Month: July 2013


Menu: Tuvalu

Ever wonder how an island nation forms? There’s an old Tuvaluan legend  that claims the first inhabitants of Tuvalu were ladies named Pai and Vau. Pai and Vau held baskets of sand. The grains that fell out of those baskets are said to have formed the neighboring atolls (the tiny coral reef islands we learned about yesterday). I love this image. It really goes to show how a little carelessness – something as small as a slip of a basket – can have far-reaching effects. Of course, all this island-making leaves me wondering: what did Pai and Vau ate after making the islands? I’d like to imagine, something like this week’s menu… We’re celebrating the food of Tuvalu with a big bite of local Tuna and doughnut-like banana fritters. This is comfort food, meant to be enjoyed with the salt of the sea on your lips, and a smile in your heart. Even more, we have it on authority that the dessert is fit for the prince of England and his bride. So, it stands …

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Funafuti in Tuvalu looking south. Photo by David Arfon Jones.

About the food of Tuvalu

This week we’re scooting out into the Pacific, all the way to Tuvalu – a country which is as much fun to eat as it is to say. I wasn’t convinced I’d find much info on these water-lapped islands, especially considering Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world – behind Monaco, Nauru (also in the Pacific), and the Vatican City. It is made up of just three reef islands and six atolls. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef like these: There’s generally a lagoon inside. Not a lot of room for growing food. But it does make for some awesome roads. Then I stumbled across Andy Explores and I knew everything would be okay. In this fun spirited blog (by a Boy Scout, no less), Andy takes his readers through his year in Tuvalu. Stories include learning to fish, cooking like a local, waiting for the monthly food shipments (literally just once a month), meeting the epic Graham Hughes (one of two people who have been to every country in the world, including the amazing …

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Monday Meal Review: Turkmenistan

Our week cooking Turkmenistan was all about the bubble… bubbling Watermelon Jam, bubbling Central Asia Tea, and bubbles on the forehead. It was the bubbles on the forehead that really made me smile. In Turkmenistan, tapping your tea bubbles, then tapping your forehead is said to bring good fortune. This little ritual definitely falls in the realm of superstition. I felt a little silly doing it. At first, I couldn’t figure out why. The awkwardness wasn’t really about getting my forehead wet, although that certainly played into it. And it wasn’t about having to demonstrate to my skeptical family, although their giggles definitely made me feel extra silly. Here they are.. tap, tap. And then I realized what it was. The superstition felt weird because I haven’t been following any superstitions of my own lately. When I was in high school, I’d say “If I get this trash in the basket, then I’ll have an awesome day.” When I was in college, I’d say, “If I tap my pencil three times, I’ll pass the test.” …

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How to throw a Central Asian Tea Party

  The best kind of party is a tea party. Even better? A themed tea party. This week we’re exploring the Central Asian Tea Party. As I read through many descriptions of teas in Turkmenistan (this week’s Global Table) and her neighboring countries, I realized there are just FIVE basic things you need for a Central Asian Tea Party. Anything else is icing on the proverbial cake. 1.  Green or Black Tea.  In Central Asia, people drink two main kinds of tea, green or black. Green tea is typically sipped in order to relax, while black tea is enjoyed for an energetic boost. Both are called “Chai,” which simply means tea. When serving, the tea should be poured from very high up into each glass… do this at least three times. This aerates the tea and makes tiny bubbles (more on this in a moment). 2. Fun superstitions Much of the fun of any global tea party is learning the superstitions that go with them. Here are two from Central Asia. a) If you can tap the …

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Watermelon Jam

Imagine living in a place that has a National Holiday called “Melon Day.”  You could be surrounded by more than 400 kinds of melon, including some 50 varieties of watermelon.* The cool, sweet flesh would fill your belly and spirit. Eating it would definitely make you smile. And spreading it on bread? Even better. If any of this appeals to you, you might want to consider moving to Turkmenistan. These lovely people have celebrated Melon Day since 1994, and they don’t plan to stop eating the sweetness anytime soon. When I read in The World Cookbook for Students that Watermelon Jam is a thing in Turkmenistan (particularly when served on toast with tea), I knew we had to try it. I made a nice batch of jam from half a regular watermelon. Tastes like jarred sunshine. What a great gift to share with friends and family! Perhaps with a spot of tea… NOTE: I used Pamona’s Universal Pectin because it allows me to add less sugar to the mix (just 2 cups). I found Pamona’s at Whole Foods, though …

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Menu: Turkmenistan

“Whatever you put in your pot comes to your spoon.” Turkmen Proverb We’re in the middle of summer. The sidewalk’s sizzling, but anyone from Turkmenistan can tell you; that’s no reason to turn off the kettle. This week we’re celebrating summer in true Turkmen Style. First, with a spirited watermelon jam, inspired by the 200 varieties of melon that grow in Turkmenistan. Second, with a central Asian tea party – a fun way to gather with family and friends. *Both recipes and the meal review will be posted throughout the week.   Watermelon Jam [Recipe] Boil up some watermelon, sugar, and lemon juice. Add a bit of pectin. Voila! The perfect Turkmen-inspired gift for someone you love. A yummy (and unusual) addition to any summer brunch. Central Asian Tea Party [Recipe] Invite a few friends over to experience a Central Asian Tea Party.  We’ll share seven ways to make the tea party as authentic and fun as possible. P.S. If you’re looking for something more savory, check out our recipes linked in our About the Food of Turkmenistan post.

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The Darvasa gas crater in Turkmenistan. Photo by Tormod Sandtorv.

