine vinegar, cinnamon, butter and sugar, which is very reminiscent of a Danish recipe I made a few weeks back. I also made one of the best gravies of my life, by mixing the pan drippings with flour then adding beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. The latter ingredient is certainly not traditionally Icelandic, but it’s a trick my Mum uses, and adds a wonderful depth to gravy. I’ve always gravitated towards chicken, pork and beef before lamb, but lately I’ve been wondering why – it’s so flavoursome and delicious! The whole rack kept each cutlet incredibly juicy during cooking, while the outside formed a wonderful crust.



Humarsúpa is an Icelandic lobster bisque, made famous by a restaurant called Saegreifinn (Sea Baron), although it was made by homecooks and restaurants long before then. As the story goes, a retired fisherman named Kjartan Halldorsson set up a shop to sell fresh fish, and some tourists came in to ask him to cook a fish that they had caught for them. Kjartan, notoriously entrepreneurial, nipped off to the store to buy a grill, then came back and charged them a small fee to grill their fish. Word of this service spread, and eventually he moved the grill inside and changed his shop into a restaurant, which is now one of the most famous seafood restaurants in Iceland. Kjartan died a few years ago, and although his lobster soup recipe was the most famous attraction of his shop, he apparently never ate any sort of soup (pronouncing it “boring”), instead favouring steaks of minke whale. I am desperate to go to Saegreifinn now! I’ll have to find an excuse to visit Iceland, but at least I can attempt to make the soup in the meantime. Humarsúpa is usually made with local Norway Lobster, sometimes called langoustine, although I had to use classic lobster as it was all that was available. It begins with a rich stock made from lobster shells, carrots, celery, onion, leeks, garlic, butter, tomato paste and fish bullion. After simmering for a few hours, this stock is strained and combined with white wine, sherry, thyme, bay leaf, curry powder, lobster meat and heavy cream, then simmered for a further half an hour. I garnished it with chives and cream, and mopped it up with any bread I could find. Heaven. It’s a bit like what I imagine seafood bisques/chowders to be like, although I don’t have much experience with either. The tomato added a wonderful sweetness that complemented the lobster, while the combination of cream, white wine and seafood is, in my opinion, one of the finest creations of humanity.

Cod with egg and butter sauce, asparagus, watercress and roasted vegetables

cod with egg and butter sauce

Cod with egg and butter sauce (Þorskur með Eggja og Smjörsósu) is a classic example of the sort of simple meals that rural Icelandic folk might prepare from a fresh fillet of fish and a scattering of vegetables from their garden. It’s traditionally served at Þorláksmessa (Saint Thorlak’s Mass, the patron saint of Iceland) on December 23rd, as it is the last day of the Catholic Christmas fast when meat is still discouraged. At the moment, Saint Thorlak is not officially a saint of anything else, although various movements are campaigning for him to be the patron saint of autism, given that he may have had the disorder himself, and that people with autism often find particular wisdom and comfort in his words. To make the dish, I used cod, baked in the oven with some oil, salt and pepper. I must admit I was slightly dubious about the egg and butter sauce. I’ve had eggs, and I’ve had butter, but there was something about the combination that left me luke-warm. I was a fool, however. Egg and butter sauce is a revolutionary concept that the Icelandic people have been hiding from us all this time. It couldn’t be simpler to make – hard-boil some eggs, then chop them roughly and combine them in a saucepan with melted butter, salt and pepper, with a little parsley on top. The yolks crumble into the butter forming a rich yellow paste, while the whites create a thick texture. The taste was sort of like the best egg-salad sandwich I’ve had, except warm, comforting, and more delicious. The taste of the fish, although nice, was quite irrelevant in comparison. I served the fish with steamed asparagus, fresh watercress and roasted root vegetables (potatoes, swedes and turnips).



Kjötsúpa is the next iteration of my rediscovery of the joys of lamb, in the form of a hearty lamb stew. Traditionally this sort of stew would be the perfect vehicle for turning mutton into tender and delicious meat, because the wool and milk of sheep meant that they were often worth more to families alive than dead, and so lived for relatively long periods until they became mutton. Lamb, onion and leeks are braised, and then simmered in stock for hours along with root vegetables of your choosing, such as carrots, cabbage, potato, turnips and swedes. I also added some oats, which were traditionally used in all sorts of Icelandic stews, and are a nice way to thicken the broth. This is then spiced with plenty of salt, pepper, oregano and thyme. The kjötsúpa vastly surpassed my expectations – it reminded me of Irish stew in that it contained lamb and root vegetables, but the addition of turnips, swedes and cabbage created more delicious and complex flavours. Although not pictured, I ate my kjötsúpa with dark rye bread to sop up the liquid. My research has informed me that kjötsúpa is widely considered to be one of the most effective cures for short-day depression, only surpassed by lýsi (cod-liver oil). As an Australian living relatively close to the equator, I won’t pretend to understand how short-day depression might feel, but I certainly felt that the kjötsúpa returned some vim and vigour to me after a long, hard week.

45. Central America

Central American is a small group of countries lying on the bridge between the North and South continents: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Like many Latin American countries, cuisine in Central America is a delightful fusion of flavours and ingredients from the Mediterranean, as well as those from native Mesoamericans. Many countries in Central America also have influences from the Caribbean and therefore its Afro-Caribbean population. The high amount of coastline means that there is a strong reliance on seafood, as well as native vegetables and tropical fruits. Central American food always strikes me as being particularly well-balanced and fresh, and that the people have a strong intuition for combining varied textures and flavours, so that each dish has sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami components. My meals this week turned out just as I imagine visiting Central America to be – bright, vibrant, fresh and delicious! All I was missing was a shot of guaro (sugar cane liquor) to wash it all down – but I think that may have necessitated quite a long siesta…



In Spanish, casado means a married man, but there is some confusion about how this relates to the dish. Some assert that it’s because single men would ask for it in restaurants for lunch, because they wanted the same larger portions that the married men were having at home. Others say that it refers to the many ingredients of the dish that are “married” together on a single plate. Again there are also stories that the dish is enthusiastically eaten by newlyweds because they would not yet be familiar with each others tastes and preferences, and would therefore make a meal offering a wide variety of options. Whatever the connection, casado hails from Costa Rica, and is a highly variable meal where a protein (such as chicken, pork or fish) is served with accompaniments such as a stew of black beans, pico de gallo, white rice, fried plantain bananas, picadillo and salad. Pico de gallo (literally meaning beak of the rooster) is a mix of chopped onion, tomato, coriander, chillies, salt, oil and lime juice, and is popular as a side throughout Latin America. Picadillo is a generic name meaning “mince” or “hash” that describes any sort of finely chopped components mixed together. It can involve meat, but generally the accompaniment to casado is vegetarian. I made my picadillo with turnip and carrot, boiled in stock and lightly fried with oregano. Attentive blog readers will know that some of my favourite meals are those that offer lots of varieties, and Latin countries are particular experts in this fields. Casado is one such meal, offering a delicious and perfect balance between meat, vegetables, carbohydrates, legumes, fruit, and most importantly, flavours.

Sopa de mariscos

sopa de mariscos.JPG

Seafood soups/stews exist in myriad forms all over Central America. Some names are rondon in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, tapado in Guatemala and Honduras, and sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) generically in those and many other places. The wide predilection for this meal may lie in the thin, coastal nature of Central American countries, and like the very best seafood recipes, the rules for what can be included are very relaxed. The general instructions I’ve found are to use whatever is fresh, in season and available, which would hopefully be a simple enough ask for seaside-dwelling Central Americans. To make my version, I tried to follow this relaxed ethos, partly because that’s how I cook anyway, but also because I didn’t want to favour any one country with such a widespread dish. I sautéed onion, garlic, capsicum and carrot in butter, then added fish stock, cream, wine, tomato paste and coconut milk. The latter seems to be a common element in many seafood soups of this region, and clearly distinguishes them from the “sopa de mariscos” of Spain. To this broth I added a mixture of seafood, including fish, prawns, mussels, octopus, squid and clams, then simmered it all gently to let the flavours infuse. I garnished it with parsley, and found it to be a wonderful surprise. I love seafood, but am slightly picky about its preparation, generally preferring it to be simply prepared with clean flavours. This soup, however, despite its many ingredients, was sublime. It incorporated all of the best parts of imported flavours from Spain with Afro-Caribbean influences and local Latin innovations and ingredients. I ate mine with some bread to sop up the broth, which was secretly-lick-the-plates-on-the-way-back-to-the-sink delicious.

Pupusas and curtido


Pupusas are very popular in El Salvador and Honduras, and although there is evidence that the recipe is over 2000 years old, the precise origin of the dish remains disputed. However, the best guess anyone can make at the etymology of the word is that it also means “swollen” in the language of the native Pipil people of El Salvador. For this reason, the issue was seemingly settled during negotiations for the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, where Honduran delegations conceded that El Salvador was the true home of the pupusa. However, some very aggressive websites on the internet have warned me that the issue is in fact not in the past, and that one ought to be careful about attributing the pupusa to any particular country. So here we are. The El Salvadorian and/or Honduran pupusa is made with a dough of white corn flour, salt and water, wrapped around a filling. These fillings can be simple cheese, refried bean paste, native vegetables or pork chicharrónes. I  stuffed mine with refried bean paste and cheese, combining cooked onion, garlic, tomato, spices and kidney beans in a food processor, then frying the resulting paste until thick and sticky. I then mixed in some grated mozzarella once it was cool, and placed spoonfuls of the mixture into little cups of dough, then sealed the dough into a ball and flattened it into a thin disc. I fried these discs in a hot skillet until brown, and served them with avocado, salsa and curtido. For the salsa, I simmered tomato, onion and capsicum with some water and oil in a pan. Once soft, I food processed it until thick and smooth. It had a great flavour – the capsicum especially added a nice extra dimension usually not found in plain tomato sauces. Curtido is a traditional accompaniment of pupusas, and is a lightly fermented and pickled vegetarian dish of grated cabbage, flavoured with carrots, onions, oregano and vinegar. There must be something special about cabbage that lends itself well to pickling and fermentation, given that so many international iterations pop up in the form of Korean kimchi, German sauerkraut and the like. I had both red and green leftover cabbage, so I made two different types of curtido, and found it a delicious sour addition to the doughy pupusas, fatty avocado, and umami salsa and beans.