About the food of Turkmenistan

There’s no way to dance around it… In Turkmenistan, you can come face to face with the “gates of hell”… The only catch? Darvasa is no supernatural place. This “hell” is manmade. Way back in 1971 this crater was formed while drilling for natural gas. There was a collapse and, to prevent the escape of fumes, some people decided they should … set the gas on fire. (Had I been around, I would have definitely been against throwing a match* in a giant pit of natural gas… am I alone in this?) Geologists claimed the fire would burn off in a few days. More than forty years later, here we are. The gas still burning, burning, burning. (Something about this feels like a Jim Morrison lyric.) Darvasa is now a major attraction, with tour guides flicking cigarette butts around the place, laughing over flare ups. Sounds like the beginning of a sci fi movie. This week, we’re skirting past the “gates of hell” and diving into the fresh summer bounty of Turkmenistan. Sure, this puppet shaped …

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Monday Meal Review: Turkey

After my crazy weekend in Portland speaking in front of 3,000 people, I needed some time to unwind. I was like a hot, thirsty wanderer, begging for a glass of water. But in my case, the “water” was my husband and daughter. I wanted to soak in their company, I wanted to be quenched by their spirits. Because, even if every stranger in the world could hug me, there’s nothing cozier than the embrace of my husband and little girl. And that’s why, when my little four year-old said “I’m glad you’re home, mama,” I can say, with all honesty “me, too.” The only catch? I didn’t have time to mellow. Not completely. You see, I’d planned a big party for Ava’s Fourth Birthday. The party was scheduled four days after I got home. It was about 35 minutes away, at Lake Oologah. So… yes, I could soak up my family… and enjoy their love… but it had to be in those snapshot moments … in between all the birthday planning chaos. Oh boy. Having a birthday …

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Turkish tabbouleh | Kisir

What happens when you eat a lot of international food, but still get in a rut? Is it like when you live by the sea but get tired of looking at the lapping waves (is that even possible?). It’s so easy (and delicious), to return to old favorites like stuffed grape leaves, hummus and tabbouleh, but sometimes a little shakedown is in order. We’re big tabbouleh eaters in this house, so when I found out there’s a Turkish version of this popular bulgur salad, you can bet I jumped on board. This guy knows what I’m talking about… He’s been waiting for a bite for nearly three centuries. What makes kisir different from mainstream Tabbouleh is the addition of two ingredients: tomato paste and pepper paste. These stain the bulgur grains orange-red, and gives the finished dish a rich, earthy flavor. If you use hot pepper paste, the kisir will also go down with a lovely burn. And then there’s a bit more red, too. Say “Merhaba,” or “hello” to a couple of tomatoes from my garden… I was so …

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Turkish Flatbread “Pizza” with Spiced Lamb | Lahmacun

Lahmacun is Turkey’s answer to pizza. The flavors are rich and deep, like an old love story. And, like any good love story, each bite makes my knees sink a little closer to the floor. Why? Because of the layers of flavor. This is no “jarred sauce” affair. This is no mess of waxy cheese. Lahmacun is pure, unadulterated ingredients – as fresh and intense as mother nature grew them. The version we made today includes lamb, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, paprika, mint and parsley. There’s even a gated onion to provide a sweet background note. The flavors come together to create an unbelievable explosion of flavor. Once baked, Lahmacun is a DIY dream. Diners choose their own toppings and pile them on.  In Turkey, you can find everything from pickles and lettuce, to onions and lemon juice. It’s an awesome way to get kids involved and to work through dinner party doldrums. Ava had great fun adding onion, parsley and lemon juice to hers… plus a few sprinklings of sumac (a spice with a …

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Menu: Turkey

“In a flat country, a hillock thinks itself a mountain” Proverb from Turkey Friends, let’s knock the hillocks of life to the ground. And let’s do it with Turkish food. This week, I created a fun party menu – a Turkish meal that can be enjoyed on a balmy summer evening, under starlight, with a few close friends and family.  It’ll inspire laughter, some much needed spice, and full hearts. After all, isn’t that what we all need? A little time to chill out with our loved ones, and get some perspective on the bumps and bumbles (and hillocks) of life? All recipes and meal review will be posted throughout the week. Lamb Flatbread “Pizza” | Lahmacun [Recipe] Lahmacun is an incredible spiced lamb pizza. There are so many flavors, you might not be able to see beyond the fireworks in your mouth. Somewhere in that explosion of deliciousness, I promise you, there’s tomatoes, onion, paprika, parsley, mint, and more. Not to mention the DIY toppings: red onion, parsley, mint, lemon juice, and sumac. Yessss. Turkish …

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Town of Ortahisar in Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey. Photo by Brocken Inaglory.

About the food of Turkey

Turkey walks the line: her western borders dip into Europe, while the rest lounges in Asia. Indeed,  Istanbul – is the only large city in the world to span two continents. Pretty awesome. Her extensive mountains cradle many small villages and cities, but it is her coastal plains and valleys that produce the most luscious produce. There’s everything from citrus to corn, and olives to barley. The food will fill your spirit as well as your mouth. A few years ago I watched a show about Turkey and in it, I saw someone eat what looked to be a pizza. But they rolled it up like a burrito.  They call it Lahmacun [Recipe]. Epic. The list of popular dishes is like a who’s who of my favorite dishes: all manner of meaty, spiced kebabs, glorious stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh (called kisir) [Recipe], lovely pide bread, sweet, nutty baklava. Much of this can be enjoyed as part of meze, or a meal of many small plates (similar in theory to Spanish Tapas). Just about everything can …

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