Fiambre, meaning “served cold”, is a Guatemalan dish that is traditionally served on the consecutive dia de todos los santos (all saints’ day) and dia de los muertos (the day of the dead). On the day of the dead, Guatemalan families traditionally visit graveyards to share and offering of their dead loved ones’ former favourite foods. As time went on, family size grew, as did the quantity of dead, and so the fiambre was born as an all-inclusive salad that would contain any favourite ingredient that one could possibly think of in a single preparation. The salads are therefore often a collaborative family effort and can contain over 40 ingredients. Fiambres differ wildly between families, because if a beloved uncle 50 years ago famously adored beetroot, then it might feature prominently in his descendants’ fiambres, whereas another family might favour corn. It’s also traditional to share your fiambres with extended family and friends, which sounds like a delightful and dignified culinary tradition to honour the dead and strengthen the existing familial and community bonds. I think that this salad could be given a lot of titles, including “the mother of all salads”, “supersalad” and “ginormosalad”, but I think it best embodies the infamous and eponymous Seinfeld episode of “the big salad”. In the show, Elaine describes her ideal big salad by saying “it’s a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it”. I think the variable nature of fiambre means that this is actually the most helpful recipe you could find. There is also a type called “divoriciado”, in which all of the ingredients are served separating, satisfying the fussiest of eaters. In my fiambre, I Included mixed lettuce, spinach and rocket, parsley, pickles, red cabbage, peas, corn, carrots, radishes, palm hearts, tomatoes, olives, capers, green beans, cauliflower, potatoes, beetroot, ham, chorizo, prawns and hardboiled eggs. That’s 22 ingredients without the dressing (which was a mustard vinaigrette): many fewer than those cooked by enormous Guatemalan families. However, I like to think its a respectable number, given that I did it by myself and am a beginner to the Fiambre concept. I found the Fiambre very tasty, and enjoyed the blatant rejection of any hint of a “less is more” concept in the preparation of food. I suspect that this would be a great way to explain a hurried tossing together of everything leftover in the fridge into a salad as the deliberate and exotic recipe of fiambre.

44. Southern India and Sri Lanka

While Northern India’s climate is better suited to producing wheat and dairy, Southern India and Sri Lanka rely more upon rice as the carbohydrate staple, as well as a larger variety of seafood, lentils and tropical fruits, such as coconut. As I’ve already covered in my Northern India blog, most of the curries that would be familiar to Westerners and served in international Indian restaurants are from the north, leaving the south as somewhat of an unknown quantity for me. One of my favourite moments of this week was the wonderful revelation I had regarding curry leaves. My parents planted a curry leaf tree in their beautiful garden, and on one of my many tours to assess the horticultural progress, I realised I didn’t know what curry leaves were like, and pinched one between my fingers to smell it. Instantly I was transported back to my childhood, where lovely Sri Lankan friends would bring us leftover curries from big events, always insisting “no no, it’s not spicy at all”. If you’ve ever been friends with a Sri Lankan family, you will already know that they were obviously lying, but the food was so good that I persisted eating it through tears of pain as it burned my 8 year old mouth. Most of the dishes had a very distinct taste that I have never identified until now – curry leaves! I was so pleased to finally understand that long-remembered flavour, and even happier to include the fresh leaves in many dishes this week and so relive my childhood discovery of these exotic tastes.



Across Southern India and Sri Lanka there are many iterations of this meal, which is a banquet of (usually vegetarian) curries served together with carbohydrates such as rice, dosa and papadums. Not wanting to appear to favour any particular region, I have listed two names for these types of banquets (although there are many more), and incorporated aspects of each into mine. “Thali” means “plate”, and is particularly popular in Tamil Nadu, where it is offered by canteens for lunch. If you are very lucky, you might even wind up in an establishment serving unlimited thali, the generosity of which is indicative of the deep belief that serving food to others is a noble act for humanity. No disagreements here! The ethos of the meal emphasises offering at least six different flavours on a single dish: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, astringent and spicy. “Sadhya” means “banquet” and is served in Kerala, where it is almost always vegetarian and served at big celebratory events such as weddings. The individual components are often presented on a banana leaf, and can have as many as 24 dishes offered at once, or even up to 64 if you’re really aiming to impress your in-laws… It’s thought that the ethos behind the dish may be one of inclusion, as, if you offer 24 dishes, even the pickiest eaters among your guests are sure to find something they like. Personally, my patience wears a little thin with very picky eaters (ethical and medical reasons aside), so I would be tempted to not go so far to accommodate it, but I can’t deny it’s a very humble and generous gesture. In my thali/sadhya, I included (going clockwise around the leaf from the left): tomato and cucumber salad, white rice, eggplant pickle, banana chips, keera kootu, chana sundal, beetroot thoran, avial, raita, dosa, mathanga (pumpkin) erissery, cabbage thoran, sambar, chettinad potatoes, beans poriyal, mango pickle and papadums. Seventeen dishes! Goodness, no wonder I was tired. I won’t go through the ins and outs of each recipe, suffice to say that they involved a lot of vegetables and legumes, often flavoured (among many many spices) with grated coconut, sambar powder (a spice mix) mustard seeds and curry leaves, and were all terribly delicious. My favourite was undoubtedly the chettinad potatoes, which I think are in close competition with Greek lemon-roast potatoes for my favourite new way to cook potatoes. I prepared this for a New Year’s Eve sojourn into the mountains with some vegetarian friends and it was a lovely way to ring in 2018 with a burst of flavour.

Pani puri


Pani puri is a street snack, made with puri, which are created from unleavened wheat and semolina dough, deep fried until they become a spherical hollow puff, and pani, which describes the liquid filling. I had initial reservations about whether and how I would be able to make dough that puffed up nicely, so I bought some ready-to-fry panis. These came as hard flat little discs, and I remained dubious about how they would turn out, especially when I read the directions on the packet: fry for 30 seconds. “Surely 30 seconds is too short for such a miraculous transformation?” I thought. So I heated up the oil and put a trial pani in without much faith. I turned away to continue preparing the filling, then when I turned back shrieked in delight! A Harry Potter-esque miracle had occurred in my kitchen – the tiny flat disc had puffed up into a perfect, hollow sphere in a matter of seconds! Of all my cooking experiments in this challenge, this transformation inspired the most child-like awe and wonder in me. The beautiful crispy spheres are traditionally cracked open and filled with a mix of pieces of boiled potato, chickpeas, onion, coriander leaves, sev (fried noodles) and spices, including chaat masala and cumin. This filling is spooned into the puris, and topped with liberal amounts of pani, which is a beautiful green liquid flavoured with mint, coriander, ginger, chilli, tamarind, jaggery, cumin, lime and chaat masala. The net result is a single biteful that is an explosion of contrasting flavours and textures: the cool mint, tangy and sour tamarind, hot chilli, aromatic spices and salty puri with the soft potatoes, crunchy casing and smooth liquid. This dish was a delightful surprise to make and eat – I would recommend it as an easy and impressive vegan starter for even the strictest of dietary requirements.



Biriyani emerged from the Muslim population of India, perhaps originating from Arabic rice dishes such as pilaf/pulao. Biriyani is an Urdu word, thought to derive from Persian words meaning either “rice” or “fry”. Wikipedia yields a frankly overwhelming number of Biriyani varieties. To be honest with you, I ended up looking at a few of their recipes and creating an amalgamation of them based on what I felt like would be tasty. Although, to be even more honest, this is what I end up doing with most recipes… I marinated chicken pieces in yoghurt spiced with lemon juice, masala, pepper, turmeric, garlic, ginger, chilli, mint, coriander and onion. I then cooked the rice with cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, curry leaves, cloves, onions, tomato and salt. After frying the chicken mixture, I combined it with the parboiled rice and simmered it all together. I garnished it with raisins, fried onions, slivered almonds, coriander and hardboiled eggs. There’s nothing quite like rice and chicken – I’ve found a version in so many countries around the world and it’s a classic for a reason. There’s something about the combination of subtle flavours and textures that speaks of home-cooking and comfort food, and this aromatic Indian version is no exception!

Recheado masala fish and prawn vindaloo

recheado masala fish and prawn vindaloo

Recheado masala describes a spicy, tangy paste made from ginger, garlic, dried chilli, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, cloves, mustard, turmeric, sugar and vinegar. It is used in Goan cuisine to flavour all sorts of dishes, but the most famous use is to stuff and coat fish, usually mackerel or pomfret. The paste is slathered inside the cavity of the fish, and then coated all over the outside, and the fish is then fried until the paste is caramelised and the skin is a bit crispy. I found this a wonderful way to prepare fish – quick, simple, full of flavour and delicious. I first encountered the concept of vindaloo during my childhood exposure to the classic British 80s and 90s comedy “Red Dwarf”. This sitcom is based on the premise of a space mission that goes awry, killing almost all occupants, leaving a skeleton crew millions of years later led by Lister, a relaxed, sloppy, dreadlocked worker who was coincidentally frozen in suspended animation at the time of the accident. Lister is joined by the hologram of his former bunkmate Rimmer, a tediously tidy, pedantic and power-hungry goody-two-shoes, “Cat”, the human-like result of millions of years of evolution from Lister’s former pregnant pet cat, and Kryten, a subservient but dim-witted robot. Convinced yet? Anyway, while Cat is understandably obsessed with eating only fish, “curryholic” Lister’s meal of choice is always variants of vindaloo, including abominations such as kipper vindaloo, caviar vindaloo, and chilled vindaloo smoothie for breakfast. The only other information about vindaloo that I garnered from this source is that vindaloo is very hot, hot enough, in fact, to render Lister’s tastebuds useless after many millennia of curry-addiction. Vindaloo is actually from the Goan region of India, and was formed from a hybrid of Portuguese and Indian influences, originally from the preservation of ingredients in vinegar by Portuguese sailors. Its basis is a paste made with vinegar, cumin, dry chillies, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic and ginger. This is mixed with tomatoes, potatoes, onions and curry leaves to form a thick spicy sauce. A meat is then added to this mix, most traditionally pork, but for which I used prawns. I found the vindaloo very spicy, despite substantially (and with considerable cowardice) reducing the recommended amount of dried chilli. I can therefore understand why one could develop such an extreme addiction to it, given the demonstrated addictiveness of chilli due to its endorphin-releasing nature. I shall endeavour to foster my curry-addiction more attentively in the future. 

43. Hungary

In Hungary, dishes are classified into two varieties: those requiring a side dish or not. These side dishes are usually made with potatoes, rice or vegetables. Bread is also an important part of the cuisine, eaten with almost all meals. In fact, there was enormous disquiet in the country after the fall of communism in 1990, as the quality of white bread rapidly deteriorated. The spice most synonymous with Hungarian cooking is sweet paprika, which is used sometimes by the handful in a wide variety of dishes. Indeed, paprika is thought to have originated in Hungary, and is made by drying and grinding members of the chilli pepper family. Sweet paprika is one of the mildest types, and is predominantly made with red capsicums. Sour cream is also widely used in Hungarian cooking, as are many varieties of cheese and sausage. Indigenous Hungarians are called the Magyars, and their historic influence can be traced to many extant recipes. For instance, the traditional nomadic lifestyle, as well as their environment of open unforested plains that permitted hunting, has likely influenced the propensity for meaty stews cooked over open fires. There’s certainly an abundance of delicious recipes for a nation homophonous with “hungry”!

Hungarian goulash


Goulash is often considered Hungary’s national dish, consisting of stewed meat and vegetables flavoured with onion, garlic, bay leaves, vegetables and paprika. I included carrot, potato, capsicum and tomato in my goulash; some of these vegetables were not present in Europe when the first goulashes were being cooked in the 9th century, but are now beloved and traditional ingredients. The word for goulash (gulyás) means a herdsman or cowboy. It probably stems from the practice of herdsmen driving cattle long distances to sell at market, and slaughtering some along the way for their supper, stewing the meat in pots over open fires. It may also have been influenced by the practice of drying meat in the sun and packing it into bags made of sheep stomach in a very early version of instant meals – just add water! So influential has goulash been to the world that it has lent its name to a brand of communism characterised by political and economic freedom, as well a style of the card game “bridge”, where cards are not shuffled well, creating a “wilder” game. It’s traditional to serve goulash with potatoes or egg noodles (I used pappardelle), as well as a generous dollop of sour cream.

Meggyleves and Hortobágyi palacsinta

Meggyleves and Hortobágyi palacsinta

Meggyleves derives from “meggy” meaning sour cherry and “leves” meaning soup. In the great tradition of Eastern European brutalist literalism, the dish is indeed a cold sour cherry soup that is served as a starter or side dish to main meals during summer. Sour cherry trees are abundant in Hungary, and the summertime excesses are boiled with sweet spices such as cloves and cinnamon to make meggyleves. The mixture is then combined with cream or sour cream and chilled before serving. This is a lovely sweet and sour soup that provides the epitome of refreshment during summer. It did come dangerously close to impinging on my “no desserts” rule, but given that it’s eaten as a savoury side and is called a soup, I made an allowance. I’m glad I did! When I first saw that Hortobágyi palacsinta might literally be interpreted as “placenta from the region of Hortobágy” I started to worry that this would be one of those rare dishes that was a bit much for me to stomach. However, as far as I can tell, there isn’t a shred of actual placenta in the meal, and instead it derives from a common Latin word “placenta” which means a flat cake. The element of the dish that relates to the region of Hortobágy, however, is less straightforward. Wikipedia claims that it was invented at the 1958 Brussels World Fair, but a similar recipe already existed in Hungary, and its association with Hortobágy was merely a marketing strategy. Whether or not this strategy benefited the dish or Hortobágy itself is an enduring question. It turns out palacsinta describes thin crepes made from egg, flour and milk, which can be served with sweet or savoury fillings. Hortobágyi palacsinta is the most famous of the savoury varieties, and is filled with spiced mince meat and vegetables (I used onion, veal and mushrooms). They are then baked in the oven with a sauce made from sour cream and paprika and served with parsley. I found the crepe wonderfully easy to make and delicious with the meat – this is definitely an easy yet impressive meal to make for guests!



I have a sneaking suspicion that főzelék is one of those dishes championed by economical and cunning housewives, who throw all of the leftover vegetables into a pot, stew them together, and pronounce it “főzelék!”. It ranges wildly in its colours and textures, from deep green to shocking red, and its consistency is usually somewhere between soup and stew. Common vegetables used include some combination of cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, peas, kohlrabi, spinach or green beans. I used spinach, potatoes, carrots and green beans, and thickened the stew with a roux of butter, flour and milk, flavouring with onion and garlic. Főzelék is generally vegetarian, but can be enhanced with protein if eaten as a main meal. I included a very spicy Hungarian sausage called csabai and a fried egg in mine, which added a lot of flavour to the vegetables.

Chicken paprikash and nokedli

chicken paprikash.JPG

Chicken paprikash is a Hungarian dish that takes its name from the liberal amounts of sweet paprika used. Onions, garlic and capsicums are first fried in butter or lard, followed by chicken parts. Chopped tomatoes and stock are then added with handfuls of sweet paprika, and set to simmer until the chicken is tender and infused with the flavours. The stew is then thickened at the end with sour cream and flour. I served my chicken paprikash with green beans and the traditional accompaniment of nokedli. Nokedli are similar to the German spätzle – a variety of pasta/dumplings made from a dough of egg, flour and water, pinched into irregular shapes and boiled until tender. The word comes from the German “nockerl” meaning dumpling, and surprisingly both words are thought to share roots with Latin languages that also gave rise to words like “noodles” and “gnocchi”. The true origin of pasta is hotly debated, with some purporting that Eastern Europe first influenced Italy with these dumpling-like recipes, which the Italians then reinvented as spaghetti after influence from Asia. Others propose that Italy was the true founder of pasta in Europe, either before or after the idea for noodles made it from the Far East. The true history may be lost to time, but I highly recommend cooking nokedli – they have all of the delicious taste of pasta but their rustic shape means that they require zero special equipment and very little patience to create.

42. Western Africa

The cuisine of Western Africa is predominantly upheld by families uniting to make meals from the produce that they’ve bought, farmed, hunted or gathered. Indeed, most of the food consumed in western Africa is produced locally. A wide variety of native ingredients is used, such as black eyed peas and okra, as well as many that were introduced by European and Arab interactions, such as chillies, tomatoes, peanuts, corn, plantain bananas and cassava. Culinary influence has also extended from Western Africa to many parts of the world, especially the southern USA, the West Indies and the Caribbean, via explorers, travelling missionaries or slavery. Most meals start with a base of tomatoes, onions and chillies, which is built upon with whatever ingredients are to hand. In contrast to North African cuisine, which is characterised by a wide variety of complex spices, western Africans spice their food simply and sparingly, leaving chillies as the main flavour and believing that all manner of health issues can be resolved by their consumption. Chilli also helps to preserve food, and induce sweating, which purportedly helps to stay cool (despite the inferno in your mouth). Although traditional beverages exist, one of the most culturally important drinks in this frequently drought-stricken land is actually plain water, which has ceremonial significance and is customarily the first thing offered to guests. Cheers!

Suya, red red, fried plantains and rice

suya, red red, fried plantains and riceSuya is made with pieces of meat (most commonly beef) coated in a spicy mix of ground peanuts, cayenne pepper and stock powder. These cubes are threaded onto a wooden skewer, with or without additional vegetables such as red onion, capsicum or tomato, then grilled over charcoal. Personally I think that the ground peanut coating is absolute genius and I’ve rarely had better skewers – why hasn’t this caught on!? The peanut pieces get roasted on the outside and impart a wonderful flavour to the meat and vegetables, while still keeping everything tender and juicy within. Red red is a stew particularly common in Ghana, consisting of black-eyed beans cooked with onions, tomatoes, chillies, plantains and traditionally palm oil (although I used vegetable oil). Meats or seafood can be added, however I kept mine plain, which appears to be the more traditional option. I’ve never cooked black-eyed beans before, and was delighted with their flavour and texture – they seem much milder and smoother that other common beans, forming a comforting thick paste and absorbing the flavours of the accompanying ingredients. Fried plantains are an important staple in West African cuisine: they’re known as alloco in Côte D’Ivoire, dodo in Nigeria, makemba in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and kelewele in Ghana. Fried plantains are one of many examples where Africa has influenced various parts of South and Central America, where this side is widely enjoyed and is an integral part of diverse cuisines.


Nkatenkwan and fufu

Nkatenkwan and fufuNkatenkwan is just one of many names for a wide variety of peanut soups and stews found across Western Africa. Often they are called “groundnut stews”, however, as far as I can tell, groundnuts and peanuts are the same thing. I made mine by combining onions, tomatoes, chillies, garlic, ginger and shredded chicken breast, then stewing everything together with peanut butter, peanuts, and chicken stock. I don’t know about you, but I’m nuts for nuts. Some of my favourite stews are those with nut-bases, such as the Thai massaman or the Indian cashew-based curries. However, such is my nut-obsession that none of these have been quite nutty enough. If you have felt similarly, this stew is for you – the peanut flavour is very intense, but nicely offset by the sweet acidity of the tomatoes and umami of the chicken. In Ghana and Nigeria it’s traditional to serve these soups and stews with a big ball of fufu on top. Fufu is a mash made by adding water to a mix of cassava and green plantain flour. It’s eaten as a staple with many different meals, and everyone seems to have a different opinion on its correct starch-to-water ratio. The traditional method of making fufu involves pounding boiled cassava and plantains and then mashing them into a smooth paste. However, many African communities (and me) buy the dry flour mix pre-packaged and only need to rehydrate it and serve. The concept and taste of fufu reminded me fondly of Deb: the dehydrated potato flakes that form a smooth creamy mash when mixed with hot water. Fufu has the same comforting starchiness, but is a little sweeter and with a richer flavour than mashed potato. It’s also a little doughier and more elastic than Deb, which is actually helpful for maintaining structural integrity when served with soups. I really liked the combination of the stew and fufu. However, if you try it, beware – chewing fufu is considered a great faux pas in polite Nigerian or Ghanaian company!

Efo riro

Efo riro.JPGThere are many names for stews like this, and I’ve had trouble elucidating their respective origins or the differences between them: efo riro, edikang ikong, palaver sauce etc. Like many African recipes, the specifics of the ingredients and procedure seem to be fairly relaxed and differ significantly among cooks, which is one of the reasons it’s hard to distinguish differences between dishes. They all seem to have a basis of stewed native leafy greens such as water leaves, pumpkin leaves and ugu/ikong-ubong. In the absence of these, I used kale and spinach. The protein components of the stews include cubes of beef and/or beef tripe (I don’t quite have the stomach for tripe yet) and seafoods, such as smoked/dried fish, periwinkles or prawns. I used beef, smoked fish and prawns, and despite some preliminary misgivings, they went together well and the smokiness of the fish complemented the umami flavours of the beef. I also flavoured the stew with onions, garlic, ginger and chillies. Palaver sauce, one of the names for these sorts of stews, drew my attention because I understood “palaver” to mean a fuss/bother in English. Apparently the word is originally Portuguese and means a long talk or quarrel. There are many amusing theories on how this relates to the stew. For instance, perhaps people used the long leafy greens in the stew to slap each other and begin arguments. Or maybe the various flavours and spices in the stew mingle like an argument. I think one of the least disturbing theories is that the stew has the power to soothe fights and bring quarrelsome folk together.

Jollof rice

jollof riceJollof rice is sometimes touted as the national dish of Western Africa. It consists of rice, cooked with palm oil, stock, tomatoes, onions, chillies, capsicum, ginger, cumin and garlic. The rice takes on the flavours of the stock and tomato as it cooks, and results in a wonderfully savoury and comforting meal. Various meats and vegetables can be included, but I stuck to the basic recipe, sans palm oil. The name comes from the Jolof Empire, which ruled western Africa between 1350 and 1549. One of the most striking things about this empire is its progressive stance towards women, who could have roles in government and even rule states in some cases. Jollof rice also goes by the name of benachin, which means “one pot”, referring to the simplicity of cookware required for the dish. Nigeria and Ghana seem eternally locked in a dispute over the origin of jollof rice, as well as which country’s recipe and presentation is superior, even organising internationally-judged competitions in an attempt to settle the argument. I have more sense than to wade into that particular argument however, especially given my amateur familiarity with the subject! I served my rice in a typical manner,  with fried plantains and chicken, which I lightly seasoned and grilled.

41. Northern France

I began this cooking journey with southern France, although, to be honest, at that point I hadn’t mapped out 80 cuisines, and thought that I was just cooking one French week. However, I ultimately realised that I needed to devote two weeks to France in order to do it true justice, and conveniently the first week contained mostly southern dishes. Forgive me, therefore, if some of the origins of these dishes are not strictly regional. While the south of France cooks with more oil, vegetables and seafood, the north has more butter, and generally has slightly heartier cuisine suited to the cold weather, as well as more Germanic and Swiss influences. Much of the English-speaking knowledge about French cuisine was introduced via Julia Child, a renowned American TV chef and food writer, popular in the 1960s and 70s. Julia (immortalised by Meryl Streep a few years ago) significantly contributed to the Francophile nature of the world’s fine dining culture. One of the major internal influences on modern French cuisine was Auguste Escoffier, who is generally credited with modernising traditional French techniques and recipes, creating the basis for haute cuisine that we know today. For example, he refined and recorded the definitive recipes for the five French mother sauces, first created by Marie-Antoine Carême: béchamel (roux and milk-based), espagnole (roux and dark stock), velouté (roux or eggs with cream and light stock), hollandaise (egg yolk, butter and acid) and tomate (tomato-based). These mother sauces are taught in culinary schools to this day, as are many fundamental tenets of French cooking. Indeed, sauce is a defining feature of French cuisine, and, although now internationally adopted, was once considered excessive and strange by many other countries. There are so many famous French foods that it was very difficult to choose such a small number to be representative, but, as always, I chose a good variety and the things that appealed to me most. However, notable mentions that have been excluded for space and/or ingredient availability include: croque monsieur, terrines, pot au feu, tartes, crepes, coq au vin, escargots, tartiflette, rillettes, gratin dauphinois, raclette, and an astonishing variety of wonderful cheeses and breads. One of my favourite TV shows about cooking, Chef’s Table, produced a wonderful series on France alone, which may give you insight into the importance of this culture in cooking, if any were needed. Surprisingly though, modern French people have a secret shameful passion for McDonalds, and the only country where the chain grosses higher profits than France is the USA. Indeed, the most common lunch in France is chicken and chips, which runs counter to my impression of long leisurely lunches of rich stews, fresh salads, breads and cheeses. This all makes me even more confused about why the French are so damn skinny? A mystery for the ages, perhaps.

Duck à l’orange

duck a l'orangeI will spare the devoted readers another long rhapsody about my love affair with duck. Suffice to say, I cook it whenever possible and have loved it in all of its forms thus far. I was therefore very excited for the arrival of northern French week mostly because it would afford me the opportunity to cook duck à l’orange, which I had heard about first in the kids’ movie about the pig “Babe”, where a secondary character is unfortunately baked into the dish, and then in relation to Julia Child after that. I have found a common theme in both Asian and Western countries alike, which is to serve gamey poultry with sour fruits (cranberry, cherry, lemon, orange), and I think it can’t be a coincidence. The sweet and sour flavours beautifully complement the strong taste of the meat, as well as cutting through the fat with acidity. There is some mild squabbling about the true origin of duck à l’orange, with some (mostly Italians) claiming that it came from Naples; however, the dish is undoubtedly synonymous with France nowadays. I started by seasoning the whole duck inside and out with salt, ground coriander, cumin and black pepper, then stuffing the cavity with wedges of onion and orange, fresh thyme, marjoram and parsley. I then let it cook on top of some more vegetables to keep it slightly raised, then a third of the way through added a mix of white wine, orange juice and stock to keep the bird juicy. I made the sauce with a roux of butter and flour, then added orange juice, white wine vinegar, stock and orange zest. I also tried another sauce using arrowroot flour instead of plain flour, which I had heard gives a more transparent result. I wasn’t a big fan of the gelatinous texture of the latter, and I also felt that the taste wasn’t as good; the arrowroot didn’t accentuate the taste of the butter as clearly as plain flour. Once the duck was cooked through, I grilled it for a few minutes to ensure crispy skin, then poured the sauce over and served it with orange slices, roast potatoes (baked in duck fat, obviously) and steamed asparagus. I had never cooked a whole duck before this, and was a bit nervous because my understanding was that legs are more suited to preparations such as confit, whereas the breast should be pan seared and then baked until medium rare. I was therefore curious as to how each of these meats would turn out when treated to the same cooking process. I needn’t have worried, however, as everything turned out much more delicious than I expected. The meat was very tender and much juicer that other poultry – I think perhaps because the fattier nature of the duck keeps the meat moister than chicken. The fat, however, was not obvious or gelatinous, as it had mostly been rendered from the duck, just leaving a delicious taste behind. The skin was also wonderfully crispy, and very decadent, especially served with some of the orange sauce. All in all this is not a terribly difficult dish to make, certainly no harder than a roast chicken, however I would warn you that, compared to a chicken, ducks have less meat, possibly because they’ve missed many years of artificial selection and domestication.

Boeuf bourguignon

boeuf bourgingonBoeuf bourguignon hails from the Burgundy region of France, which is famed for its production of astounding red wines. Lardons (strips of bacon) are first fried in a casserole dish, to which pieces of beef are added, as well as onion, garlic, carrots, beef stock, tomato paste, bouquet garni, and lots and lots of red wine. This is then simmered, covered, in the oven for hours until the beef is very tender, and then the liquid is sieved out and reduced until it’s thick and delicious. The stock is finally returned to the beef along with cooked mushrooms and pearl onions. This dish is a great example of the classic “peasant” cooking of France making its way into haute cuisine. The “slow cook” technique is used all over the world to make the best out of cheap cuts of meat, however proponents such as Auguste Escoffier and Julia Child encouraged its adoption into fine dining, the latter even pronouncing this dish as “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”. Indeed, the combination of red meat and red wine is indisputably ingenious, and is only further improved by mushrooms and onions. I served my boeuf bourguignon with a hearty dob of buttery mashed potatoes and some steamed green beans. I had planned to attempt pommes duchesse (Duchess potatoes), which consist of mashed potato and egg yolk, piped into aesthetically pleasing spirals and then browned on the outside, but I realised too late I didn’t have a piping bag and I was very very hungry by then… Maybe next time!

Quiche Lorraine

quiche lorraineUpon seeing that Lorraine was capitalised in all of the recipes for this quiche, I was immediately gripped with curiosity. “Who is this Lorraine?” I wondered, “what did she do to inspire such a famous quiche?”. Disappointingly, Lorraine actually refers to a north-eastern region of France, and not a mysterious historical figure who launched a thousand quiches with her smile. Sometimes imagination truly is more exciting than reality. Quiche originated from Germany (from the word “kuchen”, which means cake), in the medieval kingdom of Lothrigen, later renamed, you guessed it, Lorraine. Quiche Lorraine traditionally contains eggs, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and lardons, which are strips of cured (not smoked) fatty bacon that taste a bit more like ham. I made the pastry by food processing plain flour, cold butter and an egg, then rolled out the dough and laid it into a pie dish. I cooked the pastry alone until it was getting crispy, and then added in the beaten eggs, cream and lardons. Purportedly the addition of cheese is not strictly traditional, so I just added a tiny bit of gruyère as a compromise. Apparently the way to make sure the lardons are distributed evenly is to pour the egg solution in while the quiche is sitting on the oven tray, then quickly close the door so that it is immediately heated when everything within the mixture is still in flux. This didn’t work very well for me, but what did work was reserving some lardons and sprinkling them on halfway through and again at the end. I served the quiche with some strips of garlic chives because I felt it needed some green. I loved the quiche, as I always love quiches, but this one benefitted from having wonderfully fresh and flaky pastry that is hard to achieve from store-bought varieties.

French onion soup, foie gras, baguette and salad

french onion soup baguette foie grasFrench onion soup is ancient in that onion soups have been made since Roman times, typically by the peasant classes making use of cheap and available foodstuffs. I made my French onion soup by first roughly chopping and caramelising an amount of onions so enormous that my eyes are tearing up at the mere memory. The secrets to caramelising onions are, as with many secrets to success in life, butter and patience. The lowest heat possible should be applied to the pot, and this will ensure the onions are soft and sweet, without needing to add any sugar whatsoever. I have seen recipes for slow-cooker French onion soup, and although I have never tried it, it sounds like an excellent idea. A little bit of plain flour is added to the onions, then beef broth, as well as a splash of  alcohol, such as sherry or white wine, and a couple of cloves of garlic. French onion soup is often served with toasted bread/croutons covered with melted gruyère on top. Interestingly, this trend harks back to the dish’s ancient origins, as the word “soup” derives from the Vulgar Latin, “suppa”, which means “bread soaked in broth”. I served the soup picnic-style with a green salad dressed in a mustard vinaigrette, some fresh baguette and foie gras, which is a paste made from the liver of a duck or goose. The origins of foie gras can be found in ancient Rome, where geese were fed with figs to enhance their livers. The connections between figs and livers was so strong, that the Latin word for fig, “ficus” became the root for liver in many romantic languages including “foie” in French, “fegato” in Italian and “figado” in Portuguese